Understanding the World through History

Through a combination of exclusive articles written by leading scholars and eBook chapters exploring different aspects of global history and its practice around the world, this Featured Content allows you to reflect on the interconnected dimensions of all our pasts. It considers the ways in which historians are striving to illuminate these connections and what this teaches us about the world.

Image showing a sketch of Chinese life and history, 1900

Global History in China

In this article, Xupeng Zhang gets to grips with Chinese global history writing. He considers how this needs to take the form of combining a distinctive national character and a world perspective in order for Chinese global history writing make a contribution to the formation of a global history with more universal significance. Zhang notes that this can only be achieved by reframing the history of China, freeing it from confinement in the existing framework of national history and opening it to a transnational and global context. The article makes the case that such a global history will eventually produce a re-spatialized national narrative, which will become a link between China's national past and its global present.

Explore further by reading Xupeng Zhang's article.

Tewaterlating van de schoener Hollandia van de Curaçao Trading Company te Willemstad

Latin America and the Caribbean: Traditions of Global History

Global History, Globally assembles scholars from around the world to survey the state of global history in different regions, including how it is practised, key areas of research and the problems facing global historians. The chapter of Rafael Marquese and João Paulo Pimenta cites three examples to show how transcontinental and global perspectives taken by historians in Latin America had an impact on scholarship elsewhere. First, they review a group of Caribbean historians, C.L.R James and Eric Williams most prominently among them, whose efforts to connect the history of Caribbean slavery to European economic ascendancy were widely ignored when their studies came out, but whose books are now considered a foundational perspective on Atlantic history. Marquese and Pimenta show how Fernand Braudel’s thinking about global capitalism was greatly influenced by his encounter with Brazilian historians when he taught at the University of São Paulo, and how, in turn, his global perspective influenced generations of historians in Latin America who, like Braudel, saw that capitalism could only be understood as a world system. Their final example is the dependency school, which was forged by Latin American economists and sociologists such as Raul Prebisch and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This school introduced the notions of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ into global debates, ideas that have had a profound influence on what historians and others have called the ‘world system’.

Learn more in the introduction to Omar Gueye’s Global History, Globally.

This image shows an African using a phone.

African History and Global History: Revisiting Paradigms

Also in Global History, Globally, Omar Gueye’s chapter on the history of global perspectives in Africa asserts that it would be nearly impossible to write the history of Africa in the modern era without references to places, people and processes on different continents, with very few African historians having done so. As a consequence, African historians have almost always taken on a wider, if not yet global, perspective. They wrote the history of the continent or of substantial parts of it; they wrote pan-African history that included the African diaspora in the Americas or they wrote global economic history centered on Africa, as in the pioneering work of Abdoulaye Ly. Yet history was as central to the forging of African nation-states as it was elsewhere: in the twentieth century, history became a prime ideological battleground, as African historians asserted their versions of history against European-dominated narratives that saw Africa as a continent ‘without history’. Gueye describes the early and central role historians played in the struggle for national liberation and the ways that the global orientation weakened as newly forged nation-states sought to establish their legitimacy. Historians wrote national histories that became central to the project of nation making, but still these histories remained connected to events outside the continent. It was only later that the transnational perspective became less prominent, as African historians increasingly focused their work on subnational groups. Today, Gueye says, the wealth of research accumulated over the past decades has encouraged African historians to step back out into the world and connect aspects of the continent’s past, including local histories, to that of the globe.

This image shows the cover of A Practice of Global History.

Plural Globality and Shift in Perspective

In The Practice of Global History, leading scholars from across Europe are brought together to analyse recent trends in historiography and the effects of the global turn in historical scholarship. The book covers key topics from cultural transfer and labour history to population change and the challenges of transcultural history writing. Michel Espagne’s chapter offers an appropriate methodology for those seeking a global history that focuses on entanglements and connections as well as on brokers who facilitate the mobility of cultural patterns. Espagne also applies his approach to historiographies of the global, underlining the fact that the seeming universalism of such historiographies is rather an illusion and that an investigation into how and why different historiographies borrow (selectively) from each other (or renounce them for one reason or another) can be very illuminating.

Learn more in the introduction to Matthias Middell's The Practice of Global History.