List of Contents

Concept Note

Global History as a Flourishing Field

Over the past two or three decades, global history as a field has developed to such a degree as well as has performed so well that prominent authors speak of a perspective that informs in the meantime almost all subfields of historiography. Through this development, global history has strengthened old and built new alliances across disciplines – from social sciences, economics, and cultural studies to epidemiology, climate change research, and the history of the earth long before humankind came into existence. With such a broad spectrum, global history has become extremely attractive and noticeably central to many societal debates – especially when providing arguments for the discussions concerning the assumed newness of global entanglements and global challenges. Notwithstanding these benefits, the very inclusive nature of global history also makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an overview. We accept this challenge and accordingly plan the handbook to be a resource that introduces the most up-to-date information and interpretation regarding the many facets of global history. As a consequence, the volume of the handbook is calculated at ca. 2,000,000 words – written by an impressive number of contributing scholars – with the publication period starting in 2022 and lasting perhaps until the end of the decade.

The Global Condition: A Central Point of Interpretation

Planning a Handbook of Global History requires taking a position on the debate over universal, world, and global history. For us, as we will argue in more detail below, global history is not just another label for world history but is a specific perspective driven by the question when and how the world entered the global condition under which we live now and what characterizes this contemporary world, which arguably started between the late eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries.

World histories often struggle with chronology since they are, on the one hand, explicitly critical towards the tradition of chronological narration along the red file towards modernity (qualified as Eurocentric) but are, on the other hand, rather pragmatic when dealing with the different rhythms with which societies develop and become entangled over the course of world history. The format of the handbook offers a great opportunity to provide information and insights free from the straightjacket of chronological narrating. Accordingly, in the beginning of the handbook we will introduce the reader to the many possible periodizations and understandings of historical time regimes but then will allow the authors to choose their own chronology depending on what seems necessary for a historical explanation of the global and transregional entanglements from today’s point of view. This handbook is an appeal for the adoption of a global history perspective that complements the rather all-encompassing world histories than repeating it under a new label.

Global history should focus on examining and explaining the global condition that emerged between the late eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries and lasts (with dramatic transformations and challenges indeed) until today and is very likely to characterize the foreseeable future. This understanding, however, does not mean that we neglect (global) processes that happened before the eighteenth century – on the contrary. In investigating  such processes, three questions must be asked: (1) What are the differences between globalization before the global condition, on the one hand, and the world under the global condition, on the other hand? (2) How can the specific features of transition towards the global condition be described and understood, as well as what are the drivers of, hindrances to, and resulting conflicts of this transition? (3) What are the persisting connections between the world before and under the global condition in terms of continuing challenges by the natural as well as the man-made environment and with regard to sociocultural features serving the purpose of orientation in the world?

A New Generation writing Global History

The handbook profits from the significant achievements made by the world history movement, taking off in the late 1980s, which has resulted in an impressive number of syntheses that mirror (or reflect critically in the one way or the other) the emergence of a liberal ideology of globalization beginning the 1990s – an ideology that has since been challenged. New experiences with global dynamics and resistance to them are as well informing a new look into global history. To mention only three of them:

  • The first example concerns transregional value and commodity chains, which around the turn of the millennium seemed to expand further and further, thereby generating an interest in the historical expansion of markets and production configurations. However, such chains are now under reconsideration, their resilience being evaluated at moments of crisis (financial or caused by a pandemic), which are about to shrink for the next couple of years.
  • A second example is the resurgence of the state, which was already experienced during the financial crisis in 2008–10 and which is much more apparent under the Covid-19 pandemic. This situation not only questions the story of the presumed decline of the (nation-)state (which was in fact never very much believed by historians) but also invites new research to be undertaken regarding the differing degree and actions of state performance.
  • Similarly and thirdly, the idea of multilaterialism has informed and encouraged the study of international organizations, delivering remarkable results. But multilateralism has also increasingly come under stress (to say the least), with other forms of cooperation (from regional organizations to ad hoc alliances of the willing for the solution of border-crossing problems) coming to the fore.

Historians have a natural and very healthy distance to short-cutting actualization, but at the same time it should not be overlooked that each and every generation of historians have taken inspiration from the experience of their own times. In this sense, the handbook offers the opportunity to reveal the attitudes of a new generation of global historians, allowing them to express their perspectives on global dynamics, which are in many respects different from those dominating the 1990s and early 2000s

The handbook is not meant as another historical account of world history from the distant past to the present. Rather, it has a clear focus on the emergence and the transformations of the global condition and on the role earlier globalizations have played, and still play, via (slowly becoming global) processes of remembrance.

Many Globalization Projects instead of One Globalization

Another conceptual point of departure is the assumption that there is not one single globalization that became a quasi-natural force of transformation emanating from a specific place and afterwards reaching out to various peripheries. Quite oppositely, the handbook advances the argument that there have been many different attempts to globalize the world (or parts of it according to those directing these projects) and that there is competition, cooperation, neglect, and parallelism between these projects. This implies that all societal dimensions addressed by such projects (material processes and imaginations alike, be it economy or religion, energy supply or theatre, to name but a few) have to be taken into consideration. Globalization projects are limited in time, space, and ambition (that is to say, organizing a certain world and not always controlling the entire planet), and none of them have so far reached the point where they have been able to control the world as a whole without formidable competitors.

Leaving the safe haven of world history that covers, in principle, everything that happened to mankind is, as we are well aware, more controversial and not a definition of global history everyone may share. This is why we foresee the possibility of controversy within the handbook and therefore permit, and even welcome, critical comments and in some cases even a second entry on the same topic. In this way, the audience can follow the academic debate more closely.

Sections

The first group of foreseen sections provide a comprehensive understanding of the new perspective that is described as global history.

  1. Global History: A Perspective
    1. This section provides a historical narrative of the traditions and current trends in global history; discusses the role of global history in various parts of the world and the entanglements between these strands of research; and introduces major debates across the boundaries of disciplines, such as those on the historicity of globalization or on the great divergence and the multiplicity of globalization projects.
  2. Periodizations
    1. This section contains articles about the multiple ways to understand the temporalities of global connections, starting with Big History – arguing that the global history of humankind is only the very last period of a much longer history of the earth and nature – and ending with those who claim a new global history entering the scene only after 1945. This section will provide the reader with arguments about the different regimes of historicity at work in the production of the global.
  3. Geographies/Spatialities
    1. While there is a prevailing consensus that global history should focus on flows of all kinds that traverse borders and territories, the capacity of such mobilities to provoke and produce spatial formats should not be neglected. Within this section, the complexity of such space-making effects of global connections is presented in various entries examining the historical transformations of such spatial formats. Furthermore, we will also discuss how precarious the notion of the global is since many processes that global history deal with are rather transregional than planetwide.

The second group of sections concerns the dimensions of and production of the global:

4)         Actors of Global Connectedness and the Contours of a Global Social History

5)         Technologies and Infrastructures facilitating and steering Global Connections

6)         War, Weaponry and Peace: The Competition for Global Hegemony

7)         Consumption and Problems of Scarcity

8)         Demography, Migration, and Mobility

9)         Use and Distribution of Natural Resources

10)       Health as a Global Challenge

11)       Border-Crossing Chains of Trade and Production, Capitalism, and Globalization

12)       Global Inequalities and Dealing with Diversity

13)       Global Moments and Processes of Remembrance across Borders

14)       International Organizations and the Regulation of Border-Crossing Issues

15)       Cultural Patterns circulating across Borders

16)       The Global as an Object and as a Product of the Media

17)       Global Ideologies

18)       Religions and Secularities

19)       Global Knowledge Society

20)       Political, Cultural, and Economic Projects of Globalizing the World

Chapters

Once the selection of section editors is complete, a workshop will be held on the chapter structure of each section and on the question how the section editors will deal with possible overlaps. During the second half of 2021, a list of chapters will be published on this handbook website. We plan 15 articles per section, which will allow essential points to be covered while leaving enough space for different voices within each section to realize the aim of multiperspectivity, which is essential for the success of such a handbook that competes with world histories often written by a relatively homogenous group of authors. This seems to us one of the distinguishing features of the handbook in contrast to the already existing world histories published over the past decade.