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  • A World Connecting: 1870–1945 ed. by Emily S. Rosenberg
  • Daniel R. Headrick (bio)
A World Connecting: 1870–1945. Edited by Emily S. Rosenberg. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. 1168. $39.95.

Every age rediscovers the past in its own light. Since the end of the cold war, we have become obsessed with globalization. It is not surprising, then, that a book about world history from 1870 to 1945 would stress that period’s global interconnectedness and modernity instead of the great power rivalries, world wars, depression, and totalitarianism that occupy most other books.

To achieve this goal, the editor, Emily Rosenberg, has chosen five authors to write essays on different aspects of the period, each one almost book length. For the reader familiar with the chronology of important events such as wars, revolutions, and technological innovations, these essays complete the picture presented in more traditional world histories. For those without that level of knowledge, however, they will seem disjointed and confusing.

In “Leviathan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood,” Charles Maier discusses the emergence of modern statehood in an analytic and not always coherent manner. Needless to say, this process was wrenching for traditional polities under pressure from the commercial and military might of the Western powers and their new political ideologies. Despite occasional tangents to China, Japan, and Latin America, the essay’s perspective is very Western-centric.

Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton’s chapter, “Empires and the Reach of the Global,” deals mainly with the British Empire, with asides on China and the Ottoman Empire; other Western colonial empires are either slighted or missing entirely. However, it eschews the political narrative of imperialism to investigate contested definitions of space, colonial gender [End Page 985] relations, racialized systems of labor, the interpenetration of Western and non-Western cultures, and the beginnings of anticolonial movements.

Dirk Hoerder’s chapter, “Migrations and Belongings,” is more even-handed in its treatment of different parts of the world and different ethnicities. Besides the well-known African slave trade and European immigration to America, it also discusses migrations around the Indian Ocean, the Asian diasporas, the movements of Russians to Siberia and Chinese to Manchuria, and the issue of indentured servitude. This essay is very analytical rather than chronological or geographical, but most readers will find it easy to put the analytical categories—gender, class, culture, ethnicity—in their proper contexts.

“Commodity Chains in a Global Economy,” by Steven Topik and Allen Wells, also transcends the Western-centric view of world history in this period. As economic historians long have noted, the period 1870–1914 witnessed an explosion of global trade in bulk commodities, not only traditional ones like wheat, rice, sugar, and tea, but also new materials like rubber and petroleum. In this realm, that period was truly the precursor of our own age of global trade. Unlike its predecessors, this chapter is straightforward, descriptive economic history rather than analytical or statistical. It will prove very useful as a reference.

The last essay, Rosenberg’s “Transnational Currents in a Shrinking World,” describes the “transnational social and cultural currents [that] circulated across and beyond national states and drew the world together in new ways” (p. 816). In a very thorough analysis of these currents, the author discusses telecom and postal organizations, international sports competitions, the League of Nations, international labor movements, religious missions, women’s movements, scientific networks, and much else. This chapter, more than any other, exemplifies the idea that the forces of interconnection were gaining strength in spite of the vicious conflicts that divided nations, classes, and races.

This book will find favor among world historians, but readers of Technology and Culture will find it frustrating. In several places, the authors discuss the impacts of technological innovations on commerce, migrants, women, culture, and so on. Yet, nowhere do the authors ask how these technologies arose or, more importantly, how they spread around the world. To get the full benefit of this book, a reader has to come equipped with considerable knowledge of the technological history of the non-Western world.

To compensate for its shortcomings, A World Connecting is remarkably inexpensive for a hardcover scholarly book, let alone...


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