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Essays on Twentieth-Century History

Michael Adas

Publication Year: 2010

In the sub-field of world history, there has been a surprising paucity of thinking and writing about how to approach and conceptualize the long twentieth century from the 1870s through the early 2000s. The historiographic essays collected in Essays on Twentieth Century History will go a long way to filling that lacuna.


Each contribution covers a key theme and one or more critical sub-fields in twentieth century global history. Chapters address migration patterns, the impact of world wars, transformations in gender and urbanization, as well as environmental transitions. All are written by leading historians in each of the sub-fields represented, and each is intended to provide an introduction to the literature, key themes, and debates that have proliferated around the more recent historical experience of humanity.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v

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pp. 1-8

By any of the customary measures we deploy to demarcate historical epochs, the twentieth century does not appear to be a very coherent unit. The beginnings and ends of what we choose to call centuries are almost invariably years of little significance. But there is little agreement over ...

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1. World Migration in the Long Twentieth Century

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pp. 9-52

Migration is a basic feature of the human species. Along with mutation and natural selection, it is one of the three basic mechanisms of human evolution. The movement of primates in central Africa gave birth to the first hominids some 5 million years ago. Movement made...

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2. Twentieth- Century Urbanization: In Search of an Urban Paradigm for an Urban World

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pp. 53-82

In 2006, for the first time, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1900, about one person in six lived in a city, a total of about 260 million people. By 2000, 47 percent were urban— about 3 billion people. According to United Nations estimates, the 50 percent mark was reached in...

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3. Women in the Twentieth- Century World

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pp. 83-115

In 1905 an Indian journal published the fanciful story of a nation called Ladyland, where men were secluded in the zenana— the portion of the home reserved for women— while women ran the economy and political affairs. “The Sultana’s Dream” showed women using their brains to harness...

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4. The Gendering of Human Rights in the International Systems of Law in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 116-160

The twentieth century has been marked by an intensification of rights claims and struggles in the face of egregious rights violations and abuses. This tragic coincidence has been an inescapable part of the historic development of human rights norms, strategies, and institutions. It puts in bold...

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5. The Impact of the Two World Wars in a Century of Violence

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pp. 161-212

This study of the First and Second World Wars represents part of the constantly ongoing efforts of historians to understand and interpret the most destructive wars in human history. The re-examination of the origins of these confl icts and of the wars themselves stems from prior revisions...

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6. Locating the United States in Twentieth-Century World History

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pp. 213-270

This chapter describes, and hopes to further, a budding relationship between American and world history. Since the 1940s, most conventional U.S. histories have begun with the idea that the nation has developed fundamentally apart from the rest of the world, outside the norms or constraints...

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7. The Technopolitics of Cold War: Toward a Transregional Perspective

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pp. 271-314

Technological change played a major role in the defining events of the twentieth century, especially in war. Two world wars, the cold war, and colonial and postcolonial conflicts around the globe were all characterized by innovation in the technologies of destruction, from tanks and ballistic...

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8. A Century of Environmental Transitions

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pp. 315-342

Throughout history, Homo sapiens [sapiens] has adapted to natural systems and used them for human purposes. But the rise of industrialization and largescale economic organization has given human societies steadily accelerating power over the natural world. This has meant an increasingly ominous loss of...

About the Contributors

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pp. 343-344

E-ISBN-13: 9781439902714

Publication Year: 2010