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Global History: Interactions between the Universal and the Local (review)

From: Journal of World History
Volume 20, Number 3, September 2009
pp. 435-439 | 10.1353/jwh.0.0060

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The present volume is part of a rapidly growing body of literature generated over the past decade that focuses on the multifaceted dialogue between the thoroughly intertwined forces of globalization and particularism and the paradoxical simultaneity—the copresence—and complicated interpenetration of both universalizing and localizing tendencies. These studies on the reciprocal process of “glocalization” emphasize the hybridity of universal principles and local identities and confirm the dual theme of integration and fragmentation underlying the premodern and modern world(s).1

Global History, except for the brief afterword by William McNeill, is the finished product of a self-styled “in-house co-operative” (p. x), a collective enterprise of the department of history at the University of Texas at Austin, presided over by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins, a leading historian of British imperialism who has made important contributions to the study of globalization and world history, and his colleagues identify and trace specific ways in which the universal and the local have interacted to produce diversity as well as uniformity. The relationships that emerge extend over two centuries, spanning different parts of the modern world, and deal with a wide variety of historical themes. The collection of case studies ranges from the Navajo reservation to Japan, via the United Kingdom and the United States to the Middle East and Vietnam, covering politico-diplomatic, socioeconomic, and cultural- intellectual history. The book’s twofold purpose—both intellectual and practical—is to serve as a “small signpost” that “points in the right direction” (p. ix) to encourage historians to add their expertise to the discussion on globalization and to contribute to the way history is taught (pp. viii, 29).

Hopkins’s incisive prologue introduces and examines the main subject matter of this study under four headings: historiography, analysis, history, and application. Apart from magisterially weaving together the widely differing and seeming disparate contributions in the book, Hopkins provides a much needed definitional exercise clarifying some of the key terms employed in the analysis of globalization.

Erika Marie Bsumek’s chapter deals with the ways in which the Navajo have held on to their social cohesion and cultural identity through the history of weaving without seeking to retreat from the globalizing world that now embraces them. Challenging the “gains-from-trade model,” Bsumek restores the agency of local communities by pointing to the reciprocal influence of “peripheries” and “centers.” Global influences and Navajo communities engaged in a process of recycling: just as materials and patterns from distant global communities were partly absorbed by Navajos, so they were also altered and re-exported to global markets, where they were consumed as commodities that carried symbolic meanings (pp. 49–50, 61).

Roger Hart’s is a historical analysis of the “universals of yesteryear,” that is, of the not-so-distant past, most notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s vision of modernity presented in his Philosophy of History (1837). According to Hart, “there is arguably no thinker whose views on issues at the intersection of philosophy, history, the world, and modernity are as interesting, profound, or important as Hegel’s” (p. 70). In his conclusion, Hart develops some of the implications of this historical analysis of Hegel’s modernity by dismissing the historiography on China’s asserted “failure” to achieve “modernity”—including the recent works of Philip Huang, Jack Goldstone, and Kenneth Pomeranz—as “already rapidly becoming outdated” and “a relic of the bygone past” (pp. 86–87).

Mark Metzler unravels the relationship between Friedrich List’s thought and one of his most prominent advocates in Japan, Takahashi Korekiyo (1854–1936), to highlight the cosmopolitanism of avowedly national economics (p. 118). Takahashi is most famous for guiding Japan’s early recovery from the Great Depression after 1932 as the head of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MCI). His invocation of List reveals a bundle of complex interactions between competing foreign “universals,” List’s economic nationalism and Adam Smith’s liberalism, and “recycled” and “extended” existing local materials of political economy. Second, Metzler argues, universal liberal and national-protectionist policies have cycled over time, appearing more as phases or aspects of a single process (pp. 99–100, 119).

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