- Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past
Readers of this journal will want to take special notice of Manning's recently published coastal pilot for developing world history into a rigorous academic subdiscipline. It is an eclectic read that has the cumulative feel of a historiographical essay, a "state-of-the-field" presidential address, no less than twenty articles in the Journal of Higher Education, the polished lectures of a graduate seminar in world history research, and a well-wrought proposal sent to the provost of academic affairs for the design of a new program (or several new programs) in world history. Coming, as it does, from the desk of a well-seasoned researcher in world history and an advocate who has spent a good share of his time brainstorming, collaborating, and designing programs that facilitate world history scholarship, Navigating World History should be carefully read and then placed to the right of Ross Dunn's edited The New World History on the readily accessible bookshelf.
The material for the book was developed over the course of about twelve years while teaching numerous graduate courses in world history methodology, research, and historiography. The voice of the graduate instructor is evenly matched with the insight culled from Manning's experience as director of Northeastern's World History Center, an institution that "teeters towards collapse" (p. viii) in the context of shrinking academic budgets as well as a certain absence of academic legitimacy. The basic premise of the text is that world history, despite its long history and recent fluorescence, is hampered by an amateurism that is exacerbated by a lack of formal graduate training. Navigating World History is thus an "overview and critique" of world historiography [End Page 223] as well as a plan for adding rigor and legitimacy to world history research. The text is organized into five sections that need not be read in order; indeed, the text as a whole is artfully crafted for the purpose of piecemeal mining. The first and longest section is an extended historiographical essay divided into chronological chapters. Here we are privy to one of Manning's more important insights into the development of the field. World historiography can be typologically split into two "paths," the first belonging to traditional historical methods (focusing on civilizations, nations, and social history). The second, more recent, path Manning calls "scientific-cultural" and consists of the use of new non-archival sources and methods from fields like evolutionary biology, environmental science, paleontology, archeology, chemistry, as well as linguistic and literary studies. The two paths are hardly mutually exclusive and have intertwined of late, but in Manning's estimation, it is the new work coming from the scientific-cultural path that is the "ultimate"—taking his cue from either Jared Diamond or evolutionary biology—reason for the recent fluorescence in world history. The historiographical treatment moves quickly up through the nineteenth century, but the lion's share of the section is devoted to the twentieth century. Manning offers criticism along the way and then extrapolates to present concrete lessons for the world historian. For instance, after a discussion of historical philosophy through the nineteenth century, he notes that "the task of the world historian today is to link speculation, logic, and evidence into a coherent analysis with the goal of developing broad, interpretive, and well-documented assessments of past transformations and connections" (p.36). Many of his subjects, from Francesco Guicciardini to John McNeill, will be familiar to readers of this journal. Manning's overview will be especially useful for graduate students, but his criticism and extrapolated lessons will be valuable to all.
The second and third sections cover the "revolutionary" developments in world history research and institutions in recent time. Section 2 outlines the theoretical and methodological advances in individual academic disciplines, area studies programs, and global studies programs. The major point seems to be that historians should continue to build strong ties to affiliated fields such as anthropology and biology. Consequently, historians will be the "recipients of...