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  • A Companion to International History 1900-2001
  • Martin Horn
A Companion to International History 1900-2001. Edited by Gordon Martel . Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4051-2574-1. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxi, 471. $149.95.

Companions, dictionaries, encyclopedias – they are boons and banes to scholars. Their utility is evident, their limitations likewise. Sensibly constructed examples, like this collection, feature experts writing short essays that do not stray too far into controversy. The purpose is not to incite debate, but rather to inform readers of the current state of affairs on a given topic as well as to point to further literature. Judged on these grounds this Companion is a success, even if it does not quite meet the characterization of one its contributors (Warren Kimball, p. 296, footnote 1) as "grand, sweeping history".

Including the introduction, there are thirty-three essays. The contributions fall into two broad categories: thematic treatments of topics such as imperialism, internationalism, nationalism, finance and terrorism; and pieces surveying the outbreak of the First World War, the failure of the post-war peace settlements, [End Page 587] the origins of the Second World War, the Cold War, and ultimately the establishment of a New World Order. All of the essays are between ten and fifteen pages long, including notes and annotated suggestions for further reading. Compression, evidently, was a key consideration in penning these pieces, many of which cover wide-ranging topics.

There are essays on Mussolini and Ethiopia, on Appeasement (from the British perspective), on Stalin and the West, but nothing explicitly on either German foreign policy or Hitler. Other omissions exist. While the post-1945 period is covered in papers on a Bipolar World, on decolonisation in South-East Asia, on the Middle East, and on Sino-Soviet relations, readers interested in the international history of South America will search in vain. Save for the odd page here and there, as in Norrie Macqueen's essay "A Third World", (p. 315), the continent is missing. This follows from the guiding theme laid out in Gordon Martel's introduction, where he advances the notion that empire was the leitmotif of twentieth-century international history. The struggle for or against empire can plausibly be seen as a dominant theme of the history of Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, but South America, where "informal empire" flourished, is harder to pigeon-hole. Nor is it apparent how empire fits with the advent of trans-national organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations. Readers will also notice that conventional political accounts dominate the non-thematic essays. Once again this is not surprising and indeed is understandable. It does, however, exact a penalty, shearing international history of much of its variety – culture, economics (with the notable exception of the essay by Robert Boyce), and warfare, for instance, are largely absent. Yet as Ralph Blessing points out in his essay, "A Changing Diplomatic World", international relations was broadening beyond the political throughout the twentieth century.

Nonetheless this should not detract from recognition of the usefulness of the collection. The essays are well crafted, the suggested annotated readings up to date and particularly helpful. Scholars looking for concise treatments of topics outside of their specialization will find the Companion a welcome addition.

Martin Horn
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


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pp. 587-588
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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