- Global Perspectives on Global History: Theories and Approaches in a Connected World by Dominic Sachsenmaier
This book studies the institutional and conceptual landscape that has sustained and shaped world historical scholarship. This is new terrain for intellectual query and therefore the book is to be much appreciated for that. For many academics who teach global history, the introductory remarks to students need no longer seek justification in the lived realities. They can very well point to a read like this for a thorough historiographical reflection on when, where, and how, or the contingency of global historical outlooks. The book appends such approaches to transnational trends, academic structures and interactions, and the specific national political and social contexts of the United States, Germany, and China.
Border-crossing historiography as such has a deep history. In the earliest of times world historical writings were undergirded by a conception of space on the broadest scale and marked by religious, cultural, and ethical centricity. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries global historiography became distinctively secular. In Europe and elsewhere, the academic, university-based historiography was increasingly imbricated with nation and replete with notions of “world historical centers and peripheries” (p. 13). Outside Europe, historiography, in the garb of pedagogy for building a functional nation-state, looked at Europe as a model of rationality. This latter trend was broken with the rise of dependency theories in the pre–World War II era and of subaltern studies in the 1980s that were insurgent voices against the assumptions in prior theories that took Europe as a model.
The “space” of reference for global historiography has evolved with time. But the author consistently examines the global conditions amid which theories have emerged and receded from prominence. The [End Page 664] “global” as an analytic, in Sachsenmaier’s understanding, is “a compound web of overlapping local, regional, national, and global formations” (p. 39). In addition, the global is not topographically flat, but is rather imbued with hierarchies. This becomes an entry point in the book to discuss in a critical way the output of theories globally with regard to unequal power equations in the comity of nations, varied institutional resources undergirding academic and professional historiography in different settings, and the sheer dominance of certain languages in history writing. The best and most elaborate analysis of such patterns in the book appears for recent times in the twentieth century.
Moving on to examine the local contingencies of global historiography, the author first of all spotlights the heterogeneity of this body. Local differences can be potentially countless and of necessity the author focuses on three case studies. The cases he examines bring to light the far more connected world context in which important theories germinate. He demonstrates the centrality of the American academia as “a transaction hub” in the emergence of theories that challenged Eurocentrism (p. 59). The rise of area studies in the American academia and pluralization and democratization of American universities disturbed the status quo in the conceptual maps of humanities and social sciences. The unity and seamlessness of the past was questioned and elite perspectives were countered with subaltern outlooks laced with politics of identity. Such trends formed a background to the emergence of theories subsequently that were imbued with anti-hegemonic ideals.
The book has to be lauded for the examination of modernization theory and its complicated career in China. China theorists engaged with modernization in complex ways as part of a desire to accomplish positive change while going beyond their experiment with “revolution.”
The local national context strongly took hold in the German historiography. The obsession to explain the German past overrode any effort to focus on the arena external to the German nation. The few attempts at looking at the distant world were still guided by the drive to understand the authoritarianism in German past and the role of “violence” in German colonialism. Perhaps the book is admittedly focused on the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries and thus...