- Thinking History Globally by Diego Olstein
This book is a basic manual for a discipline that is grounded on the fact that the world is becoming not only smaller and smaller, but also more interconnected. As a historian of (mainly) late medieval and early modern Eastern Europe, my job requires an intensive look at connections and interconnections between and among Vikings, Germans, Slavs, and others. However, “Global History,” as defined by Olstein, calls for another view of the world. Unlike World History, which can be traced back to the 1980s and is concerned with phenomena that had an impact on a global scale, Global History “adopts the interconnected world created by the process of globalization as its larger unit of analysis, providing the ultimate context for the analysis of any historical entity, phenomenon, or process” (p. 24). This important new addition to the growing body of literature on “larger scale history” suggests approaching history with four “thinking skills,” if you will: comparing, connecting, conceptualizing, and contextualizing.
The introductory chapter offers Argentina of 1946-1955 (Peronist period) as a case study for doing history globally. The story of the rise of Peron is told through twelve different prisms, which demonstrate the strongholds (and potential weaknesses) of global history, world history, and any other way of viewing the world. The case study shows how the rise of Peron was both unique and a part of a common experience, both “Argentinian” in nature and “global” at the same time.
Chapter 2 then explores twelve historical disciplines that serve global history: comparative history, relational histories (entangled histories; histoire croissé), new international history, transnational history, oceanic histories, civilizational analysis, historical sociology, the world-system [End Page 181] approach, global history, history of globalization, world history, and big history. Chapters three through eight explore the four strategies of thinking history globally along with using those twelve disciplines. When analysing and explaining each discipline, the book uses specific examples and key theorists, which are helpful to anyone wishing to fully understand the discipline and especially to those looking for suggestions for further reading. Then, the final chapter gives another case study—World War I—to provide an integrative exercise in thinking history globally.
The biggest advantage of this book is its didactic quality. No previous knowledge is assumed; no collegiate reading level is set; no long, convoluted sentences appear. Rather, Thinking History Globally is simple, engaging, interesting text, one that can be served to high school students as well as history professors. Offering practical guidance as much as historiographical knowledge, it is, I believe, ideal for methodology courses and world history surveys. It is to be noted, however, that an undergraduate student is less likely to find the entire book relevant. Since it deals with twelve approaches to history, it is probably more reasonable for undergraduate students to be exposed “gradually” to the book, reading chapters akin to the historiographical approach/historical methodology undertaken by another author they’re reading. In my syllabus, I have included only the first chapter. The case study, focusing on Peron’s Argentina, is intelligently analyzed in light of the various disciplines and thinking skills that form the basis of the book. Without delving into historiography just yet, students get a good grasp of the main premises and interests of historians working, for example, from the perspective of transnational history, and how they differ from scholars doing entangled histories.
Starting with the second chapter, more historiography enters. Specific books and journals are frequently mentioned, turning the book into a goldmine for graduate students as well as advanced undergraduate students compiling reading lists, as practice becomes entangled in theory. Instructors of methodology will find individual chapters useful, such as chapter 6, which discussed the social sciences. Overall, while filled with details and case studies from unrelated periods and places, the book still manages to be readable. Unlike Bartlett’s The Making of Europe, and texts like it, which can at times make you feel lost in a sea of anecdotes and stories, Olstein’s work interweaves examples into arguments, leaving them...