This essay analyzes why historians in Japan as in the West concentrate on only a few places, primarily their home countries and Europe. It responds to the challenge laid down by Luke Clossey and Nicolas Guyatt in their 2013 study, “It’s a Small World After All,” which revealed the parochialism of British, Canadian, and U.S. historians. By examining the geographical focus of the historical profession in Japan, I show that history confronts the problem not just of one “small world” but of many, alternative “small worlds.” History, in short, is beset by contending parochialisms. Moreover, as the data reveals, the distorted geographical emphasis of contemporary historians bears surprisingly strong traces of late nineteenth-century Western European imperialism. My findings raise three questions: (1) why does the practice of history everywhere create distorted maps, (2) should our ideal as historians be proportional representation in terms of geography and population or should it be greater clarity as to why some places are chosen over others, and (3) can world history transcend these small incongruous worlds and supply a single over-arching perspective? As I will argue, distorted geography is not in itself a problem for historians, nor is it our mandate to represent the past in accord with current population figures. The problem, rather, is our reluctance to remap the historical terrain formed in the 1890s in response to urgent new questions about human experience, in particular our environmental challenges.


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pp. 187-218
Launched on MUSE
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