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Edited by Antoinette Burton and Tony Ballantyne. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.
In their new edited volume, World Histories from Below: Disruption and dissent, 1750 to the present, Antoinette Burton and Tony Ballantyne present a highly readable collection of essays that will challenge both scholars and students to rethink traditional approaches to world history. Like any good piece of scholarship on world history, this volume does not purport to provide an exhaustive account of its subject matter, but instead traces key themes through an impressive array of historical case studies from around the globe. Ambitious in scope but meticulous in detail, this collection functions equally well as a primer for undergraduate students or as a resource for advanced scholars seeking to draw wider transnational connections with their work.
The goal of the volume, as stated by Burton and Ballantyne in the introduction, is to incorporate the methodology of "history from below" into the rapidly expanding field of world history. For the contributors, writing "history from below" entails building off the insights of social historians like E.P. Thompson, and reckoning with the experiences of marginalized people such as women, Indigenous groups, colonized communities and the working class. It also means moving beyond world historians' preoccupation with narratives regarding "the rise of the West" and providing a more capacious account that details the experiences and contributions of populations within the "non-West" to global history and modernity. Finally, the volume's focus on disruption and dissent aims to destabilize triumphalist or linear readings of global history as "progress" by highlighting the multiple sites of contestation and resistance that shaped and were shaped by transnational flows of power and capital.
The essays included in this volume present an impressively coherent narrative when read together but also function well as stand-alone pieces. Most edited collections on world history tend to bring together scholars from a range of geographic specializations so that each chapter provides a focused account of a specific region which, when read together, provides a global perspective on a given topic. By contrast, each essay within Burton and Ballantyne's volume covers an impressive range of historical case studies by itself, meaning that each can be read as a global history of its own subject matter.
The first three chapters broadly address the political dimensions of disruption and dissent in world history. The chapter by M.J. Maynes and Ann Walter on "Modern Political Revolutions" challenges Eurocentric accounts of the "age of revolutions" by situating the European revolutions of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries within the context of connected uprisings in Haiti, Java, China and India. This chapter works well in conjunction with the contribution of Heather Streets-Salter, who provides a rich account of three key strands of resistance to European imperialism during the twentieth century: anti-colonialism, pan-Islam and international communism. Eileen M. Ford's chapter on "Insurgent Citizenships" takes a different approach by focusing on the problem of who gets to decide what does or does not make a citizen. Ford argues that such an approach reveals that dissent and disruption represent the historical norm, with marginalized people's quest for citizenship rights marking a constant feature in the modern history of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
In different ways, the next three chapters all challenge the notion that modern history can, or indeed should, be read through the lens of progress. In her excellent chapter on the making of the "modern family," Durba Ghosh explores the evolution of the concepts of gender, sexuality and family, by demonstrating how these malleable categories have been imagined and reconfigured around the world at different points in modern history, often to the exclusion of alternative social formations. Tony Ballantyne's chapter on religion challenges readings of modernity as synonymous with secularism by arguing that the modern period represented an unprecedented systematization of religion that cemented its place within the public sphere and helped give rise to the various fundamentalisms of the late twentieth century. In "Global Mobilities," Clare Anderson uses the topics of migration and unfree labour to explore the...