Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Global History in a Plural World

Prof. Dr. Dominic Sachsenmaier


My main goal is to complete and revise my book manuscript, which tentatively entitled Thinking About History in a Plural World and will be published by Cambridge University Press. The book seeks to apply trans-regional perspectives to current debates on global history, transnational history, and related fields. Global history in its present form is not only characterized by rivaling schools of thought, levels of interest, and methodological choices. An important – and hitherto largely neglected – facet of global history’s pluralistic nature is the fact that the field has recently experienced surging levels of interest in many parts of the world. It is often erroneously believed that the recent movement towards new forms of border-crossing history largely originated in Anglophone countries, most notably the United States. Yet at the same time as in the West, an increasing number of scholars in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere have become convinced that much of human history is not best understood by containing our investigations within particular national or regional visions. Even though many places have seen a building momentum towards global historical research, its single rhythms remain quite isolated from one another and confined to single regions and linguistic communities. Particularly in Western academia, mirrored walls have surrounded most methodological reflections and exchanges on global history.

This book makes the highly diverse nature of the research landscapes that can be subsumed under “global and transnational history” its point of departure. Neither strictly global nor local visions grant us a comprehensive view, which is why the book can impossibly set an Archimedic point from which its entire narrative can be construed. Thinking About Global History in a Plural World thus seeks to alternate viewpoints between global perspectives and local case studies. The first chapter offers some global perspectives; it focuses on the current professional, social, and political environments of academic historiography. Among other topics, it discusses several structures and cultures in the worldwide environments of historiography, which are based on hierarchies between world regions and languages. While I point out certain patterns of longue durée, it is not my goal to demonstrate that the inequalities in the international academic system have remained frozen in time. Rather, I maintain that particularly during the past few decades many global and local developments have contributed to increasingly critical attitudes to both, Eurocentric and nation-centered visions of the past. Many of these have been highly relevant for the global trend in historiography.

In the subsequent three chapters I devote separate case studies to the growing presence of global historical scholarship in the United States, Germany, and the People’s Republic of China. These three chapters not only discuss developments within university-based historiography but also shed light on relevant forces in other academic fields as well as in society at large. While covering the same time frame and investigating a comparable pool of literature, they pay attention to special accentuations of the global trend in each of the three cases. For example, the developments leading to the growing interest in transnational and global historical scholarship in the United States need to be contextualized in the significant transformations that the country’s higher education system has experienced during the past half century. Here developments such as the civil rights movement and the pluralization of the faculty and student body resulted in a growing fragmentation of historiography which was then followed by a mounting search for spaces of inquiry across and beyond national and Eurocentric divides. By contrast, in China deconstructivist theories have played a far more subordinate role, and the concept of the nation state as a given territorial and cultural unit figures far more prominently in many recent approaches to global history. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, progressivist master narratives such as modernization theory have again come to enjoy a great prominence among scholars in China.

The last chapter elaborates on the present challenges and future agendas of transnational and global historical scholarship. At the beginning, the chapter discusses some potential contributions of global history to research in other fields ranging from historical sociology to postcolonial studies. Yet as I emphasize, it can hardly suffice to think globally about history while leaving intact the national divisions and hierarchies that continue to characterize the international environments of academic scholarship. If we take the quest for multi-perspectivity and global concerns seriously, it is necessary to expand current forms of transnational academic cooperation and develop new ones. The mere fact that university-based historiography as a professional type can be found in all parts of the world is certainly the result of a history of Western dominance; at the same time it carries a potential for critical global debates that has never been actualized.



Dominic Sachsenmaier: Global Perspectives on Global History. Theories and Approaches in a Connected World, Cambridge: Cambridge UP 2011.