A summary of the main trends in world history document, dated August 1997, by J. Bentley, to be found on the American Historical Association website. Safety copy Jun 00. original version.



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Shapes of World History in Twentieth-Century Scholarship

Jerry H. Bentley


Prepared as a pilot project for the American Historical Association by the University of Virginia Library Publications Office.

August 1997


Contents

Foreword
Shapes of World History in Twentieth-Century Scholarship
The Philosophers of History
The Social Scientists
The Professional Historians
New Directions
Notes
Bibliography

Jerry H. Bentley is professor of history at the University of Hawaii. He has written widely on the cultural history of early modern Europe and has also made contributions to the field of world history. He explored some of the cultural implications of Renaissance humanism in Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), and Politics and Culture in Renaissance Naples (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). His most recent book is Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), which examines processes of cross-cultural interaction in the eastern hemisphere before 1500 C.E. He has also been active in the organization of graduate studies in world history, and he has served as editor of the Journal of World History since its appearance in 1990.

This essay appears in Civilization as a Global Project: Sedentary and Nomadic Societies in Cross-Cultural History, published by Temple University Press in the series Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig.

 

Foreword

Given the previously rather peripheral position of global and comparative history in the discipline, the growth of interest in these fields over the past three decades or so has been truly remarkable. The appearance of numerous works by prominent scholars on transcultural interaction and on variations in social systems and political economies, the great proliferation at both the college and secondary-school level of courses on world history and numerous textbooks with which to teach them, and the formation in recent years of the World History Association, an affiliate of the American Historical Association, all testify to the increasing importance of global and comparative scholarship and teaching within the historical profession. In some ways these developments represent a revival, for world or cross-cultural history is as ancient as Herodotus, and it enjoyed particular favor among Western intellectuals from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. But challenges to the grand designs or underlying "laws" that writers like Spengler or Toynbee discerned in human history, as well as an increasing emphasis on area specialization within the discipline as a whole, led to doubts about the feasibility or even the advisability of attempting to generalize across vast swaths of time and space. In scholarship, world history came to be seen as a pastime for dilettantes or popularists; in teaching, it was increasingly equated with unfocused social studies courses at the secondary-school level.

Though the current interest in global history reflects a continuing fascination with the broad patterns of human development across cultures that were the focus for earlier works on world history, the "new" global or world history differs in fundamental ways from its predecessors. Writers of the new global history are less concerned with comprehensiveness or with providing a total chronology of human events. Their works tend to be thematically focused on recurring processes like war and colonization or on cross-cultural patterns like the spread of disease, technology, and trading networks. Their works are often more consciously and systematically comparative than the studies of earlier world historians. Partly because the research of area specialists has provided today's scholars with a good deal more data than was available to earlier writers, the best recent works on global history also display a far greater sensitivity than the more comprehensive world surveys to cultural nuances and the intricacies of the internal histories of the societies they cover. In addition, few practitioners of the new global history see their task as one of establishing universal "laws" or of identifying an overall teleological meaning in human development. Their main concerns are the study of recurring processes and the dynamics and effects of cross-cultural interaction. Depending on their original area orientation, global and comparative historians adopt these approaches because they see them as the most effective way of bringing the experience of the "people without history" into the mainstream of teaching and scholarship, of relating the development of Europe to that of the rest of the world, or of challenging the misleading myth of exceptionalism that has dominated so much of the work on the history of the United States.

This series of essays is intended to provide an introduction to the new world history. Each pamphlet explores some of the interpretations and understandings that have resulted from cross-cultural and comparative historical studies undertaken in the past three or four decades. The pamphlets are designed to assist both college and secondary-school teachers who are engaged in teaching courses on world history or courses with a comparative format. Each essay is authored by an expert on the time period or process in question. Though brief lists or works that teachers might consult for more detailed information on the topic covered are included in each of the pamphlets, the essays are not intended to be bibliographic surveys. Their central aim is to provide teachers facing the formidable task of preparing courses that are global or cross-cultural in scope with a sense of some of the issues that have been of interest to scholars working in these areas in recent decades. The essays deal with specific findings and the debates these have often generated, as well as broad patterns that cross-cultural study has revealed and their implications for the history of specific societies. Although all of the essays are thematically oriented, some are organized around particular historical eras like the age of Islamic expansion or the decades of industrialization, while others are focused on key topics like slavery or revolution. Because there are many approaches to global history, these essays vary in format and content, from ones that are argumentative and highly interpretive to others that concentrate on giving an overview of major patterns or processes in global development. Each essay, however, suggests some of the most effective ways of dealing with the topic or the era covered, given the current state of our knowledge. In recognition of the quincentenary of Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas, the series begins with an essay on the impact of the processes set in motion by his voyages. Subsequent pamphlets cover topics and time periods from the era of early European overseas expansion to the present and then from the era of expansion back to the time of the Neolithic Revolution.


Michael Adas
Series Editor
Professor of
History
Rutgers University


 

 

Shapes of World History in Twentieth-Century Scholarship

In a way, world history has been around since the earliest days of historical writing. In ancient times, the world's various peoples did not have access to much reliable information about distant parts, but they displayed considerable interest in understanding how their own experience fit into a larger scheme of things. Herodotus took immense pleasure in describing the customs of all the peoples he encountered or heard about, and the heart of his work dealt with a clash of epic dimensions between Greek and Persian civilizations. Sima Qian and Ban Gu, founders of the Chinese tradition of historical writing, focused their attention on the domestic history of the Han dynasty, but they made room in their works for accounts of nomadic peoples from central Asia and their dealings with Chinese. Meanwhile, though not historical works in a narrow sense of the term, many of the religious texts, myths, and legends of ancient times assumed some sort of world-historical vision: they accounted for the creation of the world, its population by human beings, and the experiences of a particular cultural or ethnic group in the context of the larger human community.

Interest in large questions of this sort did not disappear with the ancient world. The continuing vitality of ancient cultural traditions and the increasing prominence of cross-cultural encounters and interactions ensured that some variety of global vision would persist in later times. In medieval Europe, for example, chroniclers often opened their works with a review of biblical history, including the world's creation and the experiences of ancient Jewish, Roman, and Christian peoples. The official dynastic histories of China followed the lead of Sima Qian and Ban Gu by routinely including sections on nomads and other foreigners, and on Chinese relations with them. Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth-century Muslim philosopher, elaborated a remarkable set of principles designed to explain the dynamics of human states and societies in quite general terms. During the European Enlightenment, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Leibniz all made some effort to learn about the historical and cultural traditions of Persia and China and to incorporate them into a broader vision of the world's past.

Many of these early efforts to understand the world's various peoples obviously reflected some variety of parochial bias--a problem that twentieth-century world historians have by no means entirely avoided--since the writers often enough intended for their works to demonstrate the superiority of their own societies and traditions. Even when they did not indulge in frank self-congratulation, they generally viewed foreign traditions from some partial perspective. Voltaire, for example, certainly did not pretend that Christian Europe was superior to Confucian China, but rather sought to criticize European religiosity by contrast with a Chinese cultural tradition supposedly more secular and rational than that of Christendom. To that extent, however, Voltaire examined China with European problems in mind.

Only in the twentieth century has a more analytical and professional world history made its appearance. Two causes in particular help to explain its emergence. In the first place, an explosion of knowledge has vastly increased historians' understanding of the world during the past century. Earlier scholars simply did not have access to the information that well-informed world history presumes. Beginning in the nineteenth century, though, archaeologists, classicists, and linguists vastly expanded scholars' understanding of ancient times, while anthropologists, geographers, historians, and others compiled an impressive inventory of information about the histories and cultures of peoples throughout the world. By the mid-to late twentieth century, this stock of knowledge and information, while certainly not perfect, had become large and reliable enough to support efforts at global historical analysis. In the second place, the appearance of professional world history also reflected a new sense of international concern and responsibility. The twentieth century has witnessed two massively destructive global wars, not to mention numerous smaller conflicts. The search for international understanding has encouraged historians and other educators as well to inquire into the histories and cultures of foreign peoples. Moreover, it has prompted them to attempt analyses of the entire human community from ecumenical rather than partial perspectives.

These efforts are by no means unproblematic, even if they are more analytical and professional than earlier ventures into world history. European and Euro-American scholars developed information about the rest of the world in a context of imperialism and colonialism that to greater or lesser degrees influenced their representations of foreign peoples. Recent scholarship has made it abundantly clear that cross-cultural representations frequently reflect the interests of the observer more faithfully than the nature of the observed.1 As an expression largely of European and Euro-American societies, scholarship in world history has viewed the past mostly through Western lenses. Some would go even further and argue that by their very nature, efforts at world history represent a species of intellectual or academic imperialism.

While recognizing the problematic nature of the enterprise, many scholars have nevertheless come to the conclusion that some variety of world history represents an especially meaningful approach to the past for scholars working in the twentieth century. Scholars increasingly recognize that, through their interactions, all the world's peoples have contributed to the making of history, and world history represents a particularly appropriate means of recognizing the contributions of all peoples to the world's common history. The question then arises, what sort of world history to develop? World history means different things to different people, after all, and in the twentieth century alone it has taken many quite different forms. This essay will examine visions of the world's past that have emerged in the twentieth century from the works of three distinct groups of scholars: philosophers of history, social scientists, and professional historians. The essay will conclude with a consideration of the new directions that scholarship in world history has begun to take in recent years.

 

The Philosophers of History

The earliest of the twentieth-century approaches to world history is most closely associated with Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, though to a lesser extent also with figures like H. G. Wells, Pitirim A. Sorokin, F.S.C. Northrop, Karl Jaspers, Alfred L. Kroeber, Eric Voegelin, and others.2 Most of these figures worked during the period surrounding either the First or the Second World War. Like many others of their times, they pondered the past and future of Western civilization. Unlike most of their contemporaries, though, they also reflected seriously upon the experiences of other societies in hopes of understanding the larger dynamics of world history.

None of these scholars was a historian in the usual sense of the term. As a classicist, Toynbee was quite familiar with historical scholarship. But Wells was a novelist, Sorokin a sociologist, Northrop a philosopher, Jaspers a theologian, Kroeber an anthropologist, Voegelin a political philosopher, and Spengler a dabbler in mathematics and politics. None of them relied upon the methods that professional historians have traditionally employed in their work. Indeed, for the most part they had little interest in the events and processes of history, but sought rather to reduce the complexity of the world to some philosophical or systematic principle.

In several ways, though, the philosophers and systematizers of history deeply influenced the development of world history. Two contributions in particular merit some attention here. In the first place, the philosophers of history helped to elaborate a concept of large-scale, complex society--often referred to as civilization--and to establish it as an appropriate category for global historical analysis. (Currently, many scholars prefer the term complex society to civilization, since the latter has Western elitist connotations that are inappropriate for many of the world's large-scale societies.) In the second place, they also recognized that interactions between peoples of different societies and cultural traditions were processes of tremendous historical significance--even when the philosophers of history did not approve of cross-cultural mingling--and they began to explore avenues by which they could understand the complex dynamics of cross-cultural interactions.

Before the twentieth century, academic historians had made little effort to study social units as large as complex societies or civilizations. During the nineteenth century, when history emerged as a professional discipline, the centralized national state captured the imagination of most practicing historians. As a result, scholars focused their attention on the workings of national states and framed their understanding of the past on the scaffolding of national communities that made up an international political order. This strategy had a positive effect in that it enabled historians to place political, social, economic, and cultural developments in a meaningful and pertinent context. At the same time, though, it precluded satisfactory analysis of large-scale processes that did not recognize national boundary lines. The philosophers and systematizers of history did not deny the importance of the national state as a human institution, nor did they necessarily seek to abolish historical analysis undertaken within a national framework. In order to think about the significance of history on the largest possible scale, however, they found it necessary to conceive a unit of analysis larger than the national state.

Oswald Spengler

The notion of large-scale, complex society emerged to represent the largest meaningful unit of analysis in human society. The specific terms used to denote this concept of large-scale, complex society varied from one author to another, but the underlying idea remained reasonably consistent. In his Decline of the West, for example, Oswald Spengler concentrated his analysis on units that he called cultures--dynamic, organic manifestations of human society richly endowed with creative potential.3 Each historical culture possessed its own style, Spengler argued, which shaped all aspects of its conscious life--art, music, philosophy, religion, science, politics, and economy. In its early days, a vibrant culture could develop a rich intellectual legacy. Later, when a culture exhausted its creative potential and fell into a dull, repetitive, rigid routine, Spengler termed it a civilization. Despite his employment of a rather peculiar vocabulary, it is clear that Spengler thought of his cultures and civilizations as large complexes of political, social, economic, and cultural elements--a fair approximation of the contemporary understanding of the terms complex society or civilization. He thought of human society as an organism: it had a birth, developed systems that sustained its life, then decayed, and eventually passed out of existence. Since Spengler considered his cultures and civilizations to be independent entities that developed largely in isolation, he held that each one had its own distinctive style and characteristics, which determined its development from the beginning to the end of its existence.

Spengler did not attempt to apply his organic analysis to all the world's societies--in fact, he knew very little about Asian, African, and American lands--but he discussed three cases in enough detail to communicate clearly his understanding of human societies and their development. These three he termed the Apollinian (by which he meant classical Greece and Rome), the Magian (societies built upon the values of Judaism, early Christianity, Islam, and Byzantine Orthodoxy), and the Faustian (modern Western civilization). He considered the Apollinian society basically rational and oriented toward the present world, the Magian primarily mystical and concerned with an after-worldly dimension of existence, and the Faustian fundamentally practical and determined to extend human control to infinity. These traits informed all elements of the three societies. In architecture, for example, the Apollinian society preferred solid, proportional, well-ordered buildings like those of classical Athens and Rome; the Magian inclined toward dimly lit cavernous structures like the domed churches of Orthodox Christianity and Islamic mosques; the Faustian built soaring Gothic cathedrals that aspired to infinity. In mathematics, the Apollinian society concentrated attention on geometry, in order to understand and organize space most efficiently; the Magian developed algebra, which deals with indeterminate and unknown quantities; the Faustian invented calculus in an effort to gain intellectual control over the infinite. Spengler made similar associations between what he considered a society's basic character and other aspects of its culture.

What happened when different societies engaged each other in cross-cultural encounter? Interaction between peoples of different societies and cultural traditions ranks as one of the most prominent themes of world history, and any coherent vision of the world's past must find some way to deal with processes of cross-cultural encounter. Spengler held that each society viewed the world through its own lens and that it simply could not comprehend another one that understood the world quite differently. Efforts to extend a society's influence beyond its own boundaries resulted not in the spread of a vital tradition, but rather in a stunted, sterile cultural expression that Spengler called "pseudomorphosis." Since no society could live another one's life, the spread of one society's cultural tradition could do nothing better than smother the creative potential of its unfortunate neighbor. Spengler considered pseudomorphosis a universal historical principle, and he invoked it to characterize the fates of several societies. He devoted most attention, however, to the pseudomorphosis of Russia--fundamentally a Magian society, in Spengler's terms, but one that in recent centuries had reeled under the spreading influence of Faustian culture from Western lands. Spengler did not know what to expect as the ultimate result of this titanic clash of cultural traditions, but he clearly feared that whatever it was, it would not be good.

Spengler's work certainly has its quirks. Critics have often commented on its dogmatism and superficiality, not to mention its pretentiousness and sometimes its downright silliness. Few if any scholars today would accept Spengler's cultural determinism--his notion that one basic trait or principle determines all the rest of a society's political, social, economic, and cultural characteristics. Many, though perhaps not all, would disagree also with his contention that peoples from different societies cannot successfully communicate with each other. Even more basically, there are problems with Spengler's concepts: Spengler did not offer a precise definition of his terms culture and civilization, nor did he examine them in adequate fashion.

Yet Spengler's work held large significance for the emergence of world history for several reasons. In the first place, it was important because of its concept of large-scale communities (cultures or civilizations, as the case may be) as complexes of political, social, economic, and cultural elements, all integrated to some greater or lesser degree in identifiable historical societies. Beyond that, Spengler's work had great suggestive value because he took his large-scale communities as units of analysis appropriate for the study of the past. Finally, Spengler posed questions of high interest concerning interactions between peoples of different societies and cultural traditions. Later scholars obviously have not followed Spengler's lead in their analysis of these issues, but in many ways they have grappled with questions that he first framed in his own peculiar way.

 

 

Arnold J. Toynbee

Spengler's work deeply influenced the thought of the philosophers of history who succeeded him. Upon first reading The Decline of the West, Arnold J. Toynbee even entertained the notion that Spengler's volumes obviated the need for him to undertake his own analysis of history. He persevered, however, and in the end he produced a massive work simply entitled A Study of History-- twelve hefty volumes running to some 6,511 pages of closely printed text. Toynbee expressed his views in more straightforward fashion than Spengler. As a result, he demonstrated much more clearly how the concept of large-scale, complex society--which he sometimes called society and sometimes civilization--made it possible for historians to carry out meaningful analysis on a large scale. Toynbee argued explicitly, as Spengler had not, that the national state did not make a coherent field of study for scholars interested in the large processes of history. Only by studying larger units--such as Hindu India, Confucian China, or Western Christendom--could one understand processes such as the creation, growth, and decay of societies.

Thus Toynbee plundered scholarship and surviving source materials from societies in all parts of the world. He examined societies for the regularities that they experienced--genesis, growth, breakdown, and disintegration, so he called them--and he sought to identify principles, such as challenge and response, that governed their lives. Like Spengler, Toynbee envisioned history as a cyclical process, but he did not share his German predecessor's unwavering commitment to a rigid cultural determinism. Although he found that societies had mostly followed very similar historical trajectories, he held open the possibility that individuals' intelligence and will could make a difference in the experiences and fates of their communities. By responding in creative ways to the crucial challenges that they faced, talented leaders could steer their societies away from decline, inspire them with new values, and direct them toward harmony, efficiency, and prosperity. Toynbee recognized that most historical societies had either collapsed or undergone thorough transformation. But he did not regard a biological cycle of birth, growth, and death as the only appropriate model for the understanding of human society.

In several ways, Toynbee's Study of History registered clear improvements on Spengler's work. Toynbee undertook a far more systematic and comprehensive analysis of the human experience than Spengler: he considered the historical experiences of Europe and Asia in some detail, though he had little to say about the Americas and almost nothing about Africa. Moreover, he advanced reasonable-sounding, common-sense explanations rather than Spengler's quirky, dogmatic, speculative pronouncements on the experiences of societies. He frequently trimmed his discussion of historical processes to the needs of some preconceived purpose, but he avoided vague and unprovable assertions about the architectural style, for example, or the mathematical preference appropriate to a given society.

Toynbee also analyzed interactions between peoples of different societies and cultural traditions in a more satisfactory way than Spengler. In Spengler's scheme of things, there was little room for productive communication between different societies: cross-cultural encounters resulted in misunderstanding and pseudomorphosis rather than some more positive or stimulating process. Toynbee also took a rather pessimistic attitude toward cross-cultural encounters. He viewed them as important forces in the disintegration of societies, because they encouraged cultural promiscuity and undermined a society's own traditions. But he also reflected seriously on the processes by which technological, political, and cultural elements could cross the boundary lines of societies and cultural regions and provoke change in lands far removed from their origins. Toynbee clearly did not think highly of cross-cultural borrowings, and he certainly did not regard them as desirable influences. He despised jazz, for example, as the result of miscegnation between African, American, and European musical traditions. But he recognized the importance of cross-cultural interactions more clearly than had Spengler, and he made an effort to think about processes of cross-cultural encounter in more straightforward fashion than his predecessor.

For all Toynbee's industry, however, his work came in for a rather icy reception from the professional historians. The professionals praised his broad erudition and his imagination, to be sure, but they condemned his work for a variety of shortcomings. They charged him with sins in reasoning and use of evidence, largely because he attempted to order the enormous diversity of past ages according to the dictates of a preconceived philosophy of history and historical meaning. By his own admission, after all, Toynbee depended largely on the experience of ancient Greece in framing a model that purported to explain the course of development followed by human society in general. Specialists had little difficulty showing that Toynbee misunderstood or misrepresented the experience of China, the Americas, or the Islamic world in subjecting them to an alien developmental scheme. Professional scorn for his work unfortunately discouraged other historians from undertaking similar efforts, or even from attempting to improve on the ideas that Toynbee himself had advanced. Even Toynbee's promising features--his extensive learning, his insight, and especially his willingness to think about the past in a broad-gauged way--failed to exercise much influence among practicing professional historians.

Indeed, fascination with philosophical history has noticeably waned since the 1950s. It has not entirely disappeared: Eric Voegelin only recently completed his own effort at philosophical history, a five-volume work entitled Order and History . By and large, however, it seems that historians and philosophers have collectively and tacitly decided that there is little point in seeking to discover some specific meaning or to find some particular philosophical lesson in the sum of world history. Thus, when turning their attention to global historical issues during the past several decades, scholars have opted more for the analysis of historical processes than for speculation on the meaning of world history. Much of their analytical inspiration has come from various schools of social scientists who have addressed global issues in the modern and contemporary world.

 

The Social Scientists

After World War II, having achieved superpower status, the United States could no longer retreat into isolationism and ignore the larger world. As European empires crumbled, newly independent nations sought to identify policies that would lead them from poverty and misery to development and prosperity. In hopes of promoting development--and discouraging new states from joining the communist world--American policymakers and social scientists devoted serious attention to questions of development. The result was modernization analysis, which became especially popular in American academic circles during the 1950s and 1960s, and which wielded considerable influence both inside and outside the discipline of history.4

Modernization Analysis

Modernization analysis had a long background in the form of evolutionary and functionalist sociology, but in the late 1950s it began to take on a distinctive shape of its own. In searching for a model of development, modernization analysts studied the political, social, economic, and cultural history of Western nations. They hoped to identify policies that led to material prosperity, and they assumed that less developed lands could adopt similar policies and follow Western nations to modernity. One of the first prominent works to lend definition to the modernization school was W. W. Rostow's essay The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto , first published in 1960. By Rostow's analysis, development from a traditional to a modern industrial society of high mass consumption was basically an economic affair. The crucial stage in this development he called the "takeoff" into an era of high and self-sustained economic growth. The principal requirement for takeoff, Rostow argued, was a high level of productive investment, amounting to about 10 percent of national income. Given such investment, any society might experience takeoff and develop a flourishing industrial economy of the sort associated with modern nations.

Though cast in economic terms, Rostow's analysis had large potential for historical studies; indeed, Rostow and others offered historical interpretations of modern world history inspired by his understanding of economic growth, as in Rostow's study, How It All Began: Origins of the Modern Economy. But modernization theory influenced historical analysis rather more deeply when scholars broadened it to comment on political, social, and cultural as well as economic affairs.

A central figure in this effort was Cyril E. Black. In his well-known primer, The Dynamics of Modernization: A Study in Comparative History, Black envisioned a large-scale process by which traditional societies became modern. In crossing the threshold of modernity, Black argued, societies underwent several kinds of transformation. An intellectual transformation enabled them to gain increasing control over the environment, particularly by bringing science and technology to bear on human problems. A political transformation brought leaders who mobilized human resources in an efficient way and engaged them in the process of modernization. Savings and investment fueled an economic transformation, which resulted most dramatically in industrialization, but also in increased wealth and productivity. A concomitant social transformation worked several effects, including rapid urbanization, increasing specialization of labor, and changing patterns of relations between the sexes. Finally, a psychological transformation encouraged an ethic of individualism, competition, and self-development rather than a conservative conformity to traditionally assigned roles.

Black's work clearly suggested the possibility of historical studies that could trace the modernization process in those lands that it had already transformed, as well as analyses that could examine the experiences of traditional lands in light of the process of modernization. Indeed, Black himself briefly outlined seven historical patterns that he believed the modernization process had followed. Others contributed more specialized studies of the modernization process of individual lands or regions. The result was a veritable avalanche of scholarship applying modernization theories and testing them against the experiences of individual lands. Most popular among subjects for analysis were Western nations and those lands such as Russia, Japan, and Turkey where Western influence had encouraged large-scale political, social, economic, and cultural transformations.

The potential of modernization theory to suggest fruitful lines for historical analysis perhaps becomes most clear in the works of Reinhard Bendix. In a series of studies--most notably Nation-Building and Citizenship and Kings or People: Power and the Mandate to Rule-- Bendix undertook comparative analyses of the modernization process in both Western and Asian lands. His interests centered on the formation of integrated national communities--on the processes by which political authority became legitimized and institutions emerged to represent various segments of society and to harness their energies. In western Europe, according to Bendix, democratic revolutions and industrialization helped to bring about liberal states and capitalist societies. Meanwhile, in Russia, the czarist tradition helped pave the way for authoritarian rule and totalitarian society. In Germany and Japan, an aristocratic revolution from above laid the foundation for an even more aggressive form of authoritarian rule. And in India, the strength and persistence of village society made it difficult, though not ultimately impossible, for an integrated national community to emerge.

To some extent, Bendix's comparative approach encouraged him to develop a nuanced understanding of the modernization process: he did not find it meaningful, or even possible, to explain the varied experiences of many lands by reference to a single, Western model of development. His sophisticated vision arose also from his reconsideration of the primary categories of society--the traditional and the modern--that modernization analysts recognized. In an influential essay of 1967 entitled "Tradition and Modernity Reconsidered," Bendix pointed out that tradition and modernity were not the exclusive alternatives that modernization analysts had sometimes assumed. To the contrary, in western Europe, modernity developed specifically out of traditional society. Thus, for example, the principal agents of modernity--democratic revolutions and industrialization--represented culminations of Western tradition at least as much as they signaled a departure from that tradition. Bendix thus considered modernity of the democratic and industrial variety a peculiarly Western development. In other lands, modernization would inevitably follow different paths, and modernity would take on correspondingly different characteristics.

Rostow, Black, Bendix, and other modernization analysts made contributions of large significance for the effort to understand the dynamics of modern world history. They concentrated attention on themes that are absolutely crucial for the effort to understand modern society--urbanization, industrialization, science, technology, communications, mass education, and the like. They succeeded especially well in analyzing developments within a given society--such as capital investment, the building of a transportation and communications infrastructure, the development of a work ethic, and the organization of mass public education--that worked to bring about modernization. Their penchant for comparative studies encouraged a broad-gauged approach to the analysis of modern history. As a result of all these features of their work, the modernization analysts illustrated by example how to think about global historical processes in a useful way. Indeed, the processes they studied have profoundly altered the character of Western society, and they have left their collective mark on all the rest of the world as well.

Yet the modernization school could hardly survive the difficulties of the 1970s, at least not without undergoing considerable revision and reformulation. Its optimism regarding the prospects for spreading Western-style democracy and promoting progress and prosperity throughout the world fell hard when insurgency and revolution raged in the Third World. Meanwhile, scholars became disenchanted with the ethnocentric assumptions held by many (though certainly not all) of the modernization analysts, such as the notions that Western peoples had found the royal road to modernity, that others should follow the Western example, and that Western nations might even resort to strong-arm methods to bring about modernization in less developed parts of the world. Finally, the modernization school became seriously tainted by the increasingly unpopular policies advocated by some of its proponents concerning American policy toward Vietnam.

By no means did modernization analysis completely disappear. Although it became unpopular in many quarters, many scholars continued to draw inspiration from modernization analysis. Indeed, in some ways it seems that a renewed and reformulated modernization analysis has recently begun to take shape in the works of scholars like E. L. Jones. In The European Miracle: Environments, Economies, and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia, Jones offered a sophisticated comparative study examining European economic history in the light of other societies' experiences. He traced intensive economic growth largely to a liberal political environment: unlike the imperial states of China, India, and the Islamic world, he argued, the states of early modern Europe could not siphon the wealth generated by entrepreneurs and merchants in their lands. European states did not necessarily promote capitalism and economic growth, but they at least refrained from stifling it, so Jones argued. In Growth Recurring: Economic Change in World History, Jones expanded the scope of his analysis by examining cases of intensive economic growth in Song China and Tokugawa Japan as well as industrial Europe. Far from being a uniquely Western phenomenon, then, intensive economic growth was a perfectly natural development when political authorities did not suffocate it. Like earlier modernization analysts, Jones emphasized conditions internal to a society as the most crucial for determining its economic development, and he placed the European experience squarely in global context by comparing it with those of other societies. At the same time, however, he avoided the ethnocentrism of earlier modernization analysts by focusing on economic growth as a historical phenomenon, rather than on Western experience as a model that other lands must follow in order to enjoy economic growth.

 

 

Dependency and World-System Analysis

Nevertheless, during the 1970s and 1980s modernization analysis faced a sustained challenge by critics who framed alternative points of view concerning the dynamics of modern world history.5 The most persistent of these critics came from the schools of dependency and world-system analyses, which together represent another avenue by which social science disciplines have helped to frame the contemporary vision of world history. The intellectual source of these schools was the thought of Latin American economists who articulated an alternative and a challenge to modernization theory during the 1960s. They argued that the development policies of the United States and the United Nations had brought economic and political ruin to Latin America, indeed that they resulted in new forms of exploitation rather than genuine development. During the later 1960s, sympathetic scholars like Andre Gunder Frank made this line of thought known in the English-speaking world, where it quickly became popular with scholars who could no longer accept the modernization analysts' vision of the world.

Frank's work is doubly important for present purposes, since he not only introduced the dependency perspective to the English-speaking world, but also elaborated an interpretation of modern world history that took its inspiration from dependency theory. In works such as World Accumulation, 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment, Frank argued that imperialism and colonialism are the keys to understanding the dynamics of modern world history. From the sixteenth through the early twentieth century, Western nations progressively established their hegemony in the world and subjected its various regions to the demands of a capitalist world economy. The concepts of the metropolis and the satellite helped him to explain the workings of this development. The metropolitan powers--i.e., imperial and colonial nations--established satellite cities and bureaucratic centers in subject lands, through which they ruthlessly extracted surplus wealth and thwarted any potential for economic development along the lines that the metropolitan powers themselves had followed. Meanwhile, the surplus extracted from the colonized world represented the accumulation of wealth necessary for the development of full-blown capitalism. Thus, imperial and colonial exploitation resulted in both the development of the Western capitalist world and the underdevelopment of the Third World. Frank's vision clearly challenged the modernization scholars' presumption that internal factors such as investment and education were the principal agents of development. In the face of forcible intrusion and foreign exploitation by Western powers, the prospect that investment and education would lead to development in the Third World seemed dim at best, and probably hopeless.

During the 1970s, Frank's work resonated widely in the circles of young sociologists and political scientists. Its influence made itself felt most deeply and fruitfully in the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, who elaborated on it in his well-known world-system analysis. Wallerstein's multivolume examination of The Modern World-System clearly reflected the influence of the dependency school. Like Frank, for example, Wallerstein argued that modern world history made sense only in the context of Western imperial and colonial hegemony. Capitalist exploitation again explained the development of the Western world and the lack of development in other regions. Wallerstein also broadened and modified Frank's vision of the past in several ways. In the first place, he offered a far more detailed account of the modern world order, one that documented his interpretation in more systematic fashion than earlier accounts. More substantively, Wallerstein presented a world system that allowed for greater fluidity than that of the dependency school. Thus, instead of Frank's two categories of the metropolis and the satellite, Wallerstein recognized three--the core, the periphery, and the semiperiphery. The core and periphery functioned in ways very similar to Frank's metropolis and satellite, respectively. The semiperiphery enabled Wallerstein to analyze and account for the experiences of lands that moved up or down in the economy of the world system. Finally, Wallerstein also placed a great deal of emphasis on large-scale, long-term economic cycles that dictated the rhythms of the world system as a whole.

Dependency and world-system analysts successfully made the point that the dynamics of modern world history were more complex than the modernization theorists had supposed. A satisfactory understanding of the modern world entailed study not only of internal factors that could promote development, but also of the larger context of the world economy, which often enough worked in such a way as to impede development in colonized lands. Regional studies have often achieved sharp focus through the adoption of a dependency or world-system perspective. Thus, to mention only two examples, Walter Rodney studied How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, while Alvin Y. So and Stephen W. K. Chiu examined East Asia and the World Economy.

Though pioneered by sociologists, the world-system approach has deeply influenced the way historians, anthropologists, and scholars in other disciplines understand the dynamics of modern world history. Among historians, for example, Fernand Braudel, L. S. Stavrianos, Thomas J. McCormick, and John Obert Voll all drew inspiration--in quite different ways--from the world-system approach. Braudel's The Perspective of the World (the third volume of his trilogy, Civilization and Capitalism ) analyzed the emergence and development of a global economy in the early modern world. In Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age, Stavrianos offered a history of the Third World from a world-system point of view. McCormick interpreted the history of American foreign policy in light of world-system studies in America's Half-Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War . In an article entitled "Islam as a Special World-System," Voll suggested that between about 1000 and 1800 C.E., the Islamic world constituted a cultural community based on an Islamic discourse. Meanwhile, in Europe and the People without History, the anthropologist Eric Wolf analyzed the effects of the Western presence in all parts of the modern world, showing that the arrival of capitalist techniques of economic exploitation and organization brought about thoroughgoing changes in the political, social, and economic orders of Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Quite apart from influencing historians' understanding of the modern world, world-system analysis has also suggested new perspectives on the premodern world. In Before European Hegemony: The World System, A.D. 1250-1350, Janet L. Abu-Lughod persuasively extended the basic premise of world-system analysis--the presumption that only a systemwide analysis will lead to adequate understanding of the dynamics of world history--to the age of the Mongol empires, well before Wallerstein's modern world system. In a series of articles and a jointly written book entitled The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?, Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills have postulated a world system extending as far back as 3000 B.C.E.

Dependency and world-system analyses have certainly advanced the understanding of the modern world, but they have probably not delivered the last word on the most useful approach to the study of world history. Criticism of the dependency and world-system approaches has at least two angles important for purposes of world history. In the first place, the narrow concentration on economic and political relationships found in dependency and world-system analyses results in an incomplete or even inadequate understanding of the past, since it excludes any genuine historical role for consciousness, culture, religion, or ideas, which it basically reduces to the level of ideology--functions of some set of economic or political interests. Science, technology, education, religious principles, political beliefs, moral values, and cultural ideals have all played their roles, not only in the development of individual societies and economies, but also in the evolution of relationships between different peoples and their respective societies. An analysis that treats consciousness and culture simply as a function of economic and political developments misses an important part of the dynamics of world history.

In the second place, while dependency and world-system schools have not shared the same sort of Western ethnocentrism that marked the works of modernization scholars, they have reflected a bias toward Western causation that often fails to do justice to the complexity of world history. Dependency and world-system analysts have skillfully demonstrated the point that internal national decisions by themselves do not necessarily lead to development. But by insisting that international capitalism determines the modern world experience, they make it impossible to understand colonized and otherwise exploited peoples as active participants in history, as human agents capable of recognizing and taking advantage of opportunity or of shaping their own historical experiences. When confronted by the challenge of global capitalism, human actors in satellite or peripheral lands have responded in a wide variety of ways, ranging from cooperation and collaboration to resistance and rebellion. Yet dependency and world-system analyses have focused attention so tightly on the interests and activities of Western capitalists that they have largely overlooked the roles played by peoples in the satellite or periphery as participants in the making of the world's history. Thus, despite their enormous popularity, extending across several disciplinary boundary lines, dependency and world-system analyses impress many scholars as approaches requiring additional methodological help before they can successfully account for the historical experience of the entire human community.

 

The Professional Historians

While philosophers of history searched for the larger meaning of the world's past, and while social scientists sought to understand the dynamics governing development in the modern world, professional historians largely continued to concentrate on the study of national communities. Only rarely did they attempt comparative or cross-cultural analyses, and they almost never sought to explore historical dynamics that worked their influence on a global scale.

Since the 1960s, however, the issues addressed by the philosophers of history and the social scientists have gradually but increasingly engaged the attention of professional historians. By the 1980s, interest in comparative and cross-cultural analysis had grown to the point that world history had emerged as a recognizable subfield of the larger discipline of history. The foundation of the World History Association in 1982 provided an organizational apparatus for world historians. In 1990, the World History Association and the University of Hawaii Press cooperatively launched the Journal of World History-- not to be confused with an earlier publication, Cahiers d'histoire mondiale, subtitled Journal of World History, published by Unesco between 1953 and 1972. Several major publishing houses--including Cambridge University Press, M.E. Sharpe, and Westview Press--introduced book series on themes in world, comparative, or global history. Responding to the increasing level of interest in world history, by the 1990s professional historians had elaborated a rich tradition of global historical analysis.

This global historical analysis has developed along three main lines that reflect the interests and analytical predispositions of individual historians. One approach focuses attention on the phenomenon of diffusion--particularly the diffusion of technology--and its effects on the societies involved. Another analytical school examines large-scale patterns in economic and social history, concentrating particularly on long-distance trade and the economic integration of large regions. The third approach explores environmental and ecological processes that work their effects on a large and sometimes literally global scale. There are no rigid boundary lines separating these three schools of global historical analysis, which do not by any means constitute mutually exclusive, competing orthodoxies. Indeed, individual historians have made contributions to more than one school, and individual studies often reflect the influence of more than one analytical approach. Nevertheless, the three schools represent somewhat distinct historical visions and scholarly enterprises. A brief discussion of each school will help to clarify the contributions of professional historians to global historical analysis.

Studies of Cross-Cultural Interaction and Diffusion

A single book--William H. McNeill's The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community-- provided much of the inspiration that drew professional historians to global historical analysis. It was Toynbee's work that originally attracted McNeill to world history: upon encountering the early volumes of the Study of History during the course of his graduate studies, McNeill became intrigued by Toynbee's broad vision and his willingness to think about large-scale patterns in history. McNeill later worked closely with Toynbee as the older man prepared the last volumes of his immense work. Yet McNeill did not share Toynbee's urge to identify regularities in world history or his concern to derive some sort of ultimate religious or philosophical significance from his study of the past. Instead, from the beginning of his scholarly career, McNeill concentrated his analysis on historical processes that worked their effects on the large scale of regions, continents, and even the world as a whole.

The dominant theme of The Rise of the West is diffusion. McNeill hypothesized that contacts between peoples of different societies and cultural traditions rank as one of the principal agents of change in human history. Sustained contact with foreigners has rarely been a completely pleasant experience, since it has often taken place in a context of political tension or even violence, while in any case it has also involved prolonged exposure to unfamiliar cultural traditions. The world's various peoples have elaborated many different combinations of ideas, skills, and technologies, and often enough they have found something in a foreigner's stockpile that has seemed useful for appropriation, adaptation, or refinement. Thus in The Rise of the West, McNeill examined the development of individual societies and cultural traditions, but concentrated special attention on the process by which skills and technologies diffused from one land or people to another, leading thereby to ever-changing constellations of power and social organization.

In works written after The Rise of the West, McNeill focused his diffusionist analysis on particular processes that worked their influences on especially large scales. In Plagues and Peoples, for example, he examined the dynamics of endemic and epidemic disease in world history. Contacts between peoples from different societies have led not only to the spread of skills and technologies, but also to the introduction of exotic diseases to previously unexposed populations. In all cases, epidemic diseases played havoc with the established order, as when bubonic plague not only decimated populations, but also disrupted trade, industry, finance, and society throughout much of Eurasia from the fourteenth through the seventeenth century. In some cases, demographic problems were severe enough to threaten the survival of large states and empires, as when Eurasian plagues of indeterminate character disrupted travel and exchange over the ancient silk roads and helped to bring down the Roman and Han empires. In a few particularly extreme cases, demographic collapse completely undermined traditional cultural and political systems, opening the way for wrenching changes: thus between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, smallpox and other exotic diseases ravaged populations of indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Pacific islands, allowing Europeans an opportunity to establish colonies and build European societies in distant lands. In all cases, human agents helped to spread diseases that worked deep influences on established political, social, economic, and cultural orders.

In The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000, McNeill shifted his focus from microparasites to macroparasites--human agents and institutions that have extracted surplus wealth from their populations and used it to maintain and strengthen their grasp on power. Especially important in this connection was the diffusion of military and industrial technologies, their refinement or adaptation to new purposes, and their potential to alter an existing political or military order. In accounting for shifting patterns of power, McNeill pointed, among other things, to the spread of bronze and iron metallurgy, chariots, advanced equestrian skills, gunpowder, artillery, firearms, models of military organization, and the commercialization of war and arms production. In each case, an invention or technology or skill magnified the power of the people who controlled it. In each case, too, though, neighboring peoples found it relatively easy to gain access to the invention, technology, or skill in question, with the result that all of them spread fairly rapidly through much of Eurasia. Once again, then, processes of diffusion helped to account for some of the most fundamental developments in the world's political and military history.

Without necessarily subscribing to all of McNeill's ideas and interpretations, several historians have contributed works that address the theme of technological development and diffusion and that throw particularly useful light on global historical dynamics. In Medieval Technology and Social Change, Lynn White, Jr., held that Asian technologies sparked far-reaching political and social changes when introduced to Western Europe. Lynda Shaffer's article on "Southernization" argued that beginning about the fifth century B.C.E., technologies that originated in India and southeast Asia diffused and influenced societies in China, southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean basin. In Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand-Year History, Arnold Pacey offered a nuanced analysis of technological diffusion from 700 C.E. to the twentieth century. He argued that diffusion generally has not involved a simple transfer of technology, but rather a dialogue: introduction of a technological innovation from a foreign society has most often sparked efforts to refine and improve it on the basis of the receiving society's traditions, and the result has frequently stimulated further refinements in other lands.

Other works have focused their analyses of technological diffusion on well-defined problems and issues that illuminate global processes. Daniel Headrick's studies--The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century; The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850-1940; and The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics, 1851-1945-- explore the technological dimension of European imperialism. They not only help to explain how Europeans rapidly extended their influence throughout the world during the age of the new imperialism, but also help to account for the technological advantage that Western peoples have enjoyed over other peoples during the past two centuries of world history. David B. Ralston's book, Importing the European Army: The Introduction of European Military Techniques and Institutions into the Extra-European World, 1600-1914, examines the political, social, and cultural repercussions of efforts in Russia, the Ottoman empire, Egypt, China, and Japan to reorganize armed forces on the model of European armies. Richard W. Bulliet's fascinating volume, The Camel and the Wheel , deals with transportation as well as military technologies and demonstrates that technological development and diffusion have deep significance for periods of history much earlier than the age of the new imperialism.

McNeill's own work has encountered criticism, much of it from the author himself. McNeill has pointed out that The Rise of the West did not integrate the historical experience of Africa into the larger pattern of world history; that it dealt largely with the activities of elite and powerful classes rather than the defeated and dispossessed; that it did not recognize the significance of economic growth and technological innovation in China during the period from 1000 to 1500 C.E.; and that high levels of cross-cultural transportation and communication to some extent undermine his notion of the premodern world as a place of several separate and distinct civilizations. Meanwhile, Marshall G. S. Hodgson and Edmund Burke III have argued that a residual Eurocentrism colors The Rise of the West and that the book does not deal adequately with interactions between societies.6

Yet McNeill's work also outlined a vision of historical development on a large scale that appealed strongly to professional historians. While dealing with global themes, it avoided the sometimes uncontrolled speculation and the a priori intellectual commitments that characterized the works of the philosophers of history. While dealing with forces that forged the modern world, it avoided also the deep engagement with social theory that characterized the studies of the social scientists. McNeill's work analyzed processes much larger than those examined by most professional historians, but cast the analysis in an idiom that historians could understand and appreciate. It is true that professional historians have not yet followed McNeill's example to the extent of essaying analytical works on the scale of The Rise of the West. But they have responded seriously to the challenge of global analysis: sometimes by studying processes that work their influence on a large transregional or even a global scale; other times by bringing the methods and insights of different disciplines to bear on global analysis, thus pointing the way toward new directions for scholarship in world history. Even when global historians have not become committed diffusionists, they have recognized and taken up the challenge of analyzing processes of encounter between peoples of different societies and cultural regions. Indeed, especially during the past decade, they have demonstrated considerable ingenuity in analyzing processes that work their effects across national and cultural boundary lines.

 

Large-Scale Economic and Social History

Meanwhile, a second major school of global historical analysis has concentrated attention on large-scale patterns in the world's economic and social history. Much of the research of this school has dealt with trade and economic integration over large regions, such as the world's major ocean basins. Scholars who have studied these issues have drawn considerable inspiration from the discipline of human geography, particularly from central-place theory or locational theory, which seeks to explain why urban centers arise, develop, prosper, and decay as they do. The study of central places proceeds primarily through analysis of environmental, climatic, and geographical conditions, but with attention also to political, social, economic, cultural, and other relevant circumstances. As a flexible instrument that readily recognizes the inevitability of change through time, central-place theory has a built-in appeal for historians, who have used it to good effect especially in the study of long-distance trade and exchange networks.

Thus, for example, the works of K. N. Chaudhuri--particularly Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 and Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750-- emphasized the remarkable effects of trade, which pushed the Indian Ocean basin toward economic integration well before modern times. Both in Trade and Civilisation and in Asia before Europe, Chaudhuri took inspiration from Fernand Braudel's richly suggestive vision of the Mediterranean as a sea integrating peoples and societies in Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia. Chaudhuri also drew upon central-place theory in seeking to explain the fortunes of the Indian Ocean's various entrepots and emporia through consideration of their access to resources, markets, and trade routes. The result was his vision of the Indian Ocean as a large-scale economic zone that featured well-articulated trade networks from the seventh century C.E. Trade in bulk commodities as well as luxury goods became extensive enough that manufacturers built on comparative advantages and established market-oriented industries around the production of textiles, steel, and ceramics. Thus Chaudhuri outlined the dynamics of an economic zone that profoundly influenced most of the eastern hemisphere during a millennium and more of world history.

While Chaudhuri studied the integration of the Indian Ocean basin, Philip D. Curtin examined the somewhat later process of integration in the Atlantic Ocean basin. One of the principal themes of Curtin's work is the complex of political, social, and economic influences that drew peoples from four continents into an integrated Atlantic world during early modern times, about 1500 to 1800 C.E. In The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, Curtin undertook a thorough demographic analysis of the commerce in African slaves, which ranked as one of the most powerful forces integrating the early modern Atlantic world. He investigated the African origins of the slaves, the routes they took and the places they went to in the Americas, and especially the numbers of Africans taken as slaves. In The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History, Curtin offered an even more ambitious analysis of the integrated Atlantic basin. In this work, the slave trade figured alongside the trade in sugar and other commodities, the development of transportation technologies, and the emergence of capitalism as agents that intricately intertwined the lives of all the peoples of the Atlantic world. Thus Curtin's comparative economic and social history helped to identify the integration of the Atlantic basin as a prominent process of the early modern world.

In Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Curtin undertook an economic and social analysis on a scale considerably larger than the early modern Atlantic world and sketched even broader patterns of human experience. Cross-Cultural Trade analyzed the phenomenon of the trade diaspora--communities of merchants, agents, brokers, and others who crossed cultural boundary lines in the interest of long-distance trade--and like Chaudhuri's work, it drew on central-place theory in order to explain the fortunes of the world's major trading centers. Thus Curtin's work shed light on the structure of long-distance trade and the role of merchants as some of the most efficient cross-cultural brokers in world history.

It perhaps warrants mention here that Curtin's influence on world history has made itself felt not only through his own writings, but also through the works of his students. Along with John Leddy Phelan, John F. Richards, John Smail, Jan Vansina, and other colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Curtin helped to pioneer graduate education and research on global themes during the 1960s. Students who along with Curtin make up the so-called "Wisconsin school" of global historians include Michael P. Adas, Ross E. Dunn, Richard M. Eaton, Franklin W. Knight, Craig A. Lockard, Patrick A. Manning, Joseph E. Miller, Colin A. Palmer, and David W. Sweet, among others who have undertaken research on global themes, mostly by way of large-scale economic and social analysis.7

Meanwhile, alongside Chaudhuri and Curtin, other scholars have also contributed to global historical analysis through the study of large-scale economic and social patterns. In Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350, discussed earlier, Janet L. Abu-Lughod outlined a commercial network consisting of interlinking circuits of trade that embraced most of the eastern hemisphere, and she explored its fortunes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. John Thornton's Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680 complemented the studies of Curtin and others by exploring the roles of African peoples and African traditions in the increasingly integrated Atlantic Ocean basin of early modern times. In The Asian Trade Revolution of the Seventeenth Century: The East India Companies and the Decline of the Caravan Trade , Niels Steensgaard studied the effects of maritime commerce through the Indian Ocean on terrestrial trade across central Asia. His work helps to explain how Europeans came to dominate global trade during early modern times. Two volumes edited by James D. Tracy--The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long-Distance Trade in the Early Modern World, 1350-1750 and The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350-1750-- present tightly focused essays on trade in the early modern world. Dealing with a somewhat later period, Peter N. Stearns offered an astute essay on the global significance of industrialization in The Industrial Revolution in World History . Stearns not only discussed the spread of industrialization throughout the world, but also examined its influence on development and underdevelopment, global migration, and the world's natural environment. Finally, although the Pacific Ocean basin approached economic integration much later than the Indian and Atlantic basins, scholarly attention has begun to focus on large-scale patterns of economic and social history in the Pacific context. In Coming Full Circle: An Economic History of the Pacific Rim , Eric Jones, Lionel Frost, and Colin White ventured an interpretation of the Pacific rim long dominated by the enormous political and economic weight of China, then subordinated, though perhaps only temporarily, to the overriding influence of European and American societies.

 

 

Large-Scale Environmental and Ecological History

The third school of global historical analysis has dealt with environmental, ecological, and biological processes that work their effects on a large transregional, transcontinental, or global scale. Since the earliest days of history, human groups have frequently traveled and moved over long distances. In doing so, they have carried species of plants, animals, crops, microorganisms, diseases, and other biota from their original lands and introduced them to new lands and new populations. Biologists have long studied these processes from a scientific point of view and have developed a solid tradition of ecological analysis. More recently, historians have addressed themselves to the human significance of these same processes. They have examined the motives and pressures that brought about biological exchanges, the dynamics governing processes of biological exchange, and the results of biological exchanges for both the human and the natural world. As a result of their studies, there has emerged a school of ecological-historical analysis that throws important light on themes of global history.

The work of Alfred W. Crosby best illustrates the significance of this line of analysis for purposes of world history. In The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Crosby studied the global effects of the uncontrolled biological exchanges that took place in the wake of Christopher Columbus and his followers. American maize, potatoes, cacao, and tobacco found their ways to all parts of the world, while Eurasian wheat, vines, cattle, and hogs all found new homes in the western hemisphere. Most tragically, exotic diseases ruthlessly attacked populations previously unexposed to their lethal pathogens: American syphilis spread throughout Eurasia with remarkable speed, while Eurasian smallpox and other maladies ravaged the native peoples of the Americas, and later those of the Pacific islands as well. In all cases, long-distance travels and cross-cultural encounters set in motion ecological and biological processes of profound human significance--processes that often determined the ways that human communities lived and died during the centuries following Europeans' arrival in the Americas and the Pacific Ocean basin.

In Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, Crosby essayed an even more ambitious task, as he sought to explain why European plants, animals, and human communities have established themselves in many different and widely scattered parts of the world, while species from other regions have not spread so extensively or successfully. His analysis suggested that European species benefited from a complex combination of mutually reinforcing processes. Eurasian diseases struck populations in the Americas and Pacific islands with devastating effect. As indigenous populations declined, European peoples found vast territories open for themselves, their crops, their herds, and sometimes for enslaved African peoples as well. Meanwhile, large Eurasian animals such as cattle, pigs, and horses faced no natural predators or competitors in the Americas or Pacific islands, so that they reproduced abundantly. As they fed voraciously on indigenous species of plant life, they disrupted delicately balanced environments and opened spaces for exotic plants and weeds to find footholds in broken ecosystems. Between 1500 and 1900, these interdependent and mutually reinforcing processes resulted in the establishment of what Crosby called "neo-Europes" throughout the world's temperate zones. Again, then, historical and ecological analysis helped to explain a process of enormous significance for global history--the establishment of European hegemony in the modern world.

Apart from Crosby, other scholars have offered particularly important contributions to the school of ecological-historical analysis on a global scale. In his book on Plagues and Peoples, discussed above, William H. McNeill studied the effects of infectious and contagious diseases when they crossed biological boundary lines. In Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700-1100, Andrew M. Watson showed that a wide variety of agricultural crops--including staple, vegetable, fruit, and industrial crops--crossed biological boundary lines and transformed diets and agricultural practices throughout much of Eurasia and North Africa well before modern times. William Cronon blended a sophisticated cultural and ecological analysis in his book, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, which placed the environmental history of colonial New England in the context of the encounter between British colonists and Native American peoples, with particular attention to the tension between differing economic systems and patterns of land use. In a detailed article entitled "Of Rats and Men: A Synoptic Environmental History of the Island Pacific," John R. McNeill studied the effects of imported species in the Pacific islands from the time of human arrivals to the twentieth century. In Death by Migration: Europe's Encounter with the Tropical World in the Nineteenth Century , Philip D. Curtin examined the risks that European imperialists faced from disease and other environmental hazards when they ventured into tropical lands. His work showed that Europeans in the tropics died at rates far higher than those at home, but that efforts to limit environmental risks ultimately enabled imperialists to maintain their presence in tropical lands. In A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting briefly sketched an environmental history of the entire world since the appearance of Homo sapiens . In all these works, and others as well, historians have shown repeatedly that relationships between human communities and their natural environments offer an unusually promising angle of vision for the analysis of encounters between peoples of different societies.

 

New Directions

In several ways, then, professional historians have addressed the challenge of world history and have generated substantial bodies of scholarly literature in the process. Their works do not always deal literally with the entire world, but they illuminate some of the most influential large-scale processes in world history. Analyses of technological development and diffusion; large-scale economic and social patterns; and environmental, ecological, and biological processes have enriched historians' understanding of the larger dynamics of world history even when they have concentrated attention on interactions between selected regions rather than the entire globe.

On the basis of recently published studies, indications are that scholarship in world history is branching out in several new directions. None has yet led to the formation of a clearly defined school of analysis such as those discussed above. All show considerable promise, however, and they may well point scholars toward new schools of analysis. Three emerging lines of study briefly discussed here include: efforts at the analysis of cross-cultural encounters informed by anthropological and ethnohistorical insights, a revival of comparative macrosociology, and the development of gender analysis in global perspective.

Anthropological and ethnohistorical inspiration has been most important for scholars examining the results of encounters between peoples of different civilizations or cultural regions. When peoples of different traditions became engaged in cross-cultural encounters, how did they establish communications and negotiate political, social, economic, and cultural relationships? How did they mediate differences and clashes between their respective sets of cultural values and expectations? How did differential political, military, or economic capacities affect the various parties engaged in cross-cultural encounter? How is it possible to account for the phenomenon of deculturation or for the process by which individuals abandoned their inherited traditions and adopted the cultural standards of other peoples? To what extent have embattled cultural traditions survived, or even undergone revival, after being overwhelmed by alien traditions often accompanied by advanced technologies, political support, and massive military might? Since anthropologists and ethnohistorians have long studied human cultural traditions in their broader political, social, and economic contexts, it comes as little surprise that historians have found their works suggestive in addressing these questions about the dynamics and the results of cross-cultural encounters.

Even when anthropologists and ethnohistorians have not specifically intended their works as contributions to world history, they have often thrown useful light on the dynamics of cross-cultural encounters. In Islands and Beaches: Discourses on a Silent Land: Marquesas, 1774-1880 , for example, Greg Dening explored the early stages of the encounter between Europeans and Polynesians in the Marquesas. He found mostly cultural misunderstanding and alienation, ending ultimately in Marquesan deculturation. Both European and Marquesan cultures presented a challenge to the other, but Europeans approached the islands in large numbers equipped with firearms, alcohol, and exotic diseases. Although Marquesans displayed considerable resilience, the avalanche of novelties that overwhelmed them had the effect of weakening traditional sanctions, undermining established roles, and dissolving the sinews of Marquesan culture. Ultimately, then, the encounter between Europeans and Marquesans resulted in the collapse of traditional Marquesan culture, without even the provision of a valid and thriving alternative.

Yet cultural survival, revival, and creation are also prominent themes in world history. Richard Price's fascinating studies of the Saramaka maroons--particularly First-Time: The Historical Vision of an Afro-American People and Alabi's World-- chronicle the Saramakas' remarkable building and maintenance of a community in Surinam in the face of overwhelming odds. Similarly, David Hanlon's Upon a Stone Altar: A History of the Island of Pohnpei to 1890 emphasizes the survival of embattled cultural traditions on a small island deluged by foreign influences.

Anthropological and ethnohistorical studies of cross-cultural interaction in the Americas suggest that deculturation was hardly uncommon when a people ravaged by devastating epidemic disease faced another people equipped with powerful weapons and technologies. Two works merit mention for their insightful examinations of the encounter between Spaniards and the Maya of the Yucatan peninsula: Nancy M. Farriss' Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival and Inga Clendinnen's Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570. Both works showed that the Maya nobility struggled to maintain the integrity of Maya traditions. Ultimately, however, as in the Marquesas, Maya culture largely succumbed to European numbers, weapons, and diseases. Some elements of Maya culture survived by adapting to Christian standards; thus, for example, the Maya readily embraced cults of the saints--particularly those whose feast days coincided with significant points in the traditional Maya calendar. By the nineteenth century, however, integration into an alien political, social, and economic system had largely devastated traditional Maya culture.

The encounter between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of North America followed a similar pattern. The works of James Axtell--most notably The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America; After Columbus: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America; The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America ; and Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America-- concentrated on the early stages of this encounter, before Europeans overwhelmed the indigenous peoples. In The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Richard White offered a subtle analysis of the mechanisms by which Europeans and indigenous peoples established and maintained political, social, and commercial relations. In the visions of both Axtell and White, indigenous peoples played prominent roles in the making of North American history, often forcing Europeans to make adjustments in order to survive. Over the longer term, though, for indigenous peoples the European presence in North America brought demographic collapse, ecological imbalance, dependence on trade goods from abroad, heightened intertribal tensions, psychological despair, alcoholism, and deculturation. By the nineteenth century, waves of European and African immigrants had largely overwhelmed the indigenous peoples of North America.

By paying close attention to power relationships, several scholars have thrown new light on processes of cross-cultural encounter during the age of European imperialism. In Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors, Frances Karttunen offered sixteen well-focused case studies of individuals who served as cross-cultural intermediaries--translators, interpreters, guides, and informants--mostly between indigenous peoples and representatives of Western imperial powers. Her analysis suggested that cross-cultural intermediaries have historically been individuals with unusual gifts, but that they have often become alienated by their own societies and marginalized by the foreign peoples whom they served. Two books by Michael P. Adas--Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order and Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance-- examined cultural clashes between Europeans and peoples of other societies during the imperial era. Both works explored the cultural dimensions of colonial encounters: the first by showing that European intrusion commonly provoked spirited reactions based on cultural and religious traditions of long standing; the second by showing that Europeans evaluated other peoples on the basis of their technological arsenals and formed ideologies of imperial dominance on the strength of their evaluations. European imperial ventures were the context also for Mary Louise Pratt's Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Concentrating on nineteenth-century travel accounts dealing with Africa and South America, Pratt argued that writers clearly reflected the interests of European imperial powers when they offered representations of the lands and peoples of Africa and South America.

Finally, two scholars have addressed the theme of cross-cultural encounter on a very large scale. Mary W. Helms examined the political and cultural effects of long-distance travel and the possession of foreign wisdom in Ulysses' Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Knowledge, Power, and Geographical Distance. In both ancient and modern times, knowledge and recognition from afar often carried considerable cachet, and Helms's work explores some of the ways that peoples have made political and cultural uses of distant authority. In Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times, Jerry H. Bentley undertook an analysis of cross-cultural encounters as global processes and identified patterns of cross-cultural conversion, conflict, and compromise that resulted from those encounters. He argued that cultural traditions did not readily cross boundary lines, that adoption of foreign values and cultural standards rarely took place except with the encouragement of powerful political, social, or economic influences. Even successful cases of cross-cultural conversion did not involve a process of exact cultural replication--the cloning, as it were, of a cultural tradition in new circumstances--but rather a merger of traditions by a process of syncretism. Again, then, the phenomenon of cross-cultural encounter emerges as a principal theme of world history. Given the significance of cross-cultural interactions in world history, it seems likely that anthropological and ethnohistorical studies will continue to work their influence in the literature of world history.

Alongside the increasing influence of anthropological and ethnohistorical approaches, recent years have also seen a revival of comparative macrosociology. Two recently published works fall in the tradition of Barrington Moore's famous study, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, which explored the significance of social relations for the emergence of democratic and authoritarian polities in modern times. As represented in Theda Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions and Jack Goldstone's Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World , this approach is more eclectic than earlier macrosociology, much of which fell rather clearly in either a Weberian or a Marxist camp. Moore, Skocpol, and Goldstone all drew inspiration from both Max Weber and Karl Marx, but without making irrevocable commitments to either, and also without ignoring alternative sources of inspiration. The result is a macrosociological perspective that is more analytically flexible and historically sensitive than those generally found in studies more firmly committed to Weber or Marx.

Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions, for example, not only analyzes the phenomenon of social revolution in France, Russia, and China with questions of class conflict in mind, but also represents part of a larger effort of macrosociologists to "bring the state back in" when dealing with large-scale social processes. Goldstone's Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World seeks to explain revolution and rebellion not simply as expressions of class conflict, but also as a result of more fundamental population pressures that manifested themselves throughout early modern Eurasia. The works of Moore, Skocpol, and Goldstone all represent ambitious attempts to identify principles and dynamics that guide modern world history. Though it is too early to say whether or not comparative macrosociology will develop into a flourishing enterprise, the studies of Skocpol and Goldstone suggest that interest in the approach is growing. If it continues to develop, comparative macrosociology will certainly offer valuable perspectives for purposes of global historical analysis.

A third new direction in recent scholarship in world history involves the incorporation of methods and insights from the literature of women's history and gender analysis. Since women's history and gender analysis have emerged only recently as fields of study, most of the scholarly literature adopts national or regional rather than global frameworks of analysis. Even the most important large-scale interpretations--such as Gerda Lerner's two books, The Creation of Patriarchy and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy, or the two-volume study of Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, A History of Their Own: Women in European History from Prehistory to the Present-- deal largely with a single civilization and do not undertake comparative or cross-cultural analyses beyond the Western experience.

Increasingly, however, scholars have begun to recognize possibilities for comparative and cross-cultural studies of women's history and gender analysis. In their edited volume, Writing Women's History: International Perspectives, Karen Offen, Ruth Roach Pierson, and Jane Rendall assembled a series of essays highlighting the global reverberations of women's history and gender analysis. Despite widely varying conditions in which scholars work in different lands--not to mention the even more varied historical experiences of women in different lands--Writing Women's History points toward cross-cultural studies and global analysis on themes of women and gender. Margaret Strobel's European Women and the Second British Empire illustrates the rich potential of such studies by examining the roles and experiences of European women in colonial societies. Though it focuses on European women, Strobel's work has deep cross-cultural implications, because in their capacities as missionaries, teachers, and organizers of women's associations, European women influenced the experiences of both women and men in colonized lands. The tightly focused essays in Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance , edited by Nupur Chaudhuri and Margaret Strobel, also reveal the potential of cross-cultural studies that bring the perspectives of women's history and gender analysis to bear on colonial societies. Thus, like the other two new directions taken by the recent literature in world history mentioned above, the emergence of a school that draws on methods and insights from women's history and gender analysis holds unusual promise for purposes of global historical studies.

During the course of the twentieth century, historians have stretched the boundaries of their discipline in several useful ways. They have drawn methodological inspiration from social scientists, adapted techniques of quantification to historical topics, investigated the experiences of women and other previously neglected groups of people, learned to use orally transmitted evidence in scholarly analyses, and taken cues from scholars such as those associated with the Annales school of analysis. The emergence of a subfield of world history ranks as a development parallel to the others just mentioned. As in the other cases, the analysis of global historical themes represents an effort to examine the past in light of the best knowledge available in the present. The works mentioned in this essay have all contributed to the larger effort to extend the boundaries of the discipline of history. In combination, they all suggest ways to frame a fresh vision of the past--one that deals responsibly with the reality of the past, but that also engages the issues raised by the complex and interdependent world of the present.

 


Notes

 

1. To mention only a few items from a large body of postmodern and postcolonial studies, see two works of Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978) and Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993); James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988); Bernard McGrane, Beyond Anthropology: Society and the Other (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); and Nicholas Thomas, Colonialism's Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994).

2. The most important scholarly literature on these figures includes H. Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (New York: Scribner, 1952); Edward T. Gargan, ed., The Intent of Toynbee's History: A Cooperative Appraisal (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1961); William H. McNeill, Arnold Toynbee: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Paul Costello, World Historians and Their Goals: Twentieth-Century Answers to Modernism (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993); and Pitirim A. Sorokin, Modern Historical and Social Philosophies (London: Constable, 1963).

3. Publishing information for titles cited in the text appears in the bibliography.

4. On the significance of modernization analysis for historical scholarship, see Craig A. Lockard, "Global History, Modernization, and the World-Systems Approach: A Critique," The History Teacher 14 (1981): 489-515; and Alvin Y. So, Social Change and Development: Modernization, Dependency, and World-System Theories (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1990).

5. For studies of these schools, see Lockard, "Global History, Modernization, and the World-System Approach"; So, Social Change and Development; Charles Ragin and Daniel Chirot, "The World System of Immanuel Wallerstein," in Theda Skocpol, ed., Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 276-312; and Thomas Richard Shannon, An Introduction to the World-System Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1989).

6. William H. McNeill, "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years," Journal of World History 1 (1990): 1-21; Marshall G. S. Hodgson, Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History, ed. by Edmund Burke III (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), ix-x, 92-94, 309; and Edmund Burke III, "Marshall G. S. Hodgson and the Hemispheric, Inter-regional Approach to World History," Journal of World History 6 (1995).

7. See Craig A. Lockard, "The Contributions of Philip Curtin and the 'Wisconsin School' to the Study and Promotion of Comparative World History," Journal of Third World Studies 11 (1994): 180-223.

Bibliography

The following bibliography includes all works cited in the preceding essay, along with other works not cited that contribute in some way to the emergence of world history as a subfield of the larger discipline of history.

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