Global History for Global Citizenship by Patrick Karl O’Brien: A Summary

Why is it important to study Global History?

Nietzsche said that ” knowledge of the past has always been desired in the services of the present.” That is still true, because Globalisation is the leitmotiv of our time Global History’s diffusion into systems of preparatory and higher education is unavoidable. Secondly, as science heads towards the ever smaller scale, Higgs boson and quarks, so other subjects have scaled in the opposite direction. Lastly, despite the large time scales, huge areas involved and heterogeneity of cultures involved, Global History is possible. So, we can do it, there is space for it and it is needed to understand the present.

It is important to historicise globalisation. Were it not for globalisation, of knowledge, of techniques and cultures, Global history would not be possible. However, without global history we can be left with multiple overlapping and contradictory descriptions of globalisation.

Historians have already shown that a global world existed for some before the 19th C transport and industrial revolution. Globalisation as an interrelated geopolitical, political, social, economic, religious and cultural process runs through history like a thread. But it can be divided into four heuristic stages.

Archaic globalisation: The ancient civilisations and their interactions up to the 14th C and the beginning of European exploration and expansion overseas.

Proto-globalisation: 14th C tp 1840s. Columbus, De Gama, Magellan and other’s journeys of discovery and overseas settlement. The expansion of overseas commerce and the relative decline in importance of overland commerce.

Modern globalisation: 1846 to 1948. As Marx said “Bourgeoisie exploiting the world” – a different sort of empire and globalisation which gave the world global systems of production and communication.

Contemporary globalisation: 1948 onwards. The independence of India in 1948 and the foundation of the People’s Republic of China were a profound qualitative change from what occurred under the previous round of globalisation.

These aren’t true categories in any epistemological sense, but they are useful to direct out analysis. We can examine the extend intensity, velocity and outcomes of connections over time through time and explore the forces changing the world.

The Hot and Cold War which occurred from 1939-1989 had a profound effect on the world. There is a greater demand for human rights, peaceful conditions of commerce, environmental protection and diffusion of development beyond the borders of states through some form of global governance.

Today’s globalisation is different to that of the past both quantitatively and qualitatively. To study of Global History is not to be an apologist for any neoliberal or neoconservative ideology, Global History can teach us the malign as well as benign outcomes of Globalisation.

For example, those who have studied the difficulty with which areas develop are not so enthrall to Ricardian principles. They can see, have studied, how forming states and domestic economies is a protracted and complex process. A process easily thrown off course by uncontrolled engagement with powerful geopolitical, economic and cultural forces from beyond porous borders.

Public History

Modern popular history often promotes patriotic (and xenophobic) narratives on economic development. These have drawn wide criticism for their ignorance of Japan, China, India, Africa and other “knowable” others. An over reliance on Marx’s of Adam Smith’s critique of Asiatic modes of production is not useful.

Global History has to engage with these dominant and parochial narratives because if it does not, their proponents will a) write school textbooks and b) promote their ideas through the television and through popular writing.  This publication is often done to promote an ideology – usually unfeted free enterprise or Stalinism.

Modern History, partly due to its genesis, is far too focussed on the local and the national. Global history allows us to approach global politics, society, culture, geopolitics, demography and social change. Global History can do this because it attempts to decentre itself and to be multidisciplinary.

Global History can help a global civil society grow to match a global political and economic realm. No objective understanding of the past is possible but an understanding of social and political processes is needed. This is not a new mission because all historians have always written with a mission, even if an ironic detachment was need to be taken seriously. What is different now is that Globalisation and Global History allow historians to show that we are all Global Citizens.


About Left Outside
I blog, I drink, I study at the LSE, I work at a wine shop.

2 Responses to Global History for Global Citizenship by Patrick Karl O’Brien: A Summary

  1. Pingback: Global History for Global Citizenship by Patrick Karl O’Brien: A Summary (via Global History @ LSE) « Left Outside

  2. Pingback: Do you think “global citizenship” is gaining traction or loosing ground around the world? – Titre du site

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