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EH481: Economic Change in Glbal History: Introductory Lecture

Taught by Alejandra Ingoin nad Tirthanker Roy. Lectures on Thursday Afternoons 3 til 5 in S221. My Seminar is at 5 on a Tuesday. This is a reading intensive course – read, discuss and debate. Seminars will take the form of two 12-15 minute presentations given by students, followed by a discussion. 2 x 1500 word essays will be submitted, non-assessed by they will be returned with comments and an indicitive grade. A 2 hour Exam will take place at the end of May.

This course looks at globalisation, history and economic change. Giddens (1990) says the stretching of social connections between local and distant defines the modern condition.

Global history is a critical response to post-modernism (the past has no core), globalisation defines the present and has consequences for the nation state, for cultrues of trust and for the economy. If the global is a condition of material life that condition has a history. Indentifying the global with the modern is questionable.

The state has been massively changed by globalisation, weakening it in someways and strengthening global checks and balances others. Trust has changed massively; In the past trust was generated by local/personal ties; today that is impossible and trust is instead generated by institutions.

Held argues that globalisation has a history, but that modernity is qualitively unique (a position I share). This is new geography of power and privilige which transcends political borders and regions. Global History does not place the nation state at the centre of its analysis (the only time that is appropriate is when national policies are being compared). Is Global History a different kind of history?


In O’Rourke and Williamson’s history states are almost absent, instead markets act with little direction from the state. If anything states are subservient to the markets. They emphasise the integration of a North Atlantic economy in the 19th C rather than several national economies. The transport revolution of the 19th C, increased trade and increased migration alead to wage, price and rent convergence across the North Atlantic region. For them the state is irrelevant – however this is a questionable assumption. Key ingredients of this revolution spring from the state, railways, banks, property, law – all the foundations were laid by the state.

It also ignore the continental empires. Statehood that denies selfdetermination but which could work for market inegration. Niall Ferguson has argued that nothing in history has done more for the free movement andd free trade etc. than the British Empire.

Re-Orient is a book by Gunder Frank. In it he argues that there was a global economy as far back as the 1500s wutg a complex division of labour and multilateral trade. Silver, from the New World, lubricated the global economy and led to increase trade in Indonesian pepper, Indian textiles, Chinese tea and so on. A private merchantile drive was driven by silver from the Americas. This argument fails empirical tests. There was little price convergence around the world as late as the 18th C which you would expect to see in a truly functioning global economy.


Global has a history and one that is driven by market forces. Global History doesn’t ignore the state, but it does not focus on it either. It seeks to offer a cosmopolitan history where the West is not the sole comparitor; rather reciprocal comparisons allow for a decentred view of the human experience. In the 19th C states enforce market linkages. In the 18th Military sates help form local markets. In the 20th century states obstructed market linkages, for example during the Great Depression and the post war era.

Markets cross borders and this has important political, economic and cultural effects. Global and local are not two seperate experiences but interact in different ways. Global needs to context itself against the local.


There will be different approaches followed on the course. Rational choice, Marxist, Worlds System, Institutionist.

We will examine states and empire.

We will also look at channels through which the global is felt but which are nto factor markets. Ideas, Diseases, Popualtion and ecology.

How do you study Global History? Comparisons, connections, entanglements and Eurocentrism

How do we learn the past? We learn the past by being taught it by someone else, whether orally or by reading.

History is also invented by peoples, tribes, religions who need a common past as a means to define and establish themselves. They need a common (sometimes mythical) common origin to give the group a common destiny. This is done through a process of othering. We can only know something we don’t know through comparison with something we do know.

The other is alien, it is foreign. Everyone is ethnocentric so some extent, it is unavoidable in the way we have been brough up to define others in terms of their differences to you. Identity is a narrative of yourself established in relation to the other. French versus English. Argentinian versus Brazil. Protestant versus Catholic. Hindu versus Muslim. West versus Rest. This is both a historical and Epistemology process.

History of Eurocentrism

Is Eurocentrism Americancentrism and Australiancentrism too?

Notion of Europe emerged out of the Schism in the Christian Church and the emergence of a powerful Muslim civilisation to its south east (the holy land) and south west (Iberia).

Europe was created by the crusades and an ex-post mythology of the crusades. The creation of Europe was also the Christianisation of Europe. The European experience split the world encountered into heretics (cathars) and infidels (Muslims). Through a series of historical contingent events Europeans circumvented the “siege” they were under from Muslims to the south through exploring by sail.

They set out to reach the East via the West. D’oh! They found the New World instead. There they found a new “other” one which was neither infidel nor heretic. In fact, many were unsure if what they found was even human.

European adventurers didn’t treat these people like heretics (they didn’t burn them) or infidels (they didn’t slaughter them) or Africans (they didn’t enslave them). They attempted to civilise them. The Catholic Church said that these people should not be enslaved. They were not infidels or heretics because they hadn’t chosen to be ignorant of Jesus, they were just far away.

Therefore the Europeans treated this new other unlike other others. They saw them as minors, children, to be educated, civilised and converted. Europeans then had to export “europeaness” to the New World. The correct and civilised way to eat, dress, speak, pray were all taught to those of the New World. It reshaped the idea of Europe and the idea of history.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment purposefully created a European genealogy which is secular and historical rather than religious or mythological. It turns history into a civilisational project, involving a linear path of development. A European recipe which can be exported (via empire) to the rest of the world. Thus, 18th/19th C empire was different to 16th/17th C empire.

The enlightenment creates a historically centred narrative against which everything else is measured, compared and contrasted (location, chronology and hierarchy).


European civilisation is seen as a linear process. In this process are grand theories of social development like Spencer and Darwin. This sense of progress defines an ethos of 19th C imperialism. It offers a political economy of space use environment and people, one of modernity. With this the world is divided into core and periphery.


The US is the uebermost case of a nation defined on a centred historical and ideological construct. Anyone can become American if they sign up to this founding mythology.

Is Centred History good History?

A centred history has flaws because it must create distinct events in order for its narrative arc to work. However, events are not centred and so each centred history much obscure one thing when it tries to focus on another.

For example, the Renaissance was only possible because the Arabs preserved knowledge of the Ancient Greeks which Europe had lost (I almost wrote “which we lost”, naughty). Focussing on a narrative of the Renaissance risks ignoring the rest of the world.

Are all histories equal? Some would say yes. A Global History Scholar from Malaysia attended a conference on Global History and requested that non-Islamic scholars admit the Koran as a historical source. Is the History of the Koran admissible?

What is good history? Is it a matter of the quantity of sources? The quality of the sources provided? There are a multitude of sources on most subjects saying contrary things, very often from very good authorities too. This way lies rampant relavatism, from which it is difficult to learn anything.

The problem with centred history is that because it is highly specialised and necessarily fragmented it risks only being able to explain itself; it becomes arcane knowledge. History as a discourse  becomes history as rhetoric. History of “exceptionalism” from American to Chinese fails to help us explain the world.

Global History attempts to overcome this by being a completely cosmopolitan exercise. Not only that but by focussing on a very long time scale it avoids the risk of being beholden to a dominant narrative of any one historian or school of historians.

Comparisons, connections, interactions and entanglements

Connections are important because we need to understand the webs and flows of goods, knowledge and people between distant (in space and time) others. This information is revealed in different channels; trade; diffusion of ideas; exchange; encounters; dislocation; aculturation. There are also vectors that determine how these connections are made, technological, scientific and epidemiological.

All history is Comparative history. With reciprocal comparisons we can try to avoid some of the flaws of euro- and western- centric histories. Rather than ask “why didn’t China end up like England,” we can ask “why didn’t England end up like China?” This allows us to surmount the tyranny of local detail. It also prevents us from taking ownership of a topic and allowing this to cloud our judgement. We can aggregate and average features over large areas and examine their similarities and differences.

Interactions and entanglements also give us a way to examine things without a centre. For example, Iberia, Southeast Asia and the US/Mexico border all give us opportunities to look at competing narratives and identities. This is not to accept relavatism, but rather to enable us to accept and analyse the existence of completing and complimentary identities. Global History allows us to examine the diversity of human experience and enables us to challenge the cultural and political enterprises of hegemony.

Virtues of Global History

It revisits common denominators of chronology, concepts and causality across as much of time and space as possible. It helps us to deal with the facts on the grounds while accepting diversity to avoid describing contingent events as universal experiences.

This decentred history helps us to understand the process of change rather than merely explain how we got to where we are, however narrowly or broadly “we” are defined.

Welcome to Global History @ LSE

This is the blog of a student taking the Global History MSc at the London School of Economics.

I am studying part time from October 2010 to September 2012 and I will be posting my lecture notes, seminar notes, reading notes and essays online.

This is for my benefits so I can revise wherever I am but is open to anyone curious about the course, whether they’re currently studying at LSE or thinking about signing up.

LecturesLecture in the New Theatre, c1981 by LSE Library.

SeminarsDr Peter Loizos (left) and students, c1981 by LSE Library.

ReadingStudent in the library, 1981 by LSE Library.

EssaysStudent in the library, 1981 by LSE Library.

You can see my lecture notes etc by clicking on the pictures above. Browsing by courses is also available if you use the links below.

All images are taken from the LSE archive on Flikr. This site has no official link to the London School of Economics and Political Science. This site cannot verify the content of external links. Some rights reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.