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Global History

Review by: Bryan S. Glass University of Texas at Austin

Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local A. G. Hopkins, ed. (Houndmills Basingstoke Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 303 pages

The purpose of A. G. Hopkins’ newest anthology is to show the applicability of globalization to all forms of history (diplomatic, economic, intellectual, political, and social). For Hopkins, fresh approaches to the past include integrating the social science literature on globalization into historical research. The title of the work makes evident that the proposed sub-field of Global History includes both universal ideals and local case studies. Thus, historians, whose scholarship and training normally focuses on case studies, need not distort their discipline by taking up the wider issues raised by the process of globalization. In fact, Hopkins argues that universalism, which deals in commonalities, does not properly explain the world in which we live. Instead, universals must be examined in terms of how they interact with local variations. Only then can the true cosmopolitan nature of the world be understood.

The chapters in this anthology deal with the outcomes produced by interactions between universalism and localities. Accordingly, it becomes evident that these interactions can be described as the substance behind Global History. As the chapters on Vietnam and the Middle East adroitly point out, countries tend to think in universals when attempting to mold the ideologies and opinions of subject localities. Cosmopolitanism, or the respect for difference among localities, does not readily appear in the overarching discussions of Vietnam and the Middle East. Instead, the imperial powers of the United States and the Soviet Union in the first example and the United States, Britain, and France in the second ignored the complexities of local societies when imposing their universal ideals. Consequently, these examples show that when the dealings between the universal and the local prove one-sided, humanity suffers. In contrast, a number of the chapters outline case studies where universal impulses helped sustain localities and incorporate them into a globalizing world. Although the Navajo suffered at the hands of the American policy of Manifest Destiny in the nineteenth century, it now appears that they successfully fought off assimilation and preserved their culture and identity by engaging with the wider world. Economic globalization actually allowed the Navajo weavers to define and project their culture on a global scale. With the subsequent international popularity of Navajo rugs, it proved nearly impossible for the United States government to undermine this distinct locality via the implementation of a destructive universal. The chapter on the influence of the local in the global recording industry shows the close interaction between two seemingly disparate worlds. The global recording industry, as a business, felt compelled to offer products that consumers would purchase. Accordingly, executives identified local music and recorded it, thereby preserving distinct local tastes to be replayed for years to come on phonograph machines. Thus, the Global History of the recording industry revolves around the continued influence of the local on the universal. Globalization in the recording industry is, therefore, determined by local peculiarities of taste, not universal ideals dictating a proper type of music for the world to hear.

Overall, the idea of a new sub-discipline entitled Global History nicely fills a void between the universalizing tendencies of social scientists and the case studies preferred by historians. Perhaps Global History can account for difference while striving to bring mankind closer together through an understanding of the importance of cosmopolitanism. The only problem that the subject of Global History may encounter from skeptics is that it describes an academic utopia which may sound like paradise but is often times difficult to capture in scholarship. With that said, the rigorous formula set out by Hopkins in the introduction proves possible – in this anthology the connections between universal and local fit brilliantly together with Hopkins’ broad and clear explanations. In the end, Hopkins’ Global History entices the discipline with a new, all-encompassing approach for historians to employ in the coming years.

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