Columbia Studies in International and Global History
How did the world come to be as it is? The idea of “globalization” has become a commonplace, even a cliché. But we lack good histories that can explain the transnational and global processes that have shaped the contemporary world. Scholars and students of all disciplines are seeking a new understanding of the origins of the contemporary state system,
Columbia Studies in International and Global History will encourage serious scholarship on international and global history with an eye to explaining the origins of the contemporary era. The books will be grounded in empirical research but will also transcend the usual area boundaries that have shaped most historical research. They will address questions of concern not just to scholars, but all those interested in how history can help us understand contemporary problems, including poverty, inequality, and political violence.
Recent scholarship on early modern world history by scholars such as Ken Pomeranz, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Victor Lieberman and Jack Goldstone has shown the potential of transnational and global history and gained a wide reading audience. By setting up comparisons and connections that are grounded in empirical research, this scholarship has created exciting new perspectives on familiar issues such as the cause of the industrial revolution and the economic and political integration of the early modern world. Old assumptions about what made Europe unique and about the nature of global interactions now have to be rethought.
Ironically, even though actual global interactions have grown stronger in the 19th and 20th centuries, historical scholarship for this period is more fragmented and global historical research is weaker. There are numerous books about globalization which often have a poor understanding of history, but have nonetheless demonstrated tremendous popular demand for new ways to understand the contemporary world. Historical research, on the other hand is often not well informed by new trends in globalization studies or global history and is still shaped by nations, empires and world regions as the containers and objects of analysis. Existing global histories of the modern era often remain trapped in a simple narrative of Western impact and response.
The international history of the last half century is even more prone to attribute all agency to the most powerful states, especially the U.S. The Cold War and the eventual American victory occupy center stage. Catastrophic wars, mass migration flows, and institutional transformations —such as the astounding proliferation of international and non-governmental organizations — are treated as peripheral to or derivative of what is considered the core dynamic. Yet for most people, especially younger people, the origins of humanitarian crises, transnational protest movements, and international responses to environmental challenges are no less important than the ideological contest between the superpowers.
The historical critique of national narratives has already become commonplace, but has failed to provide us with alternative approaches. Colonial, postcolonial and much non-European history have forcefully critiqued these familiar Eurocentric narratives and shown the potential of research that connects the metropole and peripheries. But even these works are often invested in emphasizing the uniqueness of particular regions as a counterpoint to Eurocentric narratives, and often fall short of helping us to understand transregional phenomena and global patterns.
While programmatic statements have convinced many of the need for new approaches, to the point that the idea of “transnational” history has become fashionable, the field has not yet succeeded in defining itself. The question, “what is global history,” can only be answered by a body of scholarship that does not yet exist except as the work-in-progress of several forward-looking scholars. Book-length works must be able to develop broad arguments and narratives about global processes while being grounded in empirical research. These books must not only advance our understanding of global and contemporary history, they must also communicate their findings to the broadest possible public, including scholars and students across areas and disciplines. The proof of the value of a transnational perspective on history will ultimately be found in the quality of the works themselves.
In searching for potential books for this series, we will especially look for works that 1) focus on the modern era of the 19-20th centuries; 2) are based on multi-archival research that cross the familiar areas that usually bound historical research; 3) increase understanding of global, international, or transnational processes; 4) are of relevance to understanding the shape of the contemporary world; and 5) can address a broad audience across area specialties and disciplines. Of course, we will not be confined by these criteria and will be open to any excellent work that suggests new ways of thinking about the world, transnational processes, and the relevance of history.