Essay on What is World History?

Essay on What is World History?

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What is world history? Bruce Mazlish contends that "world" history, as opposed to "global" history, is the study of systemic processes of interaction among diverse peoples, best typified by the work of William H. McNeill. By contrast, "global" history is the history of globalization, a process that Mazlish argues did not begin to occur on a significant scale until at least the 1950s, and, more plausibly, the 1970s. Citing prominent economic historians, Nicholas Kristof asserts that globalization actually started in the second half of the 19th Century, when steamships, the telegraph, the railroad, and European, North American, and Japanese empire-builders brought humankind into a single densely interwoven community of trade, investment, culture, and political rivalry for the first time. One of the founders of world-system theory, Immanuel Wallerstein, traces the invention of capitalism and the beginnings of what he calls the "Modern World-System" to the late 15th and 16th Centuries. His co-founder and worthy competitor Andre Gunder Frank argues that capitalism originated some five thousand years ago and that at least the Afro-Eurasian ecumene has been in continuous interactive existence ever since. As that ancient forerunner of postmodernist relativism, the Roman playwright Terence, once said, Quot homines, tot sententiae: "as many men, so many opinions." [1]

All of these contentions make sense, given the definitions of terms and the frames of reference of each writer. They do not necessarily conflict, and they all make their contribution to our understanding of the dimensions of world and global history. But from my own perspective, there is no hard and fast distinction between world and global history. I accept the evidence o...


... middle of paper ...


...f Myself," in Collected Poetry and Collected Prose (New York:
The Library of America, 1982), p. 246.


[4] W. Warren Wagar, The Next Three Futures: Paradigms of Things To Come (New York:
Praeger, 1991), pp. 35-38.

[5] Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of
Great Civilizations (New York: Penguin Books, 1991); and Neil Roberts, The Holocene:
An Environmental History, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA, and Oxford, Blackwell Publishers,
1998).

[6] Wagar, The Next Three Futures, pp. 40-44.

[7] Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1998).

[8] William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), pp. 80-
85.

[9] Ibid., p. 6.

[10] Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Times Books, 1995).

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