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The new global history

There something radical, almost historical, about this issue of the history magazine Fortid.


[history trend] "If the subject of history is justified by its relevance to contemporary people, it is obvious that Norwegian historians – now in the midst of the" age of globalization "- must also contribute to constructing a global past."

This is what the leader says in the student-run history magazine Fortid, which this week came with a new issue at the University of Oslo. The wording is problematic: there is not necessarily more "globalization" now, as strong is the defense of the "age of the nation state". Second, historians should not aim to "construct" anything, rather to provide a balanced picture of the past.

Despite the objections: There is something radical, almost historical, about this issue of the Past. Today's nationally oriented and Eurocentric storytelling is criticized. Professional historians are challenged to give a presentation of the story where even those outside Europe and the United States, ie 90 percent of the earth's population, are included in a more equal way.

It is no coincidence that this "student revolt", with the support of key professionals, is happening now. Professor Knut Kjeldstadlis (ed.) Three-Binding Works Norwegian Immigration History (2003) has given a new donor. The students flock to global lectures at UiO, where Erling Sandmo began this year as associate professor. Earlier this year, the Journal of Global History was also launched in London, complementing the new history perspectives from California and Hawaii in particular.

Global history – or universal history – is something other than traditional world history. It is not one continent that is prioritized, but rather an overall picture with emphasis on cultural contact and comparison. This is how Andre Gunder Frank has shown how Asia dominated the world before the year 1800. The cultural deterministic and national romantic understanding of history is challenged by a more cosmopolitan and Enlightenment understanding of the world.

Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum recently wrote in Newsweek that ex- phil. in Norway is "worse than useless", due to the impression that one learns "the history of philosophy". Kjeldstadli warns against something similar when he writes in his glittering Past text that "educate young people into idiots" unless the whole world is taken seriously. NTNU professor Jarle Simensen shows the gap between growing global history interest and the institutes' resistance: In practice, the teaching of traditional regional history continues.

Professor Finn Fuglestad's assertion that all history theory is "Western in its essence" confirms the problems of the academic community. Such is evidence of a lack of insight into the modern history view of Ibn Khaldun in the 1400 century, Indian Jawalhal Nehru's classic World History in the 1930 century and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's innovative history writing in the 2000 century.

But still: The foundation is laid. The will is here. That is often the most important thing.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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