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Global History

The global turn has slowly but surely gained ground within the historical discipline since the turn of the century. More and more historians recognise that ‘global history’ is not so much about writing the history of the entire globe, but about seeking to understand how people, places, and societies are shaped through their connections and interactions with other parts of the globe. Focusing on border-crossing processes and trans-regional patterns, global history has challenged the idea that the nation-state is the natural unit within which historical developments take place. There are many sub-fields that make use of global historical approaches, including economic history and the study of global commodities; the history of migration and the movement of people; the history of science and the environment; global intellectual history; the history of empires and anti-imperialism; labour history; and global microhistory. This week focuses on the key developments in global history over the last three decades, looks at different types of global history, and asks to what extent global history as a field is truly global.


Seminar Questions

Which methodological approaches are used in global history?

What are the practical and intellectual challenges involved in doing global history?

How has global history influenced the wider historical discipline?

Is global history inherently Eurocentric? How can its limitations be overcome?


Core Readings (see Talis-Reading Lists)

Sven Beckert and Dominic Sachsenmaier (eds.), Global History, Globally: Research and Practice around the World (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), ‘Introduction’, pp. 1-18.

Amy Stanley, ‘Maidservants’ Tales: Narrating Domestic and Global History in Eurasia, 1600-1900’, The American Historical Review 121.2 (2016), pp. 437-460.

EUI Global History Seminar Group, ‘For a Fair(er) Global History’, Cromohs (2021). Online at


Truffle Hunt

There is no separate archive of global history; instead, all types of sources are used by historians interested in applying global historical perspectives. However, certain types of sources are particularly favoured by global historians. These include materials relating to long-distance trade, such as the correspondence of transnational trading companies, records of slave voyages, or the commodities carried across sea and land routes. They also include sources relating to other prominent trans-regional actors, such as religious institutions and imperial administrations. Yet, as Amy Stanley’s article shows, global history also increasingly seeks to understand how the lives of ordinary women and men were affected by, or formed part of, patterns of change at a global level, making use of everyday objects and writings to do so.

Different sources lend themselves to different types of questions. Some global historians are primarily interested in exploring long-term economic developments in different parts of the world, asking macro-questions about migration, demographic change, and global patterns of divergence and convergence. Such research makes use of price data, wage data, or population data. Some of those data sets can be accessed via the International Institute of Social History or Our World in Data. Data relating to the Transatlantic Slave Trade is available via the Slave Voyages website.

To study the effects of global trade, exploration, and empire building, you can make use of a number of digital collections such as Global Commodities, Empire Online, East India Company, Making of the Modern World, Migration to New Worlds, and India, Raj, and Empire. Each database contains a wealth of different kind of sources which can help you address questions about colonialism, capitalism, cross-cultural encounters, patterns of production and consumption, migration, and environmental change. An incredibly rich resource of travel accounts and geographical writings covering all parts of the world are the publications of the Hakluyt Society, available as e-books through the university library.

One of the challenges of doing research in global history is that the available source record is very uneven, with sources representing European perspectives most amply available and most readily accessible. This includes most of the resources listed above. However, new digitisation initiatives are increasingly making materials in non-European languages available to be consulted online. The most important is the Endangered Archives Programme from the British Library, which has digitised thousands of Asian, African, and South American sources. Another example is the Qatar Digital Library, which contains materials in Arabic, Farsi, English, and other languages. The South Asia Open Archives are particularly strong for modern materials in Bengali, Urdu, and Tamil. For the medieval period, the Cairo Genizah Collection is the world’s largest collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts, whilst the International Dunhuang Project brings together texts and artefacts from Silk Road sites.

When examining a source, ask yourself what insights it provides about global connections. As always, it is important to consider not just which perspective(s) are represented, but also the silences and absences in a source, how it compares with other sources, and how you might combine it with other (types of) sources to obtain a fuller picture.


Further Reading

Adelman, Jeremy, 'What is Global History Now?’, Aeon (2017). Online at

Belich, James, John Darwin, Margret Frentz, and Chris Wickham (eds.), The Prospect of Global History (Oxford: 2016).

Berg, Maxine (ed.), Writing the History of the Global: Challenges for the 21st Century (Oxford: 2013).

Conrad, Sebastian, What is Global History? (Princeton: 2016).

Crossley, Pamela Kyle, What is Global History? (Cambridge: 2008).

Drayton, Richard, and David Motadel, ‘Discussion: The Future of Global History’, Journal of Global History 13.1 (2018), pp. 1-21.

Ghobrial, John-Paul, ‘Moving Stories and What They Can Tell Us: Early Modern Mobility Between Microhistory and Global History’, Past and Present 242, Supplement 14 (2019), pp. 243-280.

Holmes, Catherine, and Naomi Standen, ‘Introduction: Towards a Global Middle Ages’, Past & Present 238, supplement 13 (2018), pp. 1–44.

Hunt, Lynn, Writing History in the Global Era (New York: 2014).

O’Brien, Patrick, ‘Historiographical Traditions and Modern Imperatives for the Restoration of Global History’, The Journal of Global History 1.1 (2006), pp. 3-39.

Pomeranz, Kenneth, The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton: 2000).

Riello, Giorgio, ‘The “Material Turn” in World and Global History’, Journal of World History 33.2 (2022), 193-232.

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, ‘Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia’, Modern Asian Studies 31.3 (1997), pp. 735-762.

Vries, Peer, ‘The Prospects of Global History: Personal Reflections of an Old Believer’, International Review of Social History 64.1 (2019), pp. 111-121.