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Writing the History of the Global Conference

A major Global History conference, bringing together the major thinkers in this area, including a number of speakers from Warwick, is to take place on 21 and 22 May at the British Academy in London.

Warwick academics Professor Maxine Berg (History), Professor David Arnold (History of Medicine), Dr Luca Mola (History), Dr Giorgio Riello (History) and Dr Anne Gerritsen (History) will join a host of other speakers to consider what a global approach to history means to major historians.

2009 marks a period of approximately ten years of new historical writing which has recently come to be termed 'global history'. Debates over 'globalization' and paradigms such as the 'great divergence' stimulated historians in many specialisms to think about the historical formation of these phenomena. Just how unique, how distinctive, is our current condition of an intense interlinking of economies and polities. We are now re-thinking our histories in relation to those of others in wider parts of the world.

Global history has challenged the old national histories and area studies. It is now stimulating a recasting of imperial history, and of Altantic world history. The 'global' in history-writing emerged from postmodernist and postcolonial directions where 'crossing boundaries' and 'beyond borders' joined to the aspirations of 'new imperial history' and to comparative studies of the West and the East. Since this time many historians have pursued wider concepts of 'connectedness' or of 'cosmopolitanism' as these have developed in social theory. Many are now trying to move beyond unilateral comparisons contrasting Europe with China, or Europe with India - and are investigating linkages and interactions between world areas.

This conference provides an opportunity to set out what 'global' approaches to history mean to many of our major historians, how it has changed the questions they ask and the ways they do history. It raises the limitations and problems of this approach to history, but also opens out new perspectives. These histories also carry many limitations: they have been predominantly economic and political or histories of internationalism. They have not escaped the constraints of the 'big questions' and 'grand periodization' of issues like the 'rise of the West', the 'sources of the great divergence' or the 'crisis of empires'. They raise real questions of how we move from the global to the local, and the methods by which we carry out our research. There are serious questions of language and technical expertise.

The conference will bring together those who have written the major books and articles shifting parts of the historical discipline in this directions. Discussions arising form the conference connect with thinking about history in the wider community, from government policy on climate change, world poverty and global trade, as well as global integration and diversity. These issues are now major subjects conveyed to a wider public in international museum exhibitions, for example in the British Museum's First Emperor exhibition, the Royal Academy's The Ottomans exhibition, and before that the V&A's Encounters exhibition.

For further information, visit the British Academy site or the Global History and Culture Centre site.