What is Global History?

Krishan Kumar has recently written an article on the Times Literary Supplement entitled “What is Global History?”. In the article, Kumar reviews two recent publications – C.A. Bayly’s Remaking the Modern World, 1900 -2015: Global Connections and Comparisons (posthumously published by Wiley, October 2018), the sequel to his ground-breaking Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914 (Wiley, 2004); and Simon Reid-Henry’s Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West Since the Cold War, 1971-2017 (John Murray/Hachette, June 2019).

Using his commentary on these two books, he writes on the rise and current state of Global History, the field’s tendencies towards “homogenization”, and on the significance of the “West” in the twentieth century and beyond. 

According to Kumar, Bayly traces “global connections” and interactions as in his older works, with a stronger stress on “decentralization” and on elevating the “periphery”. This approach allows him to attribute greater freedom and autonomy to non-Western developments, not seeing them as simply derivative of the West. Though, this implies a more fragmented vision of the world that makes it difficult for Bayly to tell a coherent story of the twentieth century.

On the other hand, Simon Reid-Henry does have a theme. For him, the 1970s was an era of fundamental change. The decade marked the end of the post-war order, followed by the relentless rise of neoliberal capitalism and the new right on the one hand, and the decline of the left and the democratic concern with equality on the other. What Kumar criticizes here is that Reid-Henry’s strong narrative implies the risk of narrating history from its end, and that Reid-Henry’s concept of “the West” is highly problematic.

His article, “What is Global History?”, was published on the Times Literary Supplement on 16 July 2019, and can be found here.


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