Recommendation: “Global Intellectual History beyond Hegel and Marx”
by Gesche Schifferdecker and Helen May
“Global history” has become a prominent subject in North American and European academia claims Sanjay Subrahmanyam from the University of California in his essay “Global Intellectual History Beyond Hegel and Marx“. “But is histoire globale or ‘global history’ so transparent after all as a description? The mere fact that a word appears in myriad book and article titles is no real guarantee of anything” (127).
In his review of the anthology “Global Intellectual History” (edited by by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori) Subrahmanyam deals with what he calls “a series of misunderstandings in this volume, based largely on the view that ‘global intellectual history’ is an emergent hegemonic category that must be struggled against” (134).
Before analyzing the anthology Subrahmanyam introduces us to the debate about the global history approach itself. Critics of the field say that generating in-depth knowledge of a limited geographical sphere is better than knowing a bit about a lot of places. Others argued that “global history” has become shorthand to criticize the West, emphasizing the brutal history of European colonialism and downplaying the virtues of the Enlightenment. Instead, they suggest, that perhaps the focus should be put on an international network of national histories.
While complimenting Moyns and Sartoris “valient effort to clear the ground further” by trying to identify three forms in which global intellectual history might at least exist (129), Subrahmanyam criticizes at the same time the Eurocentric dominance of Hegel and Marx in the edition’s essays on the nineteenth and twentieths century. Even though he approves that global intellectual history is addressed from a variety of geographical standpoints, e. g. Africa, India, the Islamic World etc. (130).
Furthermore, Subrahmanyam wonders in his review what it might have looked like, if the attempts of a global intellectual history prior to 1800 would have been taken more serious by the contributors of the volume (131 et sqq.).
Eventually, Subrahmanyams review illustrates that we are still facing some general questions, when speaking of “Global Intellectual History”: What do we include, or exclude when we use the term “intellectual”? What do we consider as “global”? Are we talking about comparative studies of geographically diverse areas? How do we approach the global reception of an intellectual subject, such as Marxism, or the intellectual trajectories of global actors?
Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Global Intellectual History Beyond Hegel and Marx.” History and Theory 54 (February 2015), 126 -137.
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