Monthly Archives: March 2013
One cannot discuss modern European history without devoting much of the discussion to the topic of nationalism. In fact, it the story of modern European history could be seen as the invention and subsequent ebb and flow of nationalism as nation states began to replace monarchies across the continent. The four works that we read for this session offer insight into the processes involved in nation building, and each shows that these processes neither run smoothly, nor can one find a “standard” path of nationalism’s development. David Waldstreicher and Celia Applegate offer fresh ways of thinking about how nationalism works and its relation with the people and the state. Mark Mazower’s short history reveals nationalism’s violent side, yet somewhat problematically talks about nationalism as if it is something quantifiable that can be exported to distant areas of the globe. Lastly, Maria Tadorova explores the ways in which nationalities, though constructed in recent history, appear to be timeless and can thus be used to construct powerful discourses about the state of the world.
At first, Applegate’s book, Bach in Berlin, seemed to be an unusual choice for discussing nationalism, for Applegate is a music historian. But this work explores how by the 19th century, Germans came to see themselves as a musical nation (if not the musical nation). By framing it in this way, she deftly shows how music indeed had a central role in defining a German nationalism, even before a German nation state was formed. The book circulates around an 1829 performance of J.S. Bach’s the St. Matthew Passion that was composed by Felix Mendelssohn and led by Carl Friedrich Zelter. It is important to note that Applegate does not believe that this single event created German nationalism, but she does argue that “appreciation of Bach reinforced the integration of the many strands of German cultural experience into a coherent, unified national culture” (9). In that sense, the performance can be seen as one of those rare historical moments in which events come together into a powerful culmination to make something new and remarkable.
In discussing the emergence of a German nationalism, Applegate grants central importance to the power of print and print culture. She demonstrates that literature already held the high position of being the “essential expression of German identity” (52). So, as cultural shifts in the late eighteenth century forced musicians to leave their traditional spheres of the church and the court, they had to find a way to make their profession important – if not essential – to the cultured elite of the German people. The emergence of music periodicals coincided with the spread of the German Enlightenment. The work of Johann Gottfried Herder concentrated on a philosophy of history that focused on particularities. This had implications for Germans who could now see German culture as having an essence all its own (52). Music journalists could then employ this train of thought and argue that not only was German music important, but that music was an essential and vital expression of a deeper, true German culture, a German national soul.
Such discussion laid the groundwork for a movement for musicians and all cultured Germans alike to rediscover German music. This set the stage for the success of Mendelssohn’s revival of Bach’s Passion. Another aim of the music periodicals was to cultivate taste, that is define what good and German music was. Moreover, this was a task for all cultured Germans, not something restricted to a small elite. So, there was a push to get amateur musicians involved (thus the success of the Berlin Singakademie). “Music journalists wanted to influence how people judged music, and they did so in ways that tied musical judgments to German culture as a whole” (82). While many music periodicals joined in this effort, she points to Adolf Bernhard Marx’s Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in particular. Marx’s project, Applegate states, was to insist that by knowing Bach (and German music in general), “one would come to know oneself as a German, because knowing Bach entailed understanding not only the Christian, Protestant heritage of Germany, not only the intellectual, inward turn in German character, but also the musical complexity that was as much a part of being German as was the German language itself” (119). That is why, in 1829 at the time of the famous performance, the conditions were ripe for the culmination of many processes into a lived experience of the power of German culture and German nationalism. The German Enlightenment had shown that German culture could be separate and essential; music periodicals cultivated the understanding of German music as an art form, and moreover, it taught Germans how to receive, appreciate, and judge the 1829 performance as an expression of their national culture. In this way, “music journals were a part of the process of building a cultural homogeneity, not a late, specialized product of homogeneous culture” (83).
In In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes, David Waldstreicher presents nationalism not as an abstract ideology that was the object of philosophers’ discussions. Instead, nationalism is presented as a political strategy, something that must be played out or enacted by “perpetual fetes.” This is an important twist on the understanding of nationalism, because this conceptualizes nationalism as something that is created, not as the creating force. Nationalism is created through rituals such as parades, celebrations, toasts, and printed commentary of these events. In this light, events such as the celebration of the Fourth of July, are not because of nationalism, but are instead creating a feeling of consensus, a sense of nationalism. These celebrations are spaces in which national politics are taken outdoors, out of the hands of a few, and taken to the streets where “ordinary” people could participate. However, Waldstreicher avoids setting up an “elite vs. street” dichotomy of politics by showing that both the political elite and the normal people were equally active in constructing narratives during these celebrations.
While national celebrations appear to be about consensus building, Waldstreicher argues that to miss the politics (the divisive and partisan nature) of the celebrations is to miss the point of the event itself. This exposes the paradoxical nature of these celebrations, for they unified while simultaneously divided the populace. While all parties involved promoted loyalty to the nation (unifying power), the factions promoted their idea of the nation (divisive nature). Thus, nationalism – far from being some ultra-conservative, unifying power that stamps out all difference – could foster deep divides among the people, and Waldstreicher understands political factions as results of nationalism, not hindrances to it.
Part of the paradox of nationalism was the way that while it increased participation in politics (by drawing all of the white men into participation, instead of just a select few), it also firmly excluded women and blacks. For example, the American Colonization Society was a nationalistic organization to send all free blacks out of America, and its existence highlighted the problem of a “free nation” in which the equality of a number of its free citizens was denied (302-304). But, Waldstreicher argues that free black Americans put the whites to shame by using the same tools of nationalism to create a new, African nationalism of their own (347).
Taken together, Applegate and Waldstreicher’s books provide interesting insight into nationalism. Most importantly, both authors present nationalism as something tangible, not simply something thought about by philosophers and enacted by elites. On the contrary, nationalism was created by many people. Moreover, this tangible experience had to be felt by those participating in order to create the feeling of nationalism, of a common history and a common purpose for the future. That is why Applegate endows the 1829 Passion performance with so much importance: it was a moment in which the thousands who saw the performance experienced themselves as a deeply historical, cultural nation. For Waldstreicher, it was the act of participating in these celebrations that created nationalism (even while it created separate ideas of what the nation was). For example, getting to see George Washington on one of his tours created a sense of unity that crossed partisan lines, and it encouraged political participation across lines of class and gender (119). Print culture is also important to Waldstreicher’s understanding of nationalism. Newspaper commentary should not be viewed simply as primary documents that record and discuss the political rituals, he argues, but instead should be seen as part of these rituals, shaping how people should interpret them, and setting the stage for how future celebrations “should” be enacted.
The Atlantic sphere appears more prominently in Waldstreicher’s book than in Applegate’s. In fact, in can be argued that American nationalism was only possible in the realm of the Atlantic world. The British Empire was the reason for American opposition, but also acted as the point around which a unified American nationalism was galvanized. We can also see an Atlantic connection in the ways in which the French Revolution was utilized by different American political factions to achieve their own nationalism (the ways in which the Republicans of the 1790s used the French Revolution to criticize what they saw as a growing aristocracy in America, for example, 115). While the Atlantic does not play a prominent role in Applegate’s book, we can see how German nationalism is often formed in by what it is not (a theme that is central to Todorova’s book). For instance, Italian music was portrayed as superficial and associated with “transient pleasures” while German music represented the seriousness of the German nature (115).
Mark Mazower’s The Balkans: a Short History, represents a narrative of the rise of nationalism in the region known today as the Balkans. It seems to me that Mazower’s work presents a more traditional view of nationalism, one in which nationalism is an ideology with a specific point of origin (Western Europe) and which then spreads to different parts of the world with varying speeds. Though Mazower’s book is short, he succeeds in explaining the ways in which a variety of ethnicities emerged in the Balkan region. While all of the details that he provides are interesting and important in their own right, what is most important for our discussion is the fact that he questions the causal link between nationalism and ethnicity. In other words, did ethnicities create nationalism in a fight for a state, or was it the other way around? “Ethnicity,” he concludes, “was as much the consequence as the cause of…unrest; revolutionary violence produced national affiliations as well as being produced by them” (99). The first one hundred pages of the book are meant to justify this claim, for he argues that religion, not ethnicity, was the deciding basis of identity for the peoples of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, which ruled the Balkan region before nation-states emerged in the 19th century.
Mazower’s book is different from Applegate’s and Waldstreicher’s in particular, because he argues that nationalism had to be violently forged by a small number of educated elites, forcing ethnic homogeneity, rather than emerging from it (109 & 70-72). Interesting for our discussion is the violent nature of nationalism. The ideology of nationalism drew lines and created divides where there were none, Mazower argues. Markers of nationality (language, schools, armies) had to be taught to pre-national peoples that consisted mainly of peasants whose loyalties were to a church or empire, not to any “innate nationality” (89). These divisions were not drawn peacefully, and the resulting violence “represented the extreme force required by nationalists to break apart a society that was otherwise capable of ignoring the mundane fractures of class and ethnicity” (148). This violence is central to Mazower’s understanding of nationalism, for a nation (an ethnic people) needs a state, or more specifically, a nation-state: a territory defined and governed by an ethnic/national majority. An important aspect of this nation-state, according to Mazower, is its monopoly on violence as a tool to secure the interests of the nation (epilogue).
Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans also focuses on the tendency of nationalism to divide and exclude. Interestingly, while the Balkans are the center of her study, she ultimately sheds light on how other “Western” societies define themselves by defining what the Balkans are (or are not). Central to her arguments is the concept of othering, an essential process of identity building that allocates the negations of one’s own identity into the identity of “the other.” Todorova utilizes this concept in an attempt to discover the roots of the West’s unfairly negative view of the Balkan region. Todorova’s book is very theoretical, but she can help us answer questions that we brought up last session (namely, What is Europe?) by forcing us to reframe the question into How did “the Europeans” define themselves? Through her discussion of the Balkans, she shows that Western Europe has a long history of “othering” the Balkans. This helped Western Europeans define themselves, and the Balkans became a “dumping ground” for Western Europeans to place everything that they felt they were not. Beginning in the twentieth century, with the violence of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the Balkans went from simply being viewed as an exotic other to being discussed as a hotbed of violence, backwardness, and ethnic hatred. Moreover, Torodova stresses that, unlike the West – which enjoys a place of political superiority in the world, and therefore does not need to take into account how other societies define the West – the peoples of the Balkans internalized the West’s discourse, thus dramatically affecting their self-understanding.
Even as the Balkans began taking on very “European” characteristics (nationalist movements, independence movements based on liberal self-determination, and even capitalistic reform) – and indeed even as some from the Balkan region began referring to themselves as Southeast European, “real” Europe continued to construct differences between the Balkans and the West by characterizing the violent nature of the region. Todorova lambasts the West for being hypocritical and forgetting its own violent past and exporting all of its own racist and imperialistic problems onto the Balkans (because of the fact that most of the Balkans’ inhabitants are white and predominantly Christian, Europe can deny any allegations of racial or religious bias in defining itself, Torodova claims, 188).
Torodova’s book is important because it calls attention to what she calls symbolic geography, the assigning of meaning to geographic locations, giving the appearance that the particular geography produces particular character traits. Granted, Mazower’s “long history” approach shows that geography (the incredibly mountainous character of the region, for example) does indeed impact the way societies develop, but Torodova’s contribution is to urge us to question which of these attributes are “real” and which have been created by the needs of politics. “After all, it is not symbolic geography that creates politics,” she writes, “but rather the reverse” (160).
In conclusion, each of these books makes us question our understanding of nationalism and the process of nation building. Applegate and Waldstreicher demonstrate that nationalism is created by peoples, and is something that peoples participate in. The importance of Torodova’s book is that it calls attention to how we speak about nationalism, and particular nationalities in particular. Mazower’s book reveals what the rest also discuss: the nation and the state are two separate (though interrelated) entities. Just like the state itself (territory and government), the nation must also be created, and a number of tools are necessary for this creation (or at least have been proven to be the most efficient): maps, flags, common languages, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of a common past. These all coalesce the best, as Applegate and Waldstreicher have shown, in cases in which the people can feel and experience tangible expressions of their commonality.
 However, I want to question Waldstreicher’s conclusion here, based on his own definition of nationalism. While whites were drawn into a particular expression/type of national politics, women and blacks never stopped hosting festivities and celebrations, thus they never stopped practicing nationalism and national politics, according to his own definition.
Books under Review:
David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Celia Applegate, Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.
Maria Todorova: Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Mark Mazower, The Balkans: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2002.
Forging Nationalism in Modern Europe by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
For more books on modern European history, see my full list of book reviews.
Our solar system in perspective :
7 Facts about Time that will blow your mind:
The same could be said for Communism, socialism, & fascism
THIS is scientific fact:
Sober vs. Drunk:
Girls vs. Guys:
Abelove, Henry, Michéle Aina Barlale, and David M. Halperin, eds. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Subject: A collection of 42 essays meant to represent “some of the best and most significant recent English-language work in the field of lesbian/gay studies” (xv).
Points from the Introduction: Lesbian/gay studies cannot be defined exclusively by its subject, its practitioners, its methods, or its themes. In this way, it’s women studies, which does not simply add women into the story, but instead urges scholars to look at the central role of gender in defining power relations in history. In this vein, lesbian/gay studies does for sex and sexuality approximately what women’s studies does for gender.
Some of the essays:
Barbara Smith, “Homophobia: Why Bring it Up?”
Homophobia, Smith argues, should be recognized as one of the “isms” (sexism and racism) that pervade American society. Instead, she said, homophobia remains the one ism that is tolerated by people who would be averted to sexism and racism. This is predominantly due to the fact that we do not recognize that all of these discriminatory “isms” are intricately intertwined. “Ironically, for the forces on the right, hating lesbians and gay men, people of color, Jews, and women go hand in hand. They make connections between oppressions in the most negative ways with horrifying results. Supposedly progressive people, on the other hand, who oppose oppression on every other level, balk at acknowledging the societally sanctioned abuse of lesbians and gay men as a serious problem” (100).
Several misconceptions that help homophobia continue to run rampant: 1) a false distinction between a political vs. private concern, in which homophobia is seen as a private concern; 2) Thinking narrowly of gay people as white, middle class, and male, which is just what the establishment media want people to think, undermines consciousness of how identities and issues overlap.
Martha Vicinus, “”They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong”: the Historical Roots of the Modern Lesbian Identity”
In this essay, she traces the pitfalls accompanying some historians’ concern with the origins of individual and group identity – a concern that can limit its possibilities for inquiry by focusing solely on Euro-American instances where identity and sexuality are intertwined and where identity itself is a cultural value. Ultimately, she argues that lesbian history must be written so as to include not only the dyke, butch, witch, and amazon, but the invert, femme, androgyne, and even the merely occasional lover of women (432).
Another interesting point is that because the “femme” defied the definition of deviant (because they weren’t inverted…they were still “feminine” and normal), the “butch” homosexual emerged before the “femme.” The prerunners to the “butches” combined the outward appearance of the cross-dressed woman and the inner, emotional life of a romantic friendship (440) – They combined the two main forms of woman-woman desire that Leila Rupp identified (cross dressing/gender inversion and erotic friendship).
John D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity”
D’Emilio explains that lesbian and gay people have not been present throughout history, that in the United States for instance there was no lesbian or gay identity and subculture until sometime in the nineteenth century, when the development of capitalism made our emergence possible. Capitalism required a system of labor based on wages, rather than on either a largely self-sufficient household or slaver; and wage gave individuals a relative autonomy, which was the necessary material condition for the making of lesbianism and gayness. He concludes that a new more accurate theory of gay history must be part of a political enterprise of gay/lesbian studies.
His essay not only explains the rise of the possibility for a gay/homosexual identity (and communities based on that identity) came from the rise of capitalism, but the rise of “the individual” was a result as well. Interestingly, he also concludes that scientific theories of homosexuality did not represent scientific breakthroughs, elucidations of previously undiscovered areas of knowledge; rather, they were an ideological response to a new way of organizing one’s personal life. The popularization of the medical model, in turn, affected the consciousness of the women and men who experienced homosexual desire, so that they came to define themselves through their erotic life (470-71).
David M. Halperin, How to Do the History of Homosexuality. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Subject: A theoretical expedition into the workings of “the history of (homo)sexuality.” Specifically, he revisits the essentialist-constructionist debate.
Research Questions: How would we experience our own sexuality differently if we experienced it as something historical, as well as instinctual?
Author’s Arguments: Though Halperin approaches a different theme in each of his four chapters, his main aim in this book (besides defending himself against criticism leveled against his previous book) is to 1) Defend the constructionist/historicist approach to sexuality, 2) bridge the gap between classical studies and LGBT studies, 3) to show that gay studies should be more than just “reclaiming” great homosexuals in history. He is a defender of Foucault, and says that the claim that there were no sexual “identities” in the pre-modern world is false. Halperin also argues against the recent tendency to reduce the history of sexuality to the history of classification or representations of sexuality.
One of the foundations of his arguments is that one form of sexuality does not replace the previous one. Multiple forms of sexuality exist at any given time, and while one gives way to another as the “norm,” the previous form lingers and coexists with the new norm, perhaps never fading away entirely. He claims that the definitional incoherence at the core of the modern notion of homosexuality is a sign of its historical evolution – absorbing prior understandings of same-sex desires and of sexual deviance, even if those understandings are in direct contradiction of our modern definition.
In each of his four chapters (which are independent essays), Halperin addresses a pertinent topic, such as 1) how past societies did have notions of “sexual identities,” and not just sexual acts, 2) how lesbianism was more than likely the “first homosexuality,” that is, the first same-sex desiring “identity” to come about, and 3) how the body itself is to be studied as a sign or symbol for sexuality (among many other things). However, it is in his fourth chapter, “How to do the History of Male Sexuality” that I believe Halperin makes his most useful conclusions.
In it he claims, “Any adequate attempt to describe the historicity of sexuality will have to fix on some strategy for accommodating the aspects of sexual life that seem to persist through time as well as the dramatic differences between historically documented forms of sexual experience. “ This will require us to get past the modern notion of “homosexuality” as a singular distinct formation that pretends to represent all same-sex sexual experiences.
He then offers 5 categories in which to understand male-male sex/gender deviance: 1) effeminacy, 2) pederasty or active sodomy, 3) friendship or male love, 4) passivity or inversion, 5) homosexuality
Context & Methodology: It is apparent that this work is meant to be Halperin’s answer to criticism of his approach in his previous work, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1989). Therefore the work reads like a conversation (albeit a one-sided one; granted, he lays out what he feels to be the others’ arguments). The book is divided into four chapters, each of which is an independent essay that can be used for study on its own. Also, this work is highly theoretical. There are historical examples given, but they are only provided to substantiate the theory that he is trying to clarify.
Final Remarks: The book is extremely helpful – though can be very dense and difficult to read at times. So, it is better, perhaps to read and discuss as a group. That aside, the volume is slim and rather direct and to the point. A note on the title: Halperin states that it is meant to be more of a question (Is this how we should do the history of homosexuality?) than a magisterial handbook (THIS is how you should do the history of homosexuality). While he acknowledges that there may be criticism of his new theory(ies) to come, he is pretty firm that the approach he outlines here should be followed by future historians of sexuality.
All in all, one of the points that stuck with me the most is that the prior systems of “sexual regulation” were more about gender than sexuality.
This is a quick, easy appetizer. It’s not exactly healthy at all, but they taste good!
1 can crescent rolls
canned/jarred jalapeños (as many as you want)
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
- Open crescent rolls and spread out into two rectangles (don’t separate them into the triangular rolls!).
- Chop up as many jalapeños as desired. Mix chopped jalapenos and cream cheese together.
- Spread mixture on crescent rolls. Roll up until you have 2 logs (or 4, depending on the brand of crescent rolls and how they’re packaged).
- Chill in fridge for a while, they will slice better. The cooler they are the better, so either put them in the fridge for about an hour, or go ahead and place in the freezer, but don’t forget about them!
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Cut each log into slices (as thick as you want). Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
- Bake slices for 13 minutes.
We’re All World Historians Now?
Upon first receiving these books to read as our first assignment, I wondered how they would illuminate aspects of modern European history since their material was explicitly global in nature. However, after reading them, I see that both of these books represent a particular way of approaching history, one that ‘zooms out’ and seeks to paint larger picture. It is a method that traces broader trends, global patterns, and large, complex interactions. Though it is not a method without faults, I find that this approach grants a fuller perspective on historical issues that studies with more specifically focused subjects may miss. In this sense, by taking a global approach, we may be better suited to productively discuss certain questions about European history: What are Europe’s boundaries? Is there a “European” culture? If so, when and where did it begin? On a more fundamental level: What is Europe? A place? A culture? A shared history? The two works that we have read can help us shine a light on these issues, and aid us in ascertaining where and how exactly “Modern European History” fits into a larger global history.
Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson’s Globalization: a Short History is a brief book that may ultimately raise more questions that it does answer, but it is useful nonetheless. In a world of global markets, mass media, cultural exportation, it seems that globalization can be singled out as the culprit, the driving factor of change and integration. The authors assert that, despite the feeling that globalization is a phenomenon that began in the twentieth century, its roots can be traced back centuries into the past. In order to substantiate this claim, they have to first reevaluate the definition of globalization itself. Instead of viewing globalization as a process, Osterhammel and Petersson urge us to conceptualize globalization as way of understanding multiple processes of interaction. In other words, globalization is not a process in and of itself, but instead a way of conceptualizing and measuring levels of contact among peoples. “The question is no longer whether the term “globalization” is an adequate description for the present state of the world,” the authors write. “Instead, it directs attention to the history of worldwide integration, its development and erosion, its intensity and effects” (26-27).
One of the key factors in this new understanding of globalization then becomes ‘networks,’ which the authors define as systems of ‘sustained interactions.’ Measuring the level of interaction in these networks allows us to ascertain what degree ‘globalization’ was taking place, if at all. For, the network can only be considered a part of globalization if it is a worldwide network, or perhaps more accurately stated: globalization can only have existed once networks of sustained interaction became truly global. With this definition, the authors are able to pinpoint when they feel globalization (“worldwide integration”) began: 1500 CE. They then detail four epochs in which globalization took on unique aspects.
The first of the four epochs encapsulates the years between 1500 and 1750. This is the period when European exploration and expansion results in their discovery of the Americas, as well as increased interactions with eastern lands via land and waterways. These two hundred and fifty years are the foundations of not only European, but also Asian empire building. The second epoch, which spans the years 1750 to 1880, is the age of colonization and imperialism. More importantly, this epoch includes industrialization in many places in the northern hemisphere, which resulted in new networks of traffic, communication, migration, and commerce. These new networks are the mechanisms of a new surge of increased worldwide integration, or globalization. The third epoch begins with the turn of the twentieth century and ends with the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. It is a period marred with crisis, and despite the isolationist tendencies of some political powers (like the United States) and the intensely nationalistic (as opposed to global) goals of most nations during this period, the authors argue that this epoch cannot be said to be one of de-globalization. Indeed, the fact that crises in one area of the world (the crash of the NY Stock Exchange in 1929 for example) were able to so quickly and devastatingly spread to other spheres reveals just how integrated the worldwide networks actually were. The fourth and last epoch that the authors describe consists of the years between 1945 and 1970; it is an epoch in which globalization proceeded in a world divided under a bi-polar system of geopolitical power, but it is also a time period characterized by the increasing importance of multi-national groups like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
As stated above, I feel that taking an overview of such a global topic can provide a chance to situate historical developments into a larger context. But Globalization: a Short History makes me question the usefulness of such thin books. Because, by ‘zooming out,’ one also runs the very real risk of missing too much of the particularities that make histories unique and important. This book is not useful in answering questions like: did everyone experience these increasingly intense networks of interaction the same? How did people of different economic classes, races, or genders react to and interact with these networks? In fact, speaking in terms of “networks” may tend to “flatten out” hierarchies of power and difference that are a daily reality to most people. And though Osterhammel and Petersson encourage thinking about the multiplicity of globalization, I cannot help but question if their book itself is not too Eurocentric. Their story of globalization begins with the European discovery of the Americas, but what about prior trade between African and Asian societies (and trade between these societies and European ones)? Historians have shown that intense and sustained networks of trade existed for centuries before the Atlantic World came into existence. Is it, then, the American continents’ inclusion that makes the story truly global?
C. A. Bayly’s the Birth of the Modern World is a much larger work of history, and as such grants more attention to its subject, utilizing nuanced arguments and evidence. Bayly’s title (the Modern World, in the singular) may be deceiving upon first glance, because one quickly realizes that his main argument is that the world witnessed multiple modernities during this period (1780-1914). Moreover, modernity was experienced differently by different peoples in different places and at different times. Bayly describes “the modern” as constituting a number of processes that made the world’s societies more uniform: systems of rapid communication were developed, larger political entities emerged and replaced smaller, traditional forms of rule, more ambitious philosophies and ideologies of “civilization” (Western and non-Western) were formed, and across the board, societies became internally more complex and stratified (12).
How does Bayly handle this seemingly contradictory claim that ‘modern societies’ were simultaneously more uniform and complex? He claims that the world’s different societies were not becoming uniform in the sense that they were beginning to resemble each other specifically, but instead that their methods of ruling, of living, of dividing social strata all began to resemble each other. Take the world’s major religions as an example. During this period, Christianity and Islam (and Confucianism to a certain extent, if it can be defined as a religion at all) both underwent processes of self-evaluation, restructuring, and consolidation in order to define themselves and their boundaries. In this way, they resembled each other (they became more ‘uniform’) even if what they taught remained different. Similarly, the ruling classes of different societies began resembling each other in how they ruled, even if the specific expressions of their cultures were just as different as before.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Bayly’s book (besides the wealth of examples that he provides, made possible by his mastery of the literature that he used to write the book) is the way in which he complicates our understanding of the past, and of the making of the modern world in particular. He calls into question any hint of a teleological process of history in which Europe lead the way to modernity simply because it was exceptional. In fact, his book takes a truly global approach and quite firmly decenters Europe in the history of modernity, which has traditionally been understood as a European story. For example, he argues that many of the innovations and surpluses that supposedly came from the Industrial Revolution (again, a singular event) that occurred in Europe and was fueled by new methods of increasing supply, can actually be better understood as a series of industrious revolutions, which were actually transformations in expressions of demand around the world.
Throughout the book, Bayly also tackles the notion of European exceptionalism, and shows that Europe did not become the dominant political and economic power during this period because they were essentially “better” or “more modern” than the rest of the world. He also warns against an understanding in which the “decline of the rest” gave the misconception of the “rise of the West.” A number of very real, historical factors gave European nations an advantage in the processes of modernization: 1) more unused resources, 2) a “boundless” labor supply (slaves), and 3) the chance to solve population problems by exporting people to their colonies, mainly in the Americas (58). Bayly then concludes that the fifty years prior to the First World War constituted a period of accelerated change. In this sense, Bayly’s conception of modernization resembles Osterhammel and Peterson’s definition of globalization in that it refers to a degree of change or integration.
This leads us to the questions we want to discuss for our exams: What is Europe? Many scholars have acknowledged that “Europe” may simply be a useful construct, a tool created to aid in analysis. It may be true that “Europe” exists more in our imagination and in discourses than it does “out there” in the real world, but is there more to the notion of “Europe” than its analytical usefulness? Is it a people, a culture, a place, an economic network, or all of the above? Osterhammel and Petersson attempt to dismantle the importance of territoriality in their observations (8). This is an important contribution, because while there may be a spot on maps labeled “Europe,” “European” includes more than just territory. It can be helpful to continue to “dismantle territoriality,” because then we may get away from asking questions like, Where does Europe stop? Is Russia a part of Europe, and if so, how much of Russia is “European”? Osterhammel and Petersson’s line of thought suggests that “European” refers more to a network of trade and economies that gave rise to political and economic power for peoples living in a particular geographic location. However, they argue that the colonies did not constitute “Europe” (42), which I find strange considering not only the central role that the colonies played in European economic networks, but also the central role that they grant to economic networks in globalization. Moreover, interaction in the colonies (the “peripheries”) played a vital role in shaping European identities in the metropoles (the “centers”).
Recently, it seems that there is a fear among historians of being considered “Eurocentric,” and I even leveled this accusation against Osterhammel and Petersson. This is a legitimate and justified concern, and the critique has produced better research. But, Bayly’s work shows that in order to tell the history of the world beginning in 1750, one cannot miss or explain away the dominance (in many spheres) of European powers. Once exploration and extended trade routes revealed the existence of other peoples that were conceived to be dramatically different than themselves, the peoples on the European continent became aware of their own similarities in a way that they had not been before. This reveals the role of consciousness in what it means to be “modern,” “European,” or “globalized.” According to Bayly, an important step in becoming modern is thinking you are modern. He states that by the 19th century, peoples began to “believe passionately that they had made that once-and-for-all step upward to the modern age” (169). Similarly, Osterhammel and Petersson posit that the reason that people today believe that globalization is such a recent phenomenon is that developments in travel and communication have made it possible for more people to become aware of the networks of global interaction. This revelation is important when discussing what Europe is: notions of Europe and European come into existence, and are sustained by peoples who identify as European and promote ideas of what it means to be European. Others (non Europeans) then use these discourses when they discuss Europe, and also when they forge their own notions of self.
Bayly concludes by stating, “All historians are world historians now, though many have not yet realized it” (469). Here, Bayly is referring to the fact that, in a globalized world in which networks of interaction constitute a large (if not altogether defining) role, historians cannot fully understand a place (like Europe) or a theme (like modernization) without studying it in a larger – in this case global – context. This is a helpful reminder to keep our eyes open as historians to broader trends.
Books Under Review:
Bayly, C.A. The Birth of the Modern World: 1780-1914. Blackwell, 2004.
Osterhammel, Jürgen and Niels P. Petersson, Globalization: A Short History. Princeton University Press, 2005.
 It should be noted, though, that Bayly borrows the idea of “industrious revolutions” from Jan De Vries.
“We’re All World Historians Now?” by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
For more books on aspects of global history, see my full list of book reviews.