NOTES FOR HISTORY 592 CLASS ON OCTOBER 31, 2006
We will be discussing the theme of globalization, one of the most heard and most over-used concepts of the last decade or so. We will also examine this in the context of changes in markets and consumer patterns. Unlike our other classes, we will not have one common book to discuss, but rather a group of five recent scholarly articles. By the way, these are nothing like as long as they initially appear, because in most cases the footnotes are lengthy and elaborate. Basically, I want you to read these five very different articles, and come prepared to talk about them.
As before, I will be asking the same questions about these articles – why did they get published? What did they have to say that was new or interesting? Did they make the case they set out to make? And so on.
1. Charles S. Maier’s important survey of “Consigning the Twentieth Century to History.”
2.Kenneth Cmiel on recent histories of human rights
3.Matt Matsuda on The Pacific as a changing concept in studies of world history.
4.Peter Coates on “The Strange Stillness of the Past”
5. Nancy Tomes, “Merchants of Health”.
The articles may seem diverse (OK, they are diverse), but some potent themes do emerge, including:
For the Maier article:
How do present trends make people rethink the past?
How different would the twentieth century have looked from the standpoint of 1985? Of 1975? Of 1955?
Do centuries matter? When did the 20th century begin and end? Does September 11 make a fine terminus, as some have argued?
If you go to http://lamar.colostate.edu/~pwryan/narrentry.htm , you will read a valuable description of the idea of the Grand Narrative: see the section beginning “Contemporary uses of the term narrative”, and especially the passage about Lyotard. What are the master narratives of the twentieth century? How do rival narratives challenge the story of science, progress and rationality? Lyotard himself famously wrote that "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives."
What are the units that we should be studying in history? If not nations, what? How did we come to conceive the past in terms of those units?
What were the critical trends of the 20th century? Does Maier cover them convincingly? What would you add or subtract from his account? Tell me about his central theme of force and its expansion, the saturation of space?
Tell me about the analogies Maier draws between developments in physical science and in politics, in concepts of nationality and globalization. How do contemporary trends in science affect social and political interpretations today – think for instance of the Internet, the centrality of Information, and the rise of biological science.
What do you think of his comments about “the dominant narratives of moral atrocity?”
What are the practical political consequences of such narratives?
What does Maier say about the force of memory?
How far is Maier influenced by his own professional stance, as a historian of Germany, the Cold War, and of Communism?
For the Cmiel article:
If we are indeed developing a new global consciousness, what are the implications for our sense of rights – do we have rights beyond those specified by states and laws? What do these ideas imply for nation states and for notions of territoriality?
What moral narratives are implied by human rights rhetoric? Are they valid?
How have human rights expanded to cover issues of gender and sexual preference?
How has concern over war crimes expanded notions of human rights?
An important project: please look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html ). What do you think of these rights? How many of them remain deeply controversial? How far were they rooted in their time (1948)? What more modern ideas do they omit or contradict?
Can we speak of human rights without rooting them in religion? How? What intellectual assumptions underlie the rhetoric? “Everyone is entitled…” – based on what?
What criticisms can be made of human rights activism? In practice, does might make right?
Is international law possible?
For the Matsuda article:
Is globalization a meaningful concept?
Does this article provide us with illustrations that help us understand Maier’s argument?
Matsuda is building upon the crucial work of Fernand Braudel, who used the concept of the Mediterranean to overcome the human-formed notion of the nation state. He especially stressed the idea that the sea was a highway, or a complex of highways, rather than a wall between cultures. He also trampled boundaries that conventionally separate politics from culture or economics, as well as ignoring chronological divisions. Though focusing on one great event, the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, his book was divided into three (vast!) sections: The Role of the Environment; Collective Destinies and General Trends; and Events, Politics and People. He argued that “the history of events was merely the history of `surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs'. The history of events is “the most exciting of all, the richest in human interest, but also the most dangerous.”...”Resounding events are often only momentary outbursts, surface manifestations of... larger movements and explicable only in terms of them.” How does Matsuda expand the idea to the Pacific? In what senses is the Pacific a useful concept?
I wonder if some future Braudel could take a great clash like Iwo Jima, and use it as Braudel used Lepanto, as the core of a vast and wide-ranging study of Pacific cultures and civilizations over many centuries?
How have various activists, governments and pressure groups used the Pacific as a rhetorical tool? What does the Pacific convey for them, whether as threat or promise? What are the cultural connotations? Tell me about the concept of the Pacific Rim.
What does “the Pacific” convey in American history?
How have anthropological findings and theories played a critical role in contemporary political and cultural debate in this region?
What role have environmental debates played in shaping ideas about the Pacific?
Is the Pacific a civilization?
What would Benedict Anderson have to say about this project?
For the Coates article:
Now this one should certainly make you think (and listen)!
What can historians study when they get away from relying on texts? What did you learn from this article?
How can historians benefit from studying popular culture and fiction?
What does this suggest about how people’s senses change over time, to say nothing of their sensibilities? How do people in different eras see/sense things differently?
How have people changed their attitudes towards the environment during the twentieth century, in both the sense of their immediate surroundings, and of The Environment at large?
Think about the role of bells in history and in past societies. When were they used? What messages did they send?
What do you think of the notion of “sound imperialism”?
What impact did the decline in the use of animals have on the environment, and on people’s consciousness?
How has people’s consciousness of nature and the natural world changed during the twentieth century? How has consciousness of animals changed during the twentieth century? How have people reacted to technology by turning to romanticized images of nature?
How do attitudes to nature and technology, smell and noise, differ between the global North and South, the developed and developing worlds?
How do attitudes to nature and technology, smell and noise, differ between various classes, regions and communities within the United States?
Could you write a history of Silence?
Could you write a history of Smell? How do we re-odorize history?
Is environmental well-being a human right? How does this relate to the comments in the Cmiel article? How far can such rights be defended or asserted within the limits of the nation-state?
Note how the trends described here illustrate Maier’s theme of the saturation of space, the rise of force and energy, etc.
For the Tomes article:
How have medical technologies impacted ordinary lives in the twentieth century? What different interpretations do various sources offer for these changes? What are the “master narratives?”
What does this article tell us about changing attitudes towards science? Towards professionalism, to professionals and the respect they should attract? How far did this reflect wider attitudes towards science, scientism and modernity?
What gender themes surface in this study?
How do battles over access to cheap medicines reflect wider concerns about populism and popular democracy
How far is this article a response to perceptions of a “health care crisis” in 1990s America? Have such fears subsided?
How much do changes result from developments in technology?
What role do consumers play in shaping these great historical changes? What other areas have been transformed by consumer activism and movements?
Consumer activism and environmentalism tend to grow in the same periods. How do the movements relate to each other?
What criticisms are made of contemporary directions in American health care? How do you assess them?
What does this article tell us about changing concepts of rights in the twentieth century? How does that relate to the comments in the Cmiel article? Is health care a human right?