(Pimlico, £12.50)

Globalization in World History edited by AG Hopkins

A global warming from the history men

Modern people have to wrestle with the idea of being modern. Maybe there's nothing very new in that. It is a continuing delusion that our own times present uniquely daunting challenges or opportunities. In this age, the idea of globalisation captures a good deal of what we think is happening now, and about which we wonder: is this new?

This collection of essays by nine Cambridge historians is predicated on the notion that their trade has been remiss in not addressing globalisation. They dive into bits of history and pre-history and try to see how much the trading systems, empires and religious ambitions of the past are precursors of the modern.

The first service of the editor, Antony Hopkins, is to clarify the questions. As the age of the sailing ship and messenger developed into that of the satellite and internet, what changed? Was it qualitative – a step-change in what it means to be human – or merely a case of more of the same? Do the technologies that banish geography define and change the world, or does the variety of competing tendencies that flow along along them matter more? And which of these matter most? Trade, ideologies, ideas, knowledge, faiths, diseases, plants, new objects of desire?

Clarification comes through, and mostly it is rather reassuring. Useful ways of thinking start to emerge. First, we start to think of some human tendencies as "universalist". Religion is an obvious one, and the Enlightenment another. Capitalism might be a candidate, and so might scientific empiricism.

Professor Hopkins larkily suggests that the anti-globalisers are globalisers. Their protests "are highly significant popular expressions of a civic conscience that has universal aspirations". His remark reminds one that he and his contributors have fairly conventional prejudices about the world. However, it's a blessing that they are not burdensomely PC and postmodern.

The essays help one think about the "universal", not least because they show that it doesn't necessarily lead to the "global". For instance, a religion with a small following might have unfulfilled universalist ambitions, while a trading system might reach around the world, but have no universalist claim.

The good news is that universalist ideas and practices have been much more multifarious than might be supposed. Historically, mighty "universal" forces have overlain one another. Islam, Christianity and the Enlightenment, for instance, have not always been mutually exclusive – and often aren't now.

Some of the influences with biggest reach have not been dogmas or systems at all. So the worldwide Chinese diaspora has been an important phenomenon, affecting China and the places the expatriates have ended up, but it has not been remarked as a globalising influence. What's more, much of Asia (Malaysia, for instance) is usefully seen as a region in which diasporas – and the intermingling they bring – have happened with rather less fuss and more benefit than might be supposed.

Does the "universal" extinguish the local? The answer is more nuanced than one might think. One essay harrowingly details the extinction of local Balinese rule by the Dutch in 1908, only to reveal that, for reasons of convenience and maybe atonement, the Dutch then insisted the Balinese recreate a folkloric "South Seas paradise" myth, which was phoney where it wasn't anachronistic. Anyway, the re-invention turned out to be a brilliant investment in what become the underpinning of the tourist industry. Thus empire hid behind a fantasy of local identity, which became the theme for a globalised and globalising post-imperial business.

Anti-globalisers will find plenty of evidence here to support their contention that improved communications have often been deployed to project oppressive power. But that is an old story. What's fresh is much more cheering: evidence that global tendencies come in many forms, and that they have sometimes co-existed with the local, the historical and with each other. If we repeat history, we won't always be doing so badly. And knowing the kind of history this book helps pioneer will help us avoid repeating the worst bits.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week