(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.

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate