Thursday, July 9, 2009

A plea for integrated historiography - Gilder Lehrmann

The Gilder Lehrmann Institute for American History has a history podcast that I have come to appreciate more and more. A wide range of academics are invited to lecture on their field of interest and this results in a high level podcast about history. The list of available lectures is long, there is much to pick and choose from, but I have found the quality increasing over time and recommend the most the recent lectures.

One of those is a lecture by Thomas Bender, 'American history, views from abroad' in which Bender notices a kind of division that I also see, at least in history podcasts. This division is between American History and history of the rest of the world. These two histories are taught and studied separately and barely influence each other, almost to the extent as if we are dealing with two different unconnected worlds. Needless to say the world is connected, but Bender goes beyond stating the obvious and makes two important points. The one is that in the past, American academicians never thought of their history to be separate, hence this is a relatively new (say since 1945) phenomenon. Furthermore, he brings examples of how specific elements in American History that are widely thought to be exceptional are hardly so at all.

And so, Bender pleads for integrated history, or better, since history is integrated anyway, an integrated historiography. And this is a point that should go both ways: not only should Amercian Historians integrate with world history, other historians should also integrate with America. I would like to stretch this even further and plead for more integration with non-western historiography. Taking the world of history podcasts to be representative; historiography barely goes beyond Europe and Neo-Europe and if it does, it is more likely to be treated as curiosa, than as a substantial part of 'real' history. But there is no West without Islam and no Islam without Persia, without the Roman Empire and there is no Roman empire without Africa, Asia and so on.

More Gilder Lehrmann:
The Cuban Missile Crisis (Sergei Khrushchev),
African American generations (Ira Berlin),
Theodore Roosevelt (Patrica O'Toole),
Slave Culture (Philip Morgan).

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