Re-examining the Study of History: from prejudice to relegation (Part-II)

Re-examining the Study of History: from prejudice to relegation (Part-II)

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Reviewing the famous book of Sebastian Conrad

History and Philosophy Image © The Radical Outlook

By Shahzada Rahim

Comparative History

The comparative studies have some vulnerable traditions ranges from the ancient ecumenical perspective which compares one’s own civilization to the barbarian of neighbor’s up to the juxtaposition of the macro-regions that characterizes much of the twentieth-century history. Moreover, the large-scale development of statehood, the origin of Capitalism, evolution, and social change, all encompass the comparative approach.

In recent years, this method has dragged a lot of criticism from the literary techniques and methods because these theories have given birth to the anti-dote method of comparative study. The images of the historical interpretation are very different because it encompasses various micro, macro, and meta-narratives. Moreover, the comparative study always moves beyond the cases and opens up the conservation between different historical trajectories and experiences.

In this approach, the researchers often go beyond the descriptive narratives and ensure historical inquiries. Through this approach, we will compare the establishment of the first cities in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium BCE to Mohenjo Daro and Harrapa, in the Indus Valley, all around the establishment of the Mayan City-states that flourished two thousand years later. [1]

In the comparative study, two different historical contexts came into contact to define the very narrative that has been central in the contradiction between the given contexts — systematic and sociological. Comparative studies often use the language of sociological sciences to compare two different paradigms in a broad manner. According to comparative history, most prominently Germany, Japan, and Russia have distracted from the usual trajectory of the histories. Likewise, in the case of the United States, it is the American exceptional political culture that is deviant from the historical trajectory.

The same critical analysis is being followed by the ‘Eurasianist writers’, who are directly against the Euro-centric paradigm and Exceptionalism. Basically, comparative studies have benefited from the challenges posed by the transfer and connected histories. In contrast, the comparative studies involve the bilateral logic — that explains the trajectories of two or more histories at one time — the similarities and the differences. The Great Depression had destroyed several businesses around the globe whether they were directly or indirectly linked. Thus, the methodological shortcomings of both comparison and connected histories can be located in the binary structure. [2] In the comparative discourse, we can dig out the context of British take-off in industrialization and China’s stagnation. Kenneth Pomeranz, in his famous book ‘The Great Divergence’ laid out the claim that why China’s Shangai was developed in the same way as the Lancashire of Britain. Basically, it was the forces outside and beyond the European market that explains how the European cities have achieved the status of core industrialized in the nineteenth century’s world economy.

For Global historians, this macro-comparisons and is the most useful tool to understand contemporary history. In the traditional comparisons, the global perspective was the construction of historians, not just bound on the concrete links rather as an eye beholder. In recent years, the old traditional approach of comparative study has declined. Today, comparative historians increasingly take global history as their point of departure and pursue their inquiries against the backdrop of the global context. Basically, it has also transformed the approach of global history too.

Transnational History

Basically, transnational history mainly focuses on the phenomena, which is geographically more limited. It mainly focuses on the fluid and interwoven dimensions of the historical process, studying societies with a broader context.

To what extent do transcendent state borders impact social dynamics?

Basically, it involves the context of the transnational organizations, NGOs, companies, and transnational public spheres. Moreover, they are not limited to state actors and are not bound by the state actors. It will also explore how the world conversely reached deep into the individual societies would. Basically, the transnational approaches were developed after the arrival of the term ‘transnational’ in the 1990s, when the rhetoric of globalization seem to undermine the power of the nation-state and historians began to transcend from the nationalist mythology of the social sciences. Moreover, the history of one’s own nation has always been the privileged form of historiography that pushed historians to look for alternative special visions.

On the other hand, the fact cannot be denied that the vocabulary of Global history is oversized and even presumptuous. In contrast, there is some similarity between global history and transnational history, because both want to go beyond the internal analyses. Moreover, the national history is more dynamic and attuned to the complexities of the historical process.

In recent years, many histories have emerged that do not dodge the national history rather they transnationalized it. Thomas Bender, in his famous book ‘A nation among nations,’ gives the insight that “national histories are part of Global Histories; each nation is a prince among the provinces that makes up the world”. [3] Bender basically mentions Five major episodes in North American history:

  1. Colonial history
  2. Civil war
  3. American Revolution
  4. Empire
  5. Welfare state

Basically, he proposed these domains in the broader context of transnational and global history. Moreover, according to Bender, it was the Haitian revolution in 1804 that sparked the new wave of revolutions throughout South America. Indeed, the work of Thomas Bender is beyond the conventional approaches and it has moved beyond the concept of ‘Exceptionalism’ — that ‘A nation cannot be its own historical context’. Moreover, the work of Thomas Bender has given a new direction to the national historiographies by making them attuned to the global context. Through his work, he has developed a ‘new Frame of American History’ and a better understanding to the ‘Central themes of American History.

On the other hand, it is a vivid fact that transnational history sees beyond the domain of the nation-states. To make it less normative, some authors have suggested alternative formulations such as ‘trans-regional and ‘trans-local. Basically, transnational history confronts the challenges of global history. Thomas Bender did the same; he studies the history of America in a large global structure by addressing the question of cause and effect.

World System Theory

It is a fact that both comparative history and transnational history take on individual cases and nation-states as their point of departure. But the world system theory starts with the reverse assumptions that regional blocs and systems are the primary units of the historical process/analysis and all the small entities are the derivatives of this larger structure. In the 1970s and 1980s, world-system theory became the most Macro-level alternative / Macro-historical alternative to the modernization theory, by encompassing the context of change at the global level.

Basically, the world system theory has highlighted the systematic nature of the International State system and the capitalist economic order. Immanuel Wallerstein this theory is much indebted to Ferdinand Braudel, which helped him to develop a new level of historical analysis. It has adhered to the Centrifugal knowledge of the history of European expansionism by overhauling the context of the systematic process.

According to Immanuel Wallerstein, there are two different forms of the world system.

  1. World economies
  2. World-Empires

The world empires are oriented towards the political integration of the territories, while the world economies are oriented towards the integration of world-Market. It is also characterized by the division of labor and intensive exchange of goods in a large geographical region. In the Canons of history, the multiple world economies have often existed side by side. Today, it is the European world economy, which has given birth to the globalized economy. Emerging in the sixteenth century, the European world-economy system has incorporated all the regions into interdependent nexus of core, periphery, and semi-periphery. With Growth, this has shifted the centers; from Spain via Portugal, and Holland and France, to Britain and then to the United States. In the context of the region, first Eastern Europe and Latin America then followed by Africa and Asia — were gradually added to the European world system. [4]

Drawbacks of the world System Theory

  1. It shows the method of economic reductionism which gave a one dimensional context — there can be a deviation in the dynamics and mutability of Capitalism. The sudden shift from the merchant capital to the industrial capital resembles the ‘endless accumulation of wealth’. In the latter context, the political rule, social dynamics, and cultural interpretations are relatively ignored. There is a little attention to the fact that the integration of the world market was the outcome of the asymmetrical power.
  2. There is a concept of just abstract system without real examples.
  3. The world system theory has not discarded all the elements of Euro-centrism because the genesis of this work lies in the famous work of Marx and Engels, ‘the Communist Manifesto’ that explains the rise of Europe internationally and from within.

In this regard, there are limits to this approach because it is more dogmatic and less empirical. It also somehow contradicted the notion that the ‘nation State’ was the product of the global process and the dynamics of the world economy. It is against methodological nationalism and national historiography. For Wallerstein, the hegemony was the result of conquest and colonization — the division of labor and individual differentiation.

The whole discourse of this discourse solely relies upon the material condition of the nations that make them the victor or victim of the world system. It rejects the fact that social development has internal dynamics of its own. It brings into account all the local entities and subaltern agencies in the context of social change. Historians using this approach have already abandoned the mechanistic study of base and superstructure instead it grasps capitalism as a historical formation.

Post-colonial Studies

As we know that the world system theory has given the macro-level historical analysis. But since the 1980s, post-colonial studies have emerged as a new interpretation of the intricate connections across the cultural borders. It was based on the premise that the modern world is based on the colonial order dates back to the sixteenth century of the European conquest of the Americas. In the wake of Edward W. Said’s famous work ‘Orientalism,’ the post-colonial writers relied on the analysis of cognition and the regimes of knowledge that historically sustained the colonial project. Basically, it was a response to the shortcomings of the modernization theory. Moreover, it is a fact that the post-colonial writers have not presented any grand narrative for the history of the entire world. In the Modernization theory, there are master narratives that explain the rhetoric of globalization in the context of the imperialistic discourse of modernization.

The very word ‘Global’ is a concept of the colonial and imperial Ages. Thus, the post-colonial studies provide us a critique of the Modernization theory. There are three major aspects of post-colonial studies:

  1. First, it gives us the sophisticated insight into the dynamics of trans-cultural exchange. The European cultural domination with the concept of hybridity through the simple terms of diffusion and adaptation.
  2. Post-colonial studies consider the modern world as the point of departure in transnational history/historiography. They do not treat nations and civilizations as entities rather focus on the construction of the word such as ‘Europe’ and ‘India’ in the context of global circulation. It is against the Euro-centric and historiography. By contrast, post-colonial studies seek to overcome the tunnel vision that explains the history of Europe internally.
  3. Thirdly, the process of Global Integration must be situated within the unequal colonial power structures — this makes the post-colonialism as the most powerful critique of modernization. This means that the increasing interconnectedness cannot be separated from the colonial conditions under which those connections were formed. Today, the very context of Global of the Modernization theory focuses on the supra-integration of the labor market, which seems the outcome of the historical laws, governed by the Adam’s Smith’s ‘Invisible hand’.

Therefore, the integration of the market cannot be separated from the fist of Imperialism. Since the 1990s, the post-colonial approach has been one of the most vibrant approaches to define the complex dynamics of the world.

Two Major Critiques

The very first concerns the concept of culture — there must be some focus on the discourse of civilization and representation of Humanities. In one emphatic pronouncement, Colonialism was declared as the first matter of all consciousness which is needed to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men. The post-colonial writers have given a cultural interpretation on the expanse of political and economic structures. It has developed its method of critique through the quasi-nationalist cultural approach. [5]

The post-colonial writer dragged their analysis from the idealized image of the pre-modern and pre-colonial past. They avoid the criticism from western essentialism into cultural essentialism of their own.

Secondly, the post-colonial paradigm rests on the very general and useful concept of colonialism. The world has been ordered along the colonial line since 1492, has established different kinds and forms of colonial rule.


Post-colonial studies have contributed a lot to the political comeback of the concept of civilization. The civilizational narratives have been very much popular and prominent during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century. The Historians such as Buckle, Nikolai Danilevsky, and more recently Oswald Spengler and Arnold J Toynbee frequently used the word ‘Civilization’. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Ideological war, the word ‘Civilization’ has gained new popularity. Moreover, the word has become as the explanatory term for defining the wars and conflicts in the globalizing world. [6] Likewise, the word civilization has become more popular outside the world of Europe, especially in the Islamic world and East Asia.

The concept of Multiple Modernities has two broad dynamics:

  1. It mediates between the individual lives and local context.
  2. At the same time, as a anonymous process at the global scale.

In this regard, this concept with its broad contextual emergence eased to move away from Euro-centrism. Perhaps, this version of civilizational discourse with the Greatest Scholarly impact is based on the concept known by the convenient catchword: Multiple Modernities. This concept was actually formulated by the Israeli Sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt. Though, he developed this theory based on the classical Modernization theory but by overcoming the teleological structures. What Shmuel said: “We have to recognize the valid multiple modes of historical development, a diversity of visions for the future, and the fundamental normative equality of different cultural and social trajectories”. Basically, it was through American sociologist Talcott Parson’s structural functionalism, Eisenstadt developed a ‘Cross-regional’ analysis of patterns of social order and integration without equating Modernization with that of Westernization.

On the contrary, the theory of multiple Modernities also challenges the existing Modern social theory — the very tenets of Secularization. According to a plurality of paths towards Modernization, the social transformation in fact does not lead more or less automatically to the decline of the religious affiliation, as had been postulated in the standard Modernization theory. This realization led to the revaluation of the role of religion, and the role of religious traditions in the civilizational mold. The historians and scholars such as Arnold J Toynbee and Oswald Spengler see the concept of civilization as rooted in the sociology of religion. Basically, the multi-modernist theorists have launched a staunch criticism on the notion of modernization of societies that societies will follow a cultural program of modernity, as it occurred in Europe. [7]

One of the most important implications of the term multiple Modernities is that Modernity and westernization are not identical. Moreover, the cultural aspects across the globe are becoming more homogenized. Perhaps, this gives birth to the concept of Multiple Modernities e.g. Buddhist Humanism, and Confucius Humanism. Basically, the concept of Multiple Modernities claims that there is a structural difference everywhere. In this regard, it develops a normative attempt to liberate the analysis of non-Western Societies from the concepts such as imitation, copy, and intentional recognition

There are three major objectives of the Modernization Theory:

  1. The program of multiple Modernities is still vague and its argumentations are restricted or limited to the field of culture. It raised questions on social models of multiple Modernities.

What makes them all Modern?

It advocates single Modernity that is usually defined by the cultural differentiation, rationalization, and disenchantment embodied in the state of bureaucracy and Capitalist Market Mechanism.

  1. Many proponents of the concept identify Modernization dynamic specific to each civilization but treat each largely as self-contained unit. In this regard, the homogeneity of each civilization is really challenged by various scholars and historians. Moreover, the risk of turning into culturalism is a sort that harbors the dangers of essentialization — the assumption that each civilization has a timeless, immutable cultural essence, incompatible with that of other.
  2. Thirdly, this model explicitly accepts the model of cultural autonomy across the different parts of the world. Moreover, there is also a problem with the systematic integration of the world. Likewise, there is a firm concept that it is the larger structure and power asymmetries that brought the modern world into being.


Shahzada Rahim is a Geopolitical analyst and International Relations, Expert.


[1] This analysis will tell us about the establishment of city-conglomerates based on the division of labor and social hierarchies.

[2] This has been well explained by the famous writer Kenneth Pomeranz, in which he thoroughly discussed the impacts and the outbreak of the First Great Depression.

[3] Moreover, it is a fact that the history of one’s own nation has always been a privileged form of historiography everywhere.

[4] Still today, there is a debate about the origin of the world system — some ruled it in the third Millennium while some trace it in the thirteen and sixteenth centuries.

[5] If we talk about Ottoman Turkey and Qing China, it was through imperialism: the financial control was imposed on them in order to squeeze them.

[6] Whenever it comes to the discourse of history, the binary logic must be imposed through varying insights.

[7] Basically, Eisenstadt attempted to overcome the Eurocentrism of traditional modernization theory, which is aimed at popularizing and pluralizing the paths leading to modernity.

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The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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