Defying Ideas and Structures: Writing Global History from Latin America.
This might seem counterintuitive--in Latin America, global history should have a twofold raison d'etre: overcoming Eurocentrism and nation-centrism. By and large, history in Latin America is still written within the national framework, and global history could address this shortcoming. Yet Europe as cultural and academic reference point continues to looms large in Latin American academia; here, too, a global history approach could help to rectify and broaden historical narratives. Much convincing remains to be done. This implies finding good answers to why global history matters for the wider public in Latin America and outside of it.
This discussion piece is based on debates that occurred during the Global History Conference that took place in Rio de Janeiro in October 2016 which included participants from the Americas, Europe, and Africa. (1) The Conference brought together the 2[degrees] Coloquio Internacional: Latinoamerica y la Historia Global and the 2nd Latin America in Global Context Workshop in an event organized by Fundacao Getulio Vargas' School of Social Sciences, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Universidade de Sao Paulo/Labmundi, University of Pittsburgh, University of Bern, and by the Red Latinoamericana de Historia Global (Latin American Network of Global History). The workshop forms part of an initiative launched in 2014 by the two authors of this piece. The goal was to delve into some of the issues which have complicated Latin America's placement into global history and specifically to create a network and a platform to discuss history in the twenty-first century and to advance a more inclusive agenda for Latin American history. As assistant professors in Switzerland and Brazil that had been trained in Germany/United Kingdom and Brazil/France respectively, we felt decidedly at the margins of these debates, but also agreed that many failed to broach more fundamental concerns we had. In the past decade, scholars have published valuable assessments, yet they have been mainly preoccupied with historiographical and methodological questions. (2) Our goal, by contrast, is to highlight the more practical constraints Latin American scholars face when researching and writing global history in (or from) the region.
Here, we would like to present some of the themes that have emerged during the conference on why Latin America has remained the "odd region out" and how we, as (not only) Latin Americanists, can engage more fruitfully with wider global history debates. (3) More pertinently, we would like to offer some suggestions on why so far global history has failed to gain major traction and suggest that the rationale for this is multi-fold: the place or location from which we write, material and structural obstacles, as well as language all provide specific barriers. Despite our interconnected world, our place in it still matters One of the major challenges we face is to find an agenda that fits a varied and diverse community of scholars. We all come from very different academic surroundings in Europe, the United States, and Latin America, all with their own rules, and, crucially, the knowledge that underwrites it, so this is not an easy feat. In particular, there is a chasm between specialists working outside of Latin America and historians working in Latin America, belying our seemingly global academic world. The interest in global history is also driven by our own exigencies: area studies specialists have a different interest to cast themselves as global historians, than colleagues working in Latin America do, for whom national Latin American history is in many instances the default position. Even those in Latin America who are interested in global history often find debates in the United States alienating. Many PhDs are trained in Europe--in Brazil, for example, students generally head to France, and in other cases to Germany or Spain. Thus their reference points and basic reading on global history differs distinctly. There is a longstanding tradition of global history in continental Europe that is often loosely connected to English-speaking historiography. Where and how we receive our training, legitimacy and funding from matters profoundly. In sum, despite our interconnected world, our place in it still matters.
History, in Latin America, is by and large still written within a national framework. This is in many ways a by-product of funding and institutional structures. And yet, it is clear that we cannot relate national history without a reference to the regional or global. History does not end at national borders: people, ideas, products, knowledge, and technology move beyond and through it. From the Latin American counterinsurgency, inspired by French experiences in Algeria and U.S. training, over international terror networks such as Operation Condor, to the transnational political guerrillas, these are profoundly entangled histories.
Of course, there have been scholars working on global history in Latin America without necessarily identifying their research as such, yet they remain few and far between. (4) Even though there is a growing awareness of these developments, entrenched institutional structures in Latin America have impeded any opening towards new spatial categories. Another major reason has also been the ongoing struggle for national visions. As Latin American societies are still grappling with the ramifications of military rule and human rights violations, there is an ongoing fight for historical narratives, which makes the writing of history in many cases also a political project. Be it in Brazil, where federal legislators evoke the military coup of 1964 as a historical moment to be emulated or in Argentina, where in recent months the historical consensus over the 1976-1983 dictatorship has been challenged under Argentina's current center-right president. National history remains at the forefront, and global historians need to acknowledge that fact. Simply preaching the virtues of global history is not sufficient, but we need to invest time and effort in how we can bring in national historiographies and scholars and what we can offer in return.
In addition to institutional resistance, a lack of funding, training and the division between national history and "the rest" (as well as the Eurocentric periodization of history into antiquity, medieval, early modern and modern history) further complicate the story. In continental Europe, by contrast, we see a very different phenomenon: many have readily embraced global and transnational approaches, in an attempt to escape the narrow confines of increasingly underfunded area studies. In the United States, in turn, another process has impeded the spread of global history. The "cultural turn" of the 1990s and its emphasis on subaltern studies have led scholars to focus on the local, eschewing the global. In sum, there is a divergence in research questions, publication priorities, and methods that is often difficult to bridge, not to mention that at times we seem to speak at cross-purposes.
Funding, Skills, and Having the Right Passport
Possibly one of the most difficult challenges that Latin American scholars face in writing global history is that of material.
Foreign language skills and specialized training in, for example, quantitative methods or oral history, as well as funding for travel and research at remote archives, affect how such research is carried out. While we often like to pretend that this is an open world, for many with the "wrong" passports it is not. Scholars have been denied U.S. visas to attend the Latin American Studies Association conference before; it is doubtful that this situation will improve under the current administration. Crucially, there is not just a North-South divide, but also a cleavage between top-ranked, well-endowed universities, and those that are not. Another issue often not addressed is time. In the United States, with a PhD that lasts five to six years and sufficient funding, global history projects, especially those with broad spatial ambition, can be more easily achieved. Yet, most of the academic world does not work like the U.S. system: in most other parts of the world, PhDs are shorter and funding is more precarious. In Latin America, where many PhDs work part-time, such an endeavor seems near impossible.
However, we do not want to suggest that funding is everything. Good research still relies first and foremost on innovative questions and ideas, as well as on another crucial element: excellent supervision. PhD students in Latin America are in need of supervision and teaching that requires a body of experts with knowledge on regions, topics or approaches that often are in short supply. As a result, aspiring students migrate to the United States or Europe for graduate school, not only because it is easier to find a supervisor, but also because of entrenched preconceptions that a foreign degree is more valuable. While this attempt to internationalize is to be encouraged, there are also downsides to it. Effectively, this is a brain-drain of young scholars that relieves pressure from the university system to introduce urgently needed reforms.
Language and the Problematic Roots of Global History
As Jeremy Adelman had posited in a recent article in Aeon, we have seen a backlash to "globalism." 5 While historians seem to inhabit an ever increasing globalized academic world, we have failed to reflect the social reality of many people who increasingly perceive globalization and anything "global" as a threat. This is not aided by the fact that the history of globalization and global history are often conflated, painfully underscoring a lack of methodological or theoretical accuracy. (6) As a result, global history has at times come under attack as defending globalization as a process. More so, given that we form part of this global community, historians have been charged as being implicated in this project.
"[G]lobal history is another Anglospheric invention to integrate the Other into a cosmopolitan narrative on our terms, in our tongues," Adelman provocatively stated. (7) With this, he highlights the problematic aspect of language: that "Globish" is dominated by English and Anglo-American values. In Latin America, few command the sort of academic English that is required and expected. Even in continental Europe, this unilateral direction of knowledge flows has been criticized. While most European scholars publish in or at least read English--not out of the goodness of their hearts but because it is expected of them--our colleagues in the Anglo-American world often do not reciprocate. This profound asymmetry has provoked resistance in diverse Latin American and European academic environments, where scholars feel threatened that their work is downgraded.
Even when working on transnational or inter-American themes there is significant institutional resistance within Latin American universities. This is even more pertinent when it comes to global history, which is often being described as a fad or a strategy to gain attention or funding, or, and more seriously, considered that it is an imperial project: by and for Anglo-American scholars.
There is no denying that global history, whether we like it or not, has grown out from imperial and colonial history and thus perpetuates Euro-centric perspectives. To this day, the study of empire forms a great part of it and it is mainly located in the universities of the Global North. In the United Kingdom, it is an indisputable fact that many global history chairs came to life when colonial history chairs were renamed. In the United States, it is often a poorly disguised expansion of the Western Civilization syllabus. In France, even the post-colonialist scholarship following Edward Said's work remains self-centered to a large extent, not to mention the series of initiatives to study European history and particularly European integration, which continues to attract attention and funding. Regarding Spain, Christian de Vito, notes that much progress has been made concerning former imperial history, but national approaches and the history of the Civil War still dominate the research agenda for the twentieth century. (8) The exception to this might be Germany, where historians are only too happy to escape national history and in particular the legacy of Nazi rule in Germany.
To a large extent, thus, global or world history is still self-referential: British scholars are primarily interested in their former empire and so are U.S. historians. "We're overwhelmingly interested in ourselves" as Clossey and Guyatt conclude in a review essay. (9) Romain Bertrand claims the same for the great part of his French colleagues: 'when we follow the works and the conferences abroad, we realize that the others just absolutely do not care whether France is aware of its racism or not. "[...] The challenge is to show that Europe has been nothing but one additional province in the world." (10) These kinds of emphases place the United States and Europe right at the center, when the original objective of global history was an eminently political project that would provide a counter-narrative to master narratives. So instead of a globalization of history, as A.G. Hopkins posited in 2002, the opposite has manifested; it has led to more uniformity and less diversity. (11)
Linked to the above is the perception that global history had been hijacked by certain area studies, which consequently imposed their own historical and political agenda, thus creating frameworks, spatial segmentation, periodizations, and focal points that complicate the incorporation of Latin American history. One such example is that global history firmly situates the transition from colonial to post-colonial rule in the decade of the 1950s and 60s, yet does not take into consideration that Latin America's de-colonization process took place at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Another that could be mentioned discusses slavery in the South Atlantic, many times presuming colonies on both sides of the ocean were connected more than integrated. (12)
In sum, given the prevalence of English as a language and the imposition of Anglo-American academic values as a conditio sine qua non, it is not entirely surprising that Latin Americans and Latin Americanists are reluctant to participate in a project that disadvantages them from the outset. That resistance is manifest in many remarks on the supposed innovation brought by global history. For Chloe Maurel, for instance, "it is necessary to be vigilant regarding the possible ideological motivations present in the works of certain American global historians who, by shortcuts and hasty generalizations, conscious or not, are tempted to present a teleological history of the world, shaped according to certain socio-economic interests of their country." (13) The Brazilian historian Amado Cervo delivers an even more damning statement in stating that "the Anglo-Saxon tradition has almost no dialogue with international scholarship. It has already flooded the world with a harmful and unhealthy unilateral contribution." He adds, "theories are unfounded in their knowledge base and inadequate to express the multiplicity of cultures, values and interests of all parts of the international society. If Global History goes down that road, it will receive the same critiques from scholarship. The risk exists: it has arisen in the United States [...]" (14)
It thus makes little sense to plow ahead and write a global history for a U.S. American and European audience. Rather, we should aim to write a global history that not only includes Latin America as a region but, crucially, engages with Latin American scholars and research, creating a common platform in the age of easy communication and circulation of knowledge. This is not just a question of respect, but speaks to the ethics of our profession: that we take both Latin American colleagues and our historic agents seriously.
The West vs. 'the Rest'?
One might consider the last sentence hyperbole, but during discussions in Rio a consensus emerged that Latin American research is not taken as seriously as research on other parts of the world. There appears to be a clear hierarchy of "serious vs. soft" history, the former generally applied to U.S. and European history, and the latter to extra-European history or "the rest," which is often relegated to the margins. Possibly, this is a result of a problematic development: Latin American sources are increasingly employed to lend international flavor to a research project; to tick the boxes, in a manner of speaking. This is particularly true for PhD students in the United States who are under immense pressure to internationalize in order to increase their chances on the job market. This underlying rationale is worrying, because many PhDs lack the language skills and the willingness to deeply and seriously engage with Latin American debates or historiography in Spanish or Portuguese.
A similar development can be observed in international history and particularly in the study of international organizations, where a certain global history "light" has emerged, seemingly ignoring that these are interconnected communities and elites that share lifestyles and values. As the recent political backlash has proven, this is the exception and not the rule, and does not reflect the social reality of many. (15)
Lastly, challenges to writing global history are also structural: the job market, academic culture, and hiring practices. This is particularly tricky for early career scholars who are forced to market themselves. Global history projects take a long time, which early career researchers do not have, as the next funding, job application or tenure committee is just around the corner. Fundamentally, it is a risky endeavor, as the time-consuming nature of it means that we often publish less. Then there is the question of travel funding. Scholars need much more funding to travel, more time off, and this is often hard to reconcile with administrative and teaching responsibilities. In an ever precarious and high-pressure academic market, this is clearly a disadvantage. As long as we operate within these systems and we face specific constraints, it raises the question of whether global history projects are feasible for early career scholars. However, if we fail to find an answer to this dilemma, then global history will remain the prerogative of the select few: an elite project for well-paid full professors with an army of research assistants and the necessary time on their hands.
Conclusion: Back to Roots
We would also like to conclude with a few suggestions. In the era of Trump, Brexit and resurgent nationalism, it is ever more important that we reach out to provide counter-narratives that highlight the profoundly entangled histories of our societies and cultures. It is not without irony that the right-wing ethnonationalist movements currently resurging on both sides of the North Atlantic are radically anti-globalization and yet profoundly transnational and global in their outreach. However, just because we academics live in a bubble of our interconnectedness, this is not equally true for everyone, so we need to do this without losing sight of equally important disconnections. Our place in the world matters profoundly, and with it, the cultural, material, and institutional constraints that come with it.
Language is the key. In the future, we should strive to work at least bilingually and actively seek space for more diversity. If one wants to engage with Latin American scholars, then Spanish must be a viable option, not to mention Portuguese, spoken by almost half of the Latin American population. Some journals have already taken that onboard and publish bilingual issues.
While borders seem to be hardening, and travel becoming more difficult, there are technological advances that can aid in connecting people with the necessary resources. Recent efforts to digitalize sources to make them more widely available as well as open access publications particularly benefit Latin American scholars, for who access to costly journals and extensive travel funds are rare. Likewise, collaborations and the sharing of material offer opportunities that merit closer examination, as do joint projects where U.S. and European funds are shared with Latin American universities.
Despite the obstacles, we agreed that good research does not exclusively rely on funding, but on a range of interlinked factors, most importantly innovative ideas and good supervision. We can strive harder to make sure that not only that our students have the support but also to make available networks of which we are part.
When it comes to research, participants agreed that our goal should not be to write big history, but to show the global in everyday experiences, revealing forgotten connections. In sum, to go back to our roots: to write from within the region and with Latin American sources and to localize or provincialize global questions.
(1) The conference program can be accessed at: http://ri.fgv.br/ sites/default/files/noticias/arquivos-relacionados/ghc_programa. pdf.
(2) Matthew Brown, "The Global History of Latin America", Journal of Global History Vol. 10 No.3 (Nov 2015), 365-386. See also the special issue of the Hispanic American Historical Review Vol. 48 No.3 (August 2004). For European perspectives, see: Caroline Douki and Philippe Minard, "Global History, Connected Histories: A Shift of Historiographical Scale?" Revue d'histoire modern et contemporaine Vol.5 No.54 (2007), pp.-7-21. Matthias Midell and Katja Naumann, "Global History and the Spatial Turn: From the Impact of Area Studies to the Study of Critical Junctures of Globalization," Journal of Global History Vol. 5 (2010), 149-170.
(3) Lauren Benton, "No Longer Odd Region Out: Repositioning Latin American in World History," Hispanic American Historical Review Vol. 84, No.3 (August 2004), 423-430.
(4) As Rafael Marquese and Joao Paulo Pimenta have indicated, we could mention the works from Cyril Lionel Robert James and Eric Williams from the first half of the twentieth century, for instance, or the world-system approach concerned with a long term analysis regarding development in the region. Rafael Marquese and Joao Paulo Pimenta, "Tradicoes de historia global na America Latina e no Caribe," Historia da Historiografia n. 17 (April 2015), 30-49. For an exhaustive review, see the special issue "Global and Transnational Approaches" of Estudos Historicos vol. 30, n. 60 (Jan-Apr 2017), http://bibliotecadigital.fgv.br/ojs/ index.php/reh/issue/view/3114.
(5) Jeremy Adelman, "What is Global History Now?" Aeon, 3/2/17, accessed March 3, 2017. https://aeon.co/essays/is-global-history-still-possible-or-has-it-had-its-moment.
(6) Yet, as Christopher Bayly rightly cautioned, we should not exaggerate historiographical shifts and the importance of terminology, in particular because they have distinct meanings in different cultural settings. Interview with Christopher Bayly, "I am not Going to Call Myself a Global Historian," Itinerario Vol.31 Issue 1 (March 2007), 7-14.
(7) Jeremy Adelman, "What is Global History Now?"
(8) Christian G. De Vito "Towards the Global Spanish Pacific," International Review of Social History, Vol. 60 No. 3 (2015), 449-462.
(9) Luke Clossey and Nichoals Guyatt, "It's a Small World After All: The Wider World in Historians' Peripheral Vision," Perspectives on History 51(May 2013), 24-7.
(10) Sonya Faure, Interview "Romain Bertrand 'L'Europe, une province parmi d'autres," Liberation, published on-line on 6/26/16, accessed http://www.liberation.fr/debats/2016/06/29/ romain-bertrand-l-europe-une-province-parmi-d-autres_1462932], consulted on 8/25/17.
(11) A.G. Hopkins, "The History of Globalization--and the Globalization of History?" in: A.G. Hopkins (ed.), Globalization in World History (London: Pimlico, 2002).
(12) Luiz Felipe de Alencastro "The Ethiopic Ocean--History and Historiography, 1600-1975," Portuguese Literary and Cultural Studies, Vol. 27 (2015), 1-82.
(13) Chloe Maurel, "La World/Global History. Questions et debats," Vingtieme Siecle. Revue d'histoire Vol. 4 No. 104 (2009), 166.
(14) InfoNEIBA, Interview 'Entrevista--Amado Cervo', InfoNEI-BA Vol. IV No. 1 (2016), 4-5.
(15) For other examples discussing shared and opposite values on the topic, see: Marcos Chor Maio, "O Projeto Unesco: ciencias sociais e o 'credo racial brasileiro,'"Revista USP Vol. 46 (Jun-Aug 2000), 115-128 and Alan McPherson and Yannick Wehrli (ed.). Beyond Geopolitics: New Histories of Latin America at the League of Nations (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2015).
Stella Krepp, University of Bern
Alexandre Moreli, Fundacao Getulio Vargas
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|Title Annotation:||Special Section: The World from Latin America; 2016 Global History Conference highlights|
|Author:||Krepp, Stella; Moreli, Alexandre|
|Publication:||World History Bulletin|
|Article Type:||Conference notes|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2017|
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