Reviewed by Timothy S. Forest (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-German (May, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
Globalization and Its Discontents
Globalization: almost every single individual on this planet has encountered something that has been impacted by it, if he or she has not confronted it directly. As demonstrated by the two volumes here, neither the subject itself nor academic treatments of it will disappear anytime soon. From enjoying the "Big Mac Index" in the Economist, to hearing about globalization in national election campaigns, to participating in boycotts of imported goods or a pilgrimage, to visiting a new art exhibit--one cannot help but witness the increasing interconnectedness of peoples and societies. Observing a phenomenon, however, is not the same as defining and analyzing it. Academics have been struggling to come to terms with the latter two tasks. The difficulty in studying international flows is reflected in the lack of a general consensus over what exactly to call the study of the "New World Order." Historians C. A. Bayly and Anthony Hopkins prefer "world history," anthropologist Shalini Randeria uses "connected histories," while historian Bruce Mazlish employs "new global history" when describing the increased number and depth of transnational exchanges of peoples, goods, and ideas in the modern era (Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier, p. 2).
Three leading scholars have made it their task to edit two historical dictionaries (or "reference volumes") that aim to provide a general frame of reference to what this reviewer, for the sake of consistency, will refer to as transnational history. The Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary World History, by Jan Palmowski, senior lecturer in European studies in King's College, takes a traditional, straightforward approach to this project. Palmowski's goal is "to provide an accurate and comprehensive account of facts and developments" of a "genuinely global" nature (Palmowski, p. ix). Palmowski privileges certain nations and territories over others, as is the case for politicians and political activists, and notable public policies. Entries vary significantly in length. Relatively short entries chronicle the history of newly independent nations in Africa and Asia, for example; likewise, Helmut Kohl receives rather cursory treatment. On the other hand, extensive pieces discuss the Australian Labor Party, as well as John F. Kennedy. The emphasis of the book is squarely on politics--a focus made explicit by the editor in the preface. Accordingly, the volume can aptly be characterized as taking a "Great Men" approach to history--here borrowing Thomas Carlyle's words and expanding on them to include great nations and institutions. Palmowski states in his introduction that he focuses his attention on "personalities that have had a significant impact on world politics" (p. viii).
The second book takes a dramatically different approach toward transnational history. Editors Akira Iriye of Harvard University and Pierre-Yves Saunier of the Centre National de la Recherche Scienifique have compiled a work that specifically aims to transcend persistent biases that emerge from the disciplinary, linguistic, and national backgrounds of other editors and/or authors working in this field. They, with the assistance of five associate editors and well over one hundred contributors representing academic and non-academic institutions from six continents, created a volume designed to reveal "the historicization of interdependency ... the advancement of knowledge on neglected or hazy regions ... [and] the understanding of trends and protagonists that are often left on the periphery of national or comparative frameworks" (Iriye and Saunier, p. xx). This approach is most clearly evident in the ad hoc nature of the volume. The editors encouraged contributors to write pieces that reflected their research interests and fields of expertise within transnational themes. At times, the connections are tenuous and nebulous. The result is a dictionary that includes entries on substantive subjects such as McDonald's, empires, and westernization, alongside less traditional topics such as "Argentina and Psychoanalysis," nudism, and sports gear.
The two works share many features useful to scholars and others interested in further research on globalization and transnational history. Every article contains a detailed cross-index with related entries in the text. Likewise, for those who use the dictionaries as starting points for additional research rather than as reference works, Palmowki directs them to the official Web sites of relevant institutions, such as the British Labour Party and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Iriye and Saunier conclude each entry with a brief bibliography ranging from one to ten entries in length, as well as books and journal articles related to the topic.
Each volume succeeds in what is a nearly impossible task of chronicling, sorting, and summarizing an astounding amount of material that covers an equally vast number of themes. The volumes will find very different audiences, however. Those students and scholars looking for a more straightforward and traditional reference volume in recent world history will opt for Palmowski's tome. Still, his dictionary suffers from some drawbacks. Its lack of a table of contents and an index make accessing the entries difficult. Additionally, in focusing on personalities and events, the dictionary omits detailed analyses of structures and theories that impacted the world over the course of the period in question. Thus, no entry exists for Realpolitik or realism. Given the book's focus on politics and statesmen, such omissions are surprising. Concepts such as the Third World and terrorism are equally absent, while the entries on capitalism and communism are only 110 and 148 words in length, respectively. Additionally, the volume reflects a bias toward what might be termed the "Old Commonwealth"--Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand--at the expense of other nations. For example, the history of twentieth-century Germany is compacted into an essay that stands in stark contrast to the more detailed overview of modern Canadian history. Palmowski does hold true to his stated aim of focusing on key statesmen and stateswomen, organizations, and events of the twentieth century. Yet, in doing so, he remains wedded to a traditional historiographical approach that focuses on the nation-state, rather than on analyzing changes to the world system.
Readers who are more interested in a less traditional perspective will gravitate to Iriye's and Saunier's tome. The nature of the volume as a whole is more communitarian. Accordingly, those looking for an article on fascism, for example, might be perplexed to find that one does not exist. This omission is attributable to the editors' unique objectives: readers should reevaluate how concepts such as food and nursing, for example, both explain and are impacted by a global network of exchanges. Where Palmowski's volume omits much analysis of causal explanations, Iriye and Saunier veer in the opposite direction. There, transnational theories and movements find substantial coverage. On the other hand, readers will not find a single entry on any political leader, nation, or theorist. Although this absence of otherwise typical subjects reflects the stated goal of the editors to craft a work that explicitly rejects "existing reference volumes" that privilege "the age of nations" (Iriye and Saunier, p. xviii), analyzing the themes and processes of the new transnational history is difficult without including information, however rudimentary, about the agents being displaced.
More troubling is a serious editing mistake in at least the review copy of the Palgrave book. Although the problem does not seem to be universal, readers should be advised to check their copies: sixteen entire, non-consecutive pages of text are missing in the first third of the book. When reading about human rights, for instance, the reader may finish page 509 with the statement, "[T]he conceptions of 'human rights' have developed over…" only to turn to two pages devoid of text. The next printed page (p. 512), containing the end of a sentence from another, incomplete entry, reads, "coup d'etat of General Augusto Pinochet in 1973." Other entries on history, Hollywood, honor, and several others suffer from similar omissions. The entry on the Holocaust is perhaps the most significant casualty of all; it is entirely absent, although it is listed in the table of contents. The publisher has offered a corrective for this error in any affected book.
Scholars and lay readers alike will find both works useful if their use of either dictionary is primarily to access brief summaries of topics regarding transnational history. Those students and scholars interested in traditional approaches to modern European history will be more interested in Palmowski's work; those readers more attracted to transnational processes and a more subaltern approach will prefer the Palgrave tome. Both volumes succeed in their explicit aims to create reference works that cover a bevy of topics central to the field of transnational history, and both provide useful and authoritative starting points for a variety of audiences. Both works also succeed, perhaps less conspicuously in their emphases and omissions and their very different approaches to the subject, in revealing the obstacles and the possibilities inherent in the burgeoning field of transnational history, and its relationship with more established lines of inquiry.
. The publisher has offered to replace any books with missing pages. Here is their response: "Palgrave Macmillan prides itself on its high quality publishing, both in terms of academic content and production standards, so we are disappointed to hear that a copy has been found to be missing some pages. We can confirm that this problem does not affect all copies, but anyone with a copy of the Dictionary with missing pages, can contact the Publisher at hazel.woodbridge[at]palgrave.com, who will gladly arrange for a replacement to be supplied."
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Timothy S. Forest. Review of Iriye, Akira; Saunier, Pierre-Yves, eds., The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History and
Palmowski, Jan, Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary World History.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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