The WHA -- Ex Post Facto
A few highlights of the conference are worth noting, however. First, this was the most international of the WHA's conferences to date -- with scholars from 22 countries attending. Currently, the WHA holds conferences in the US two out of three years, with the third year being held overseas. Mark your calendars for London in 2008.
Probably as a result of the more international aspect of this year's conference, one of the main themes of discussion was the place of the US as the overwhelming center of World History teaching and scholarship. The discourse, which began in a panel on"New Directions in World History" and ran over into a bonus afternoon session, was too far-ranging to be easily summarized here, but most academics can guess that it ran the gamut from allegations of academic imperialism to more textured examinations of what makes a country"outward-looking" in terms of historical awareness.
Another major theme of the conference was the place of"Area Studies" in World History. In no small part, this issue came up in part because the official themes of the conference were"Africa in World History" and"The Mediterranean in World History." Africa represents a classic Area Studies unit of analysis, while the Mediterranean helps cut across many of the standard ways we organize History (Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Christendom, the Dar al-Islam, etc). In general, there seems to be an increasing unease within World History that while the rise of Area Studies programs clearly helped to improve our understanding of the breadth of human history, the units of analysis provided do not work terribly well in helping to organize World History.
Finally, another recurring theme was that of"Big History." David Christian, who is not only really smart but also a remarkably charming soul, took home the much-coveted World History Association Book Prize for Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Big History, which takes the"macro view" of World History to its logical limit by placing human history in the context of cosmic time, is getting a lot of press these days. The newest issue of Historically Speaking is hosting a special forum on the topic of how Big History seeks to connect science and history. The one-line version of the new issue isn't up yet, but I expect it will be any day now.
All in all, this years WHA was a smashing success, and the conference reinforced my own belief that World History is where some of the most interesting thinking in current history scholarship and teaching is taking place.
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Oscar Chamberlain - 7/11/2005
I believe that I heard David Christian talking about Big History several years ago. (If he's from Australia I konow I did) To me it is an extremely exciting approach to history and the relationship between history and science.
Of course, if done well, B.H. is also a course in science, and that is one of the reasons that I think it so valuable. Students have little conception of science; nor do they have much of an understanding of how either science or history relates to them except in the most obvious this-is-how-the-light-switch-works sort of way.
From my own experience, teaching a course on the history of science with a scientist is eye-opening for students. Big History could be even more so.
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