The Concept of “Decisive Battles” in World History
Yuval Noah Harari
Abstract: This article discusses the historiography of the concept of “decisive battles” and tries to explain both its popularity and its present eclipse, focusing in particular on the ideological and aesthetic foundations of the concept. The article further considers whether the concept might still be useful for the writing of world history. It concludes that there is some merit in the traditional view of decisive battles as events that change the course of history and bring a significant element of chaos into it. There is, however, less merit in the view of decisive battles as symbols for long-term historical developments.
Global Politics in the 1580s: One Canal, Twenty Thousand Cannibals, and an Ottoman Plot to Rule the World
Abstract: In the fall of 1588, the little-known Ottoman corsair Mir Ali Beg set sail from the Yemen with a small war fleet and headed for the Portuguese-controlled city-states of Africa’s Swahili coast. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his expedition was conceived as only the first step in an extended effort to create a centralized Ottoman imperial infrastructure throughout the Indian Ocean basin. And had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of several thousand “Zimba” warriors on the eve of the final encounter between Ottoman and Portuguese forces at Mombasa in March 1589, the available evidence suggests that Mir Ali and his men might very well have carried the day.
Socialist Paths in a Capitalist Conundrum: Reconsidering the German Catastrophe of 1933
Abstract: The collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933 was a disaster of world-historical dimensions. While most historians focus on the Social Democratic role in that debacle primarily within its German and European contexts, this essay examines it within the broader framework of the global history of democratic socialism in the twentieth century. By comparing Social Democracy’s defeat in 1933 with the experiences of the Popular Unity Party in Chile in 1973, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1989, and the African National Congress in South Africa in 1994, the essay examines the Socialist failure in 1933 from a new perspective and raises questions about the dilemmas faced by democratic socialist movements in bringing about radical change.
Reconstructing World History in the People’s Republic of China since the 1980s
Abstract: This article offers a critical review of the efforts made by Chinese historians since the 1980s to reconceptualize and reconstruct world history from a global perspective as well as the complex ideological, institutional, and sociopsychological issues that hindered their efforts. It argues that the success and failure of their work were in many ways related to the extent to which they were able (or unable) to overcome these barriers. The article discusses the new theoretical framework that Chinese historians developed, newly published world history texts, and reactions to recent Western scholarship. It concludes that, despite various problems, the Chinese historians’ efforts signified an important step in their long endeavor to envision a world history with Chinese characteristics.
FORUM: DEBATE ON SATI IN UNIVERSAL CONTEXT
Reconsidering “Sati in Universal Context”
Abstract: While world and comparative historians need not research each local instance in great depth, Jörg Fisch’s recent article “Dying for the Dead: Sati in Universal Context” neglects most of the research on a case he stresses, China. Fisch’s argument that only “outsiders” can end following in death practices overlooks how historical movements compromise such clear categorization and relies rhetorically on terms that foreclose the possibility of abolition by “insiders.” His claim that only “outsiders” have historically ended such practices overlooks the complexities of the effects (and causes) of colonialism and the unanswerable question of what might have happened without it. His choice to set aside in his analysis the means of death conflicts with evidence he provides that suggests means might have figured in women’s own calculations about how to demonstrate faithfulness to the dead, further foreclosing the possibility that insiders can change their own societies.
Sati and the Task of the Historian
Jörg Fisch, 361-368
Abstract: The article’s approach to sati and similar phenomena is functionally and morally neutral. A society that practices following in death is not, for that matter, considered inferior. Schneewind, however, pleads for a normative moral approach, ranking societies according to their ability to rid themselves of harmful customs. What in the article is shown as a mere functional difference between European (or Christian) and (some) non-Western societies thereby appears as an illegitimate Eurocentrism or ethnocentrism. Such a view should not be read into the text, as it will inhibit consideration of important questions.
Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank, eds. From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000
Reviewed by Suzanna Reiss
Natalie Zemon Davis. Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim between Worlds
Reviewed by Edmund Burke III
Ernst van Veen and Leonard Blussé, eds. Rivalry and Conflict: European Traders and Asian Trading Networks in the 16th and 17th Centuries
Reviewed by Robert van Niel
Sugata Bose. A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire
Reviewed by Ned Bertz
Myron Echenberg. Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague, 1894–1901
Reviewed by Dan Tamir