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Category: Historiography

Global History’s Blind Spot

From Jeremy Adelman, “What is Global History Now?,” Aeon, March 2, 2017: “Global history preferred a scale that reflected its cosmopolitan self-yearnings. It also implicitly created what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land (2016) called ‘empathy walls’ between globe-trotting liberals and locally rooted provincials. Going global often meant losing contact with – to borrow another of her bons mots – ‘deep stories’ of resentment about loss of and threat to local attachments. The older patriotic narratives had tethered people to a sense of bounded unity.… Read more Global History’s Blind Spot

Rates of Change

Technology, institutions, mentalities and practices change at different rates. Technology, especially in the age of what has been called ‘the institutionalization of innovation’, changes rapidly. Society and its institutions change more slowly, a result of what has been called institutional ‘inertia’. Last to change are mentalities and practices, illustrating the presence of the past in the world of today.

— Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge II: From the Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia (Polity, 2012), Kindle ed., chap. 9, “Chronologies of Knowledge.”

‘Not a Military Historian’

At a recent lecture on the Great War, Roger Chickering said, “I’m not a military historian.”1 The phrase stuck in my mind because he said it two more times during the course of the lecture and discussion. I’m sure he was trying to avoid letting the discussion get sidetracked by narrower debates about military operations, which was fair enough in the context of his talk about a series of common structural elements in Germany’s, France’s, and Great Britain’s wars. Nonetheless, his words bothered me. Of course, there was nothing surprising… Read more ‘Not a Military Historian’

Book Review: GDR and Consumption

I recently reviewed an interesting anthropological study by Milena Veenis entitled Material Fantasies: Expectations of the Western Consumer World among East Germans (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press in cooperation with the Foundation for the History of Technology, 2012) for the Dutch Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis (Journal of Social and Economic History). The two-page review is in English and is openly available on the web at https://www.tseg.nl/articles/abstract/10.18352/tseg.301/.

Refuting Straw Men and Explaining What Happened

In a recent German History forum, Paul Lerner offers an interesting aside: “I used the medical Sonderweg as more or less a straw man in my 2003 book on German psychiatry, but I found that even as I refuted it, the need to explain the unique path of German medicine kept arising.”1 These words speak to me, because I used Groener’s biography to refute the rather untenable interpretation of a “feudalized” bourgeoisie in the Kaiserreich, even in the officer corps, but taking down that straw man hasn’t offered a satisfying… Read more Refuting Straw Men and Explaining What Happened

Military History and Business History

My research deals with war and society, while my editorial work addresses mainly consumption history. One might think these are two different worlds, but I’m coming to doubt the validity of such assumptions. Indeed, the subfields of military and business history have a lot of similarities. Most obviously, they are both interested in organizations, knowledge, experts, and elites—among other things. They are also both informed by a tension between the historian’s ethos to understand the past for its own sake and the practitioner’s desire to learn lessons from that past… Read more Military History and Business History