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World History: What is the Historian’s Contribution?

Vol. 4, No. 2, December 2008
Deutsch | français

Hartmut Kaelble, Humboldt-Universität

If world history has become the object of great debates in the last few years, it is more due to the development of the communication systems, of exchanges and interdependencies between continents than to the new imperial situation of any given country or to a new history of the decline of civilisations. The major research studies on world history, nonetheless, remain published in the United States, in Great Britain and in France, on the one hand thanks to the present or past hegemony of these countries, and on the other hand because the intellectual resources they require on an institutional level are only available in these countries. There exist three main approaches to world history, and each contains a number of variations: the comparison between nations or civilisations belonging to several continents, which often consists in detecting and explaining existing differences; the study of intercontinental transfers and exchanges; and, finally, the study of mutations, of upheavals, institutions, movements, languages, changes in the values and norms on a global scale. We can also add a fourth approach, far more modest and limited, which consists in writing the history of a country or of a civilisation in a global perspective.