World History, Macrohistory

09 Feb 2022 09:12

Where "macrohistory" begins and ordinary history leaves off, I shan't attempt to say. Nor shall I attempt to draw a very precise border with sociology.

Mitch Porter, in correspondence, quotes the following definition of "world history" from S. A. M. Adshead's Central Asia in World History:

What was to end the ages of isolation [i.e. of "tangential and irregular contact" between "the four primary civilizations of Western Eurasia, East Asia, Black Africa, and Meso-America"] was the development of a global overlay, an interlocking set of institutions, which made the world less many and more one. It is these institutions, or world networks as they may be called, which form the subject matter of world history, as it will be understood in this study. World history, in this sense, is not super-history. Indeed, especially in its earlier stages, it is somewhat marginal history. It is simply the history of rather pervasive institutions or networks which operate, if not in all four primary civilizations, at least in more than one of them.

Now, clearly the history of those pervasive institutions and networks is very interesting and important, and equally clearly "world history" is a natural name for that subject. (I'm skeptical of the idea of discrete civilizations, but another time.) If we were engaged in the rectification of names, that might well be the end of it, but as it happens "world history" is already used for a somewhat ill-defined subject, of which networks and institutions of global reach is but a part. World history, in the ordinary sense, is roughly supposed to be the history of events of global importance. This is, naturally, a superset of Adshead's "world history", and perhaps even a natural one, since one wants to say that (e.g.) the French Revolution was an event of global importance, though it was not part of those world institutions.

Cf. Archaeology; Historical Materialism; History and Historiography; Plagues