Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Global History

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to global history. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. Approaches to global history: to see the world whole
ed. by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Bloomsbury Academic, 2023

The emergence of world history as a major area of historical scholarship was one of the fundamental developments of 20th-century historiography. Hitherto, however, a sourcebook for teaching its historiography has been lacking. With the aid of students in his graduate seminar at the University of Notre Dame, Fernandez-Armesto has filled that gap with Approaches to Global History. The volume contains over 20 fundamental documents in the historiography of world history from antiquity to the present, organized around five themes: prophetic history, history as progress, scientific history, comparative history, and Eurocentrism. A final essay suggesting future directions for the field and notes on the authors close the volume. Three themes are central to the book: the notion that world history is history that deals with the world as a whole; the idea that its origins lie in prophetic texts, especially the Book of Daniel; and the understanding that it is a form of Western historiography. Curiously missing is any reference to the Greek tradition of universal history on which the author of Daniel relied for his historical framework. An excellent introduction to the historiography of world history. View on Amazon

2. Explaining successes in Africa: things don’t always fall apart
Hern, Erin Accampo. L. Rienner, 2023

In the face of pandemic restrictions, Hern (political science, Syracuse Univ.) revamped her research plans to produce a masterful study of policy successes in Africa across five diverse issue sets: economic development, governance, gender equality, public health, and climate resilience. Applying theories and methods of comparative politics—both most-different and most-similar case study analyses—to countries often overlooked, she explains the relative successes and failures in each policy domain by testing relevant hypotheses. Each substantive chapter follows the same structured approach: examining two cases of relative success and two poor performers to determine which theories provide plausible explanations for their varied outcomes. Hern carefully lays out her research scheme; provides short, straightforward statements of each relevant theory and specific hypotheses to test; and displays an impressive facility for making it eminently understandable. This book is much more than a specialized monograph—it is a model for the application of the comparative method that could well serve as a text in courses on social science methodology. Excellent for college and university libraries and collections supporting African studies and the substantive fields of interest explored herein. View on Amazon

3. Pre-Islamic Arabia: societies, politics, cults and identities during late antiquity
Grasso, Valentina A. Cambridge, 2023

“Pre-Islamic Arabia is a rarely explored subject.” So begins Grasso’s wonderful exploration of a neglected area of late antiquity studies. It is this rarity that makes this work immensely important. Grasso’s deft use of a variety of sources—comprising literary texts, religious scripture, epigraphy, papyrology, and archaeological evidence—is extraordinary and illustrates both the challenge of the topic and the author’s mastery of it. Her research itself unites a disparate collection of scholarly fields in pursuit of a sense of the region; this hitherto scattered approach has hindered previous scholarly focus. Grasso (Catholic Univ. of America) is at her strongest when describing and assessing the impact of the surrounding empires and religions on the cultural, economic, and political developments that arose there and led to the emergence of an Arab communal identity, Arabic as a distinct language, and Islam as a foundational faith. Her framework of analysis explores how Arab elites connected with these political and religious entities, setting the stage for an Islamic Arab identity to ignite the spread of its culture. This work is vital for the multiple disciplines that study their insular portions of the Arab story. View on Amazon

4. China in the world: culture, politics, and world vision
Wang, Ban. Duke, 2022

At its heart, China in the World is concerned with the tensions between China’s national salvation and world vision. Inspired by Joseph Levenson’s Revolution and Cosmopolitanism (1971) and Wang Hui’s works, this book traces the evolution of the Confucian concept of tianxia, meaning “all under heaven,” through political writings, literature, and films. Beginning with Kang Youwei’s world community (Datong) and continuing to Liang Qichao’s cosmopolitan nation, Wang (Stanford Univ.) charts how Chinese expressions of world vision were renovated and transformed over time. The vision took on new forms of socialist internationalism and surged in Third World movements during the Cold War era, transforming into a new cosmopolitanism in the age of globalization. Such evolution demonstrates China’s alternative approach to modernity by adapting its imperial legacy to Western ideas of Enlightenment, humanism, and socialism. The author criticizes China’s depoliticization in its attempts to join Western globalization. Aimed at using the past to understand the present, this book ends by pondering whether the combined legacies of tianxia and socialist internationalism will enable China to rule the world or sow global harmony. Anyone interested in similar questions will find this book inspiring and compelling. A must-read for Chinese studies. View on Amazon.

5Blood inscriptions: science, modernity, and ritual murder at Europe’s fin de siecle Kieval, Hillel J. Pennsylvania, 2022

This long-awaited, brilliant study by Kieval (Washing Univ. in St. Louis), the leading scholar of Habsburg Jewish history, investigates a mystery: Why did the blood libel—the accusation that Jews committed murder because they needed the blood of their victims for ritual purposes—recur in Central and Eastern Europe between 1882 and 1911? This popular belief, rejected by the Catholic Church, originated in the Middle Ages. Was its 19th-century recurrence merely the resurfacing of an old religious superstition, a sign that the modern world was not so rational after all? Kieval thinks not. In a riveting and convincing reconstruction of four cases that went to trial—one from Hungary, one from Bohemia, and two from Germany—he shows how popular rumor interacted with scientific knowledge to render the blood libel completely different from its medieval predecessor. State prosecutors and expert witnesses all tended to discount the possibility of ritual murder. But there was new suspicion that the methods of Jewish ritual slaughter explained certain wounds. While the medieval accusation saw Jews enacting a religious drama—killing a Christian martyr—religion almost never entered into modern popular belief, which now focused instead on the Jews as a source of social danger. View on Amazon.

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