University of Rochester

Rochester Introduces Global History Degree

August 29, 2002

"Globalization" is a buzzword nowadays, used in discussing transnational companies, free trade, and terrorism. But the roots of our current world-system reach back hundreds of years, not just a few decades.

At the University of Rochester, the Department of History has become among the first academic departments to offer global history as a major field of study in its master's and doctoral program. Around the academic world, degree programs in global history are in their infancy. A few universities-including the University of Hawaii, Northeastern University, Binghamton University, Rutgers University, the University of Texas, and Ohio State University-have been experimenting for more than a decade with courses or programs of study in "world" or "global" history. But for the most part, global history is a topic for individual courses or tracks in other graduate curricula. The new field at Rochester is designed as a major and largely self-sustaining field of study that looks at the processes that have simultaneously affected local, regional, national, and international developments.

"The uniqueness of this program is that, unlike other programs or courses of study, this is not just a version of regional or comparative history," notes Dorinda Outram, the Gladys I. and Franklin W. Clark Professor of History. "This is the study of the factors that have gone into construction of the global system we now have."

Rather than confining the study of history and historical issues to geographical areas beyond the West, global history steps back to look at "the big picture," to examine significant trends and a system of relationships that transcend national boundaries, and to look at the myriad ways these processes affect the whole world and not just one area.

It's an approach that's gaining increasing weight as well as interest.

"We're in a new phase of globalization, and more departments are moving in this direction of discussing interdisciplinary history rather than national bases," said Alice Conklin, associate professor of history. "It involves thinking beyond national borders, thinking of historical processes instead of development within a country."

"This is clearly a new trend," said Joseph Inikori, professor of history at Rochester. "There's a greater appreciation to see history more in global terms. Many historians say a lot of United States history would be better understood in the context of global forces."

In fact, the Organization of American Historians has called for placing American history in a global context. In the "La Pietra Report: Internationalizing the Study of American History" published in 2000, the authors noted that "Under the inspiration of social history, historians have in the past generation become aware of the importance of solidarities and processes smaller than the nation. Now we must extend our analysis of those histories to incorporate an awareness of larger, transnational contexts, processes, and identities."

At the University of Rochester, the Department of History already was offering courses that fell under this rubric, such as "The West and the World," "The History of Exploration" and "The Atlantic Slave Trade." Faculty stepped forward to develop new ones, like "Evolution of the World Economic Order" and a seminar exploring topics in culture contact and global exchange.

Graduate students pursuing their master's or Ph.D. in the global history field are required to take a course in historical analysis as well as the seminars in culture contact, the world economic order, and "The West and the World." They also select courses from a list that includes "Economic History of Europe in the Global Community," "The Third World," "Gender and International Human Rights," and 10 other titles.

The offer of a graduate field in global history has generated a substantial jump in applications to the history department.

The degree program, notes Outram, will strengthen the qualifications of those, both from the U.S. and abroad, who are seeking careers in higher and secondary education-where there is a growing demand for instructors in world history-as well as in diplomacy, international law, or international trade. In addition to the global history track, the graduate program in history at Rochester continues to offer fields in European and American history.