Richard Melson

September 2006

Global Versus World

Re: Terms: World, Global, and Transnational (5 posts)

"Eric L. Martin" <elmartin@LCSC.EDU>

Terms: World, Global, and Transnational

"Eric L. Martin" <elmartin@LCSC.EDU>


Terms: World, Global, and Transnational

(5 posts)

Can the terms world history, global history, and transnational be used interchangeably? If not, what cautions must be observed?

Sent by: Eric L. Martin


Cedric Beidatsch
University of Western Australia

Definitions are always tricky and very often subjective. But I would suggest
the following:

Global - historical analysis pertaining to the whole of the world, not an
aggregation of 'national" histories, but identifying issues, trends,
tendencies, trajectories, what have you, that impact the whole of humanity.
History from outer space if you like.

World - more limited, ore than a region (eg the Atlantic, the Indian ocean)
but less than the globe. My usage is I will admit strongly coloured by
world-systems thinking - the world is often smaller than the globe.

Transnational - more along the regional lines suggested above - eg. Atlantic
or Mediterranean zones are good examples, with an emphasis on non state
actors - i.e. civil society, economic, cultural linkages and interactions.
State behaviour (as in IR type history) I would characterise by the old name
international history.

But really, they do all merge into each other at the edges. These are at
best working definitions that would be modified in the course of any


Oliver W.S. Bordallo
University of Hawai'i-Manoa

That's a good question. "World," "Global," and "Transnational" are all terms that can be defined in many different ways, or simply used interchangeably, depending, of course, on who you talk to.

For my part, "world history" largely refers to history before 1500, and "global history" after 1500 although many world historians would argue that this periodization is both Eurocentric and an inaccurate representation of their research. Some global historians would also argue that true "global" history does not begin until the twentieth century, when the forces of "globalization" begin to affect the entire planet. Other global historians emphasize broad themes (e.g. migration, environment, human rights etc.), although world historians also do work in this field. Some scholars have also argued that "global history" is more a research field, while "world history" is primarily a teaching field.

Regardless of where you sit on these issues, there are alot of ways you can slice "world" and "global."

"Transnational" can also refer to "world" and "global," but may also refer to alternative ways of conceptualizing historical space (e.g. regional, inter-regional, oceanic, etc.)

These definitions are a bit rough, but I hope they help.

Matine Spence
American Public University

Just a stab at this.

Global history is a sibling field to world history and not at all an interchangeable term. The period of study of global history is joined to the present and the subject is attached to the narrative of globalization. Global history starts with the present globalized, supraterritorialized condition of the world and traces the threads back. (I'm not sure but I think Wolf Shafer may have originated the "threads" analogy.) Global history is not interested in the project of placing national histories in the global context, though world history might be. Since globalization is a deterritorialized condition, global history's units of study are not territorially based nations, empires, world systems; they are more likely to be novel features of globalization.

Perhaps the single greatest conceptual difference between world and global history concerns the task of integration. Identifying patterns over time and connectivities through regions in the same time are the two basic frameworks of world historical writing. David Northrup has described these as the two complementary tasks of vertical and horizontal integration.* In keeping with it's temporal paradigm of anchorage in the present time, the task of global history is closer to disintegration, or of untangling the connectivities, both vertically and horizontally. Global historians try to unravel threads; world historians try to see the blanket as a whole cloth.

Jan-Frederik Abbeloos
Ghent University

I do believe the different terms world history, global history, and transnational history are too often used interchangeably in the literature. These concepts are all used to study patterns of interactions in history but they each entail a different 'scale of history' that one should clarify when using these analytic concepts. For example, an approach such as transnational history implies the existence of 'national' borders. As such, it is hard too imagine a medieval transnational history. A global history adresses issues that tend to be global phenomena in the sense that the processes that are described are not confined to a specific region per se. Thus, a global history of the caste system would be unfeasible while the history of migration of people and diseases can all 'potentially' be global. World history, in my opinion, is the most subtle term. Building on the Braudelian framework of the world-economy (économie monde), we can say that every historic study starts with a definition of the 'world'in which the interaction you study takes place. The advantage of world historians is that they start with a global view, zooming in on the right scale for their analysis. This is a great leap forward from the classical approach of studying a topic in a national or local setting, adressing the problem of comparison afterwards. This however also means that world history does not have to be global history, but it can be. For example, if you want to study the aspirations of oil producers in the Middle East, you have to be aware of the 'global' oil market in which they operate. If you are studying the labour market of the Belgian coalmines, you should adress labour migration from Italy and Turkey. The former study would be global, the latter study thus not necessary imply this scale. Both are world history because of their initial approach which is starting with the 'biggest scale possible'.


Tom Mounkhall
SUNY New Paltz

The term transnational is ahistorical when used in reference to cross-regional connections that occurred prior to c. 17th C. c.e. since very few countries existed at that time.

-----Original Message-----
Matthew Flynn

Can the terms world history, global history, and transnational be used
interchangeably? If not, what cautions must be observed?

Eric L. Martin

H-NET List for World History

Sep 8, 2006

Re: Terms: World, Global, and Transnational (5 posts)

Global Versus World

September 8, 2006