World history

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World history (more recently also global history ) is a branch of historical science that deals with historical questions from a perspective that spans the regions of the world. Subject areas are influences and interactions that transcend cultures and national borders, as well as comparative studies against the background of global relationships. The approaches in this research direction also include, for example, world history , transnational history , the history of globalization and big history .

Historical representations across large regions in the horizon of experience and imagination of the respective time already existed in ancient historiography and in various places around the world. Since the end of the 20th century, there has been an increased research interest in world history, especially from the United States , within historical studies, which is also evident in Europe and Asia .

Beginnings of world historical historiography

Herodotus already understood his " Histories ", the first work of European historiography, as world history, insofar as he traced the development of the whole world known to him at that time, the Oikumene . Historians like Diodorus continued this tradition. The medieval world chronicles - such as the Chronica sive Historia de duabus civitatibus by Otto von Freising - also claimed to encompass the entire history of mankind. They began with the creation of the world , touched the Persian , Greek, and Roman histories of the Mediterranean, and ended in their respective present.

Spatial dimensioning

Theoretically, then, world history is unlimited in space and time. Judging by the question of space, a world history but has become practically possible only been able since a part of humanity, almost taking the entire planet into view, since the meaning explorations of Europeans and the beginning of European expansion from the turn of the 15th to the 16th century.

As a result, the representation of world history has remained strongly Eurocentric until very recently. Modern approaches try to overcome this focus, for example south-south connections and non-western actors should be given equal consideration in the analysis of global interdependencies .

As a rule, all works that dealt with at least the history of Europe , America , the Middle East and North Africa and related them - that is, all regions of the world with which Europe was in direct exchange, were viewed as universal historical representations . Since the 18th century, East Asia, with the Empire of China , Japan and India, has also received increasing attention, while Black Africa , Southeast Asia , Australia and Oceania only play a subordinate role in depictions of world history.

Time horizons

While traditional world historiography began, depending on the already possible consideration of archaeological and epigraphic source material, partly with prehistory and early history, partly with the advanced cultures of Egypt and the ancient Orient or also with European antiquity , a newer research direction known as big history extends into the cosmic History of origin back.

World history from the 18th to the 20th century

What does it mean and at what end does one study universal history? That was the programmatic title of Friedrich Schiller's inaugural lecture at the University of Jena , which he held on May 26, 1789. Herder's criticism of the notion of the Enlightenment that humanity as a whole is constantly improving for the better has laid the foundation for a hermeneutic historicism , that is, a historiography that tries to understand each culture from within and to measure it against its own ideals. For the first time Herder broadened his view beyond Western culture and tried to include other cultures in his considerations.

This historiography does not ask about the individual events, but about the great lines of development of human history and possible interpretive schemes. The historian Jacob Burckhardt laid further foundations with his studies of individual historical epochs and developments in art history.

From Max Weber the concept of native Universal History , in which he his work on ancient social history, to the development of the city, to the sociology of world religions and finally to the ideal type of construction logic of his main work economy and society integrates.

Oswald Spengler does not interpret world history as a linear progression from antiquity to modernity, but divides it into epochs according to the individual cultures. Spengler understands cultures as organisms that pass through youth, manhood and old age, analogous to the early Herder. His aim is not to amass as many individual facts as possible, but to put them into a picture of the story and to understand it from a distance.

Arnold J. Toynbee is considered to be the last great historian to have taken on this project of world history. Toynbee takes up the historical-philosophical concept of Spengler, but rejects his assumption of a necessary cultural development across the three ages.

Newer Approaches to Capturing World History

World history

The classic work of William Hardy McNeill The Rise of the West (The Rise of the West, 1963) gave the impetus to the development of the "world history" trend within US history, which since the 1980s has more solid forms as an independent sub-discipline Colleges and is increasingly finding its way into US school education. World History looks at humanity across the planet and places the history of individual societies in the context of world history. This flow can be assigned more or less clearly z. B. William Hardy McNeill, John R. McNeill, Immanuel Wallerstein, André Gunder Frank, Janet Abu Lughod, Jerry Bentley, Patrick Manning, Alfred Crosby or Jared Diamond. The World History Association and various specialist journals are the main crystallization centers of the current that has meanwhile reached beyond the USA .

World History is linked to various forerunners such as B. to the French Annales school , and sees itself as a reaction to or as a component of globalization . The main concern of this trend is to transcend the spatial and temporal boundaries of historiography , because real causal chains do not adhere to ethnocentric worldviews. A move away from Eurocentric or Western-centered perspectives in describing and explaining the history of mankind is called for. Societies or civilizations are neither viewed spatially nor temporally isolated: the nation-state perspective is consistently exceeded in order to pursue extensive interdependencies and the consideration of narrow periods of time (e.g. the last 500 years) is supplemented by the analysis of long-term developments. In terms of space, the interdependencies (“cross-cultural interactions”) over great distances are the focus of attention, while in terms of time it is the patterns of development. Topics are e.g. B. the widespread diffusion of technical and cultural innovations , animals, plants and pathogens, the regular ups and downs of the empire and the associated thrusts and setbacks in the interweaving of societies, the continuous conflict between centers and peripheries or the rules of relocation Centers.

Big History

Big History places world history in the context of the history of the universe. Following Norbert Elias (and partly Karl Popper ), a distinction is made between the levels of physical-chemical, biological and sociocultural evolution, whose common patterns and essential differences are to be worked out. The concept of increasing complexity is central here . Important impulses for Big History come from the Netherlands (Fred Spier) and from the Anglo-American historian David Christian . These approaches are now being discussed intensively within the World History community .

World or global history in Germany and Europe

The development in American history is also one of the reasons for the European and German debate in this regard, which is also referred to here under the term “global history”. A focal point of this approach is the European Network in Universal and Global History , which was founded in 2002 and has members from various Western and Eastern European countries.

The German-speaking representatives of global history want to take greater account of the process of globalization and break up the previously predominantly Europe-centered view of world history, which was often determined by national considerations. This new orientation is comparable with earlier concepts such as u. a. transnational history or histoire croisée . The previous interpretation patterns, for example from historical social science or sociology, are insufficient for the representatives of this approach. In contrast to those approaches of traditional universal history, which have a historical or religious-philosophical or anthropological connotation , today's global history is provided by the new cultural history or cultural science . The rejection of the traditional universal history, the decline of which began in the 1960s, also resulted from the partly polarized perception of the world, which was based on east-west and north-south constellations. The eastward expansion of the European Union after the end of the Cold War raises new questions about Europe's position in the world from a global historical perspective.


Margrit Pernau describes the danger that global history can "pave the way for a new form of academic colonialism ". She sees this danger in particular when world or global historians lack knowledge of the language and peculiarities of non-European societies and these relate - or can relate - exclusively to secondary literature (in 'European languages') and sources in European archives.

See also

Examples of works of world history

Classic universal story

  • Julius von Pflugk-Harttung : World history . Ullstein Verlag , Berlin 1903.
  • Jacob Burckhardt : World historical considerations . 1905.
  • Gustav Diestel , Otto Kaemmel (Hrsg.): Spamers illustrated world history. With special consideration of the cultural history. 5th edition, 10 volumes, Otto Spamers, Leipzig 1914.
  • Leopold von Ranke : world history . 9 vols., Leipzig 1881–1888.
  • Oswald Spengler : The Fall of the West. Outlines of a morphology of world history . Volume 1, Vienna 1918; Volume 2, Munich 1922.
  • Arnold J. Toynbee : A Study of History, Vols. I-X . London 1934–1954, Supplement. XI-XII ibid. 1959/61 (authorized German short version: Der Gang der Weltgeschichte , 2 volumes, Zurich 1949 and 1958)
  • Arnold J. Toynbee: Mankind And Mother Earth - A Narrative History Of The World . Oxford, 1976 (German Humanity and Mother Earth. The History of Great Civilizations, Claassen Verlag GmbH, Düsseldorf, 1979)

Traditional world history of the post-war period

Contemporary works of world history

  • History of the world. Edited by Akira Iriye and Jürgen Osterhammel . 6 vols. CH Beck, Munich 2012ff. [published in cooperation with Harvard University Press ; complete except for the chronologically second volume]
    • Die Welt vor 600th Ed. By Hans-Joachim Gehrke . Munich 2017.
    • Empires and oceans 1350–1750. Edited by Wolfgang Reinhard . Munich 2014.
    • Paths to the Modern World 1750–1870. Edited by Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel. Munich 2016.
    • World markets and world wars 1870–1945. Edited by Emily S. Rosenberg. Munich 2012.
    • 1945 until today. The globalized world. Edited by Akira Iriye. Munich 2013.
  • Janet Abu Lughod: Before European hegemony: the world system AD 1250-1350 . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998, ISBN 0-19-506774-6 . review
  • Christopher A. Bayly: The Birth of the Modern World. A global history 1780–1914 . Campus Verlag, 2006, ISBN 978-3-593-38160-2
  • Jerry H. Bentley, Herbert F. Ziegler: Traditions and Encounters. A Global Perspective on the Past . 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill, Boston 2006. - Review , Review
  • Knut Borchardt : Globalization from a historical perspective (= Bavarian Academy of Sciences, meeting reports, year 2001, issue 2). Publishing house of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences / Beck, Munich 2001.
  • Alfred W. Crosby : Ecological imperialism: the biological expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (= Studies in environment and history). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986. - Review
  • John Darwin: The Imperial Dream. The global history of great empires 1400-2000 . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2010, ISBN 978-3-593-39142-7 .
  • Jared Diamond : rich and poor. The fates of human societies . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1996. - Review , review , review
  • Global history. The world 1000-2000. Edited by Peter Felbauer, Bernd Hausberger and Jean-Paul Lehners, 8 vols., Vienna: Mandelbaum, 2008–2011.
  • Imanuel Geiss : History at a Glance: Dates and Connections of World History . Revised and expanded new edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2006.
  • H. Patrick Glenn : Legal Traditions of the World: Sustainable Diversity In Law (Paperback), Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, Oxford 2007, ISBN 0-19-920541-8
  • André Gunder Frank : ReOrient. Global Economy in the Asian Age . University of California Press, Berkeley 1998. - Go to content , reviews , reviews , review
  • Ewald Frie : The history of the world. Newly told by Ewald Frie , Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-71169-5 .
  • Eckhard Fuchs, Karen Oslund: Guest Editorial: Teaching World History: Introductory Remarks . In: World History Connected 3.3 (2006).
  • William Hardy McNeill : The Rise of the West. A history of the human community . 5th impr. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago 1964.
  • Bernd Hausberger : Linking the world. History of early globalization from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna 2015.
  • John Robert McNeill , William Hardy McNeill: The Human Web. A Bird's Eye View of World History . Norton, New York 2003. - Review
  • Herfried Münkler : Empires. The logic of world domination . Berlin 2005. - Review , review , reviews , interview
  • Jürgen Osterhammel , Niels P. Peterson : History of globalization. Dimensions, processes, epochs . Beck, Munich 2003. - Review
  • Jürgen Osterhammel: The transformation of the world. A story of the 19th century . CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-58283-7 . Reviews
  • Hans-Heinrich Nolte : world history. Empires, Religions, and Systems, 15th-19th centuries Century . Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-205-77440-X
  • Hanna Schissler : World history as the history of the globalizing world . In: From Politics and Contemporary History , No. 1-2 , pp. 33–39 (2005).
  • Wolfgang Weber : Universal History . In: Outline of the Historical Sciences, Volume 2: Rooms, pp. 15–98, Stuttgart 2001.
  • Immanuel Wallerstein : World Systems Analysis. An Introduction . Duke University Press, Durham / London 2004. - Review
  • Eric Wolf : Europe and the People Without History . University of California Press, Berkeley / Los Angeles 1997.

Big History

  • David Christian : Maps of Time. An introduction to Big History. Foreword by William H. McNeill . University of California Press, Berkeley 2005, ISBN 0-520-24476-1 . Publishing representation
  • Fred Spier: Big History. What holds the story together at its core . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1998. [Original title: The Structure of Big History from the Big Bang Until Today ]


  • Stefan Bajohr: Small world history of the democratic age. Springer Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-04042-0 and ISBN 978-3-658-04043-7 (eBook).
  • Sebastian Conrad, Andreas Eckert, Ulrike Freitag (eds.): Globalgeschichte. Theories. Approaches, topics . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2007, ISBN 3-593-38333-0 .
  • Sebastian Conrad, global history. An introduction , Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-64537-2 .
  • Margarete Grandner, Andrea Komlosy (ed.): Inspired by the world spirit: Global history 1700–1815 . Promedia, Vienna 2004. - Review , Review (PDF; 121 kB)
  • Wolfgang Hardtwig, Philipp Müller (ed.): The past of world history. Universal historical thinking in Berlin 1800–1933 . Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, Göttingen 2010.
  • Rolf-Ulrich Kunze : Global History and World History. Sources, connections, perspectives Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-17-031840-3 .
  • Patrick Manning: Navigating World History. Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2003. - Summary , Review , Review , Review
  • Michael North : Between the harbor and the horizon. World history of the seas. Beck: Munich 2016 review
  • Dominic Sachsenmaier, Global perspectives on global history: theories and approaches in a connected world , Cambridge u. a. 2011, ISBN 978-0-521-17312-4 .
  • Roland Wenzlhuemer, writing global history. An introduction in 6 episodes , UVK / UTB, Konstanz 2017.

Web links

Wiktionary: World history  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sebastian Conrad: Global history. An introduction. 2013, pp. 20–22.
  2. Wolfgang J. Mommsen: Max Weber's concept of universal history . In: Jürgen Kocka (ed.): Max Weber, the historian . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1986, pp. 51–72, here p. 51.
  3. ^ Sebastian Conrad: Global history. An introduction. 2013, pp. 90–91.