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Internationalizing World History Research and Teaching: Steps toward a Global Classroom?

Julia Miller, Sharon Muffett, and Nicola Myton

Macquarie University, Sydney

    World history, by its very content, promises a dialogue of cultures and interests. Ideally, it also promises a dialogue between students and teachers across the various cultures of the world. Yet how much of the promise of world history has been realized to date? During July 2005, scholars and students of world history met at Macquarie University in Australia to discuss this question and to theorize about ways the field of world history could more effectively live up to its potential—especially its potential to bring students and teachers from around the world into closer collaboration and contact. 1
    Taking advantage of the number of world historians gathered in Sydney for the 20th International Congress for the Historical Sciences, held between July 3-9, 2005, the Modern History department at Macquarie University organized an informal roundtable, to discuss the internationalization of research and teaching world and global history.1 The three hour event showcased Macquarie University's student experiences of world history before moving on to an animated discussion about two questions posed by the event's organizers, Dr Adrian Carton and Dr Marnie Hughes-Warrington, both of Macquarie University, Sydney: "What does the future hold for teaching world/global history in an international context, and what can we do to internationalize our research endeavors and collaborative practices?"
    The primary theme of the meeting was how to take world history teaching and research beyond its national settings. Several challenges facing the field were thereby raised such as: how do world/global historians internationalize world/global history research in terms of funding? With what languages should world historians be working? How do world/global historians transcend regional boundaries, thereby connecting disparate locales? Is such a move even necessary or desirable? With respect to teaching world history, discussion centered upon problems of collaboration, funding, language and development. For example, is it viable to take world/global history teaching outside of its national settings through the development of cross- institutional pedagogical ties? Is it feasible to create truly global classrooms, with the aid of the internet and scholarly collaboration, and how would such a development benefit, if at all, world history teaching?
    While opinions about the solutions to such difficult questions were varied, the roundtable made it clear that most world history teaching and research is still focused on national paradigms, and that there is therefore a great need to develop cross-institutional and cross-national collaborations. At the same time, however, the discussions revealed that concerns about funding and budgetary limitations pose a serious problem for such collaborative efforts. 4

Students of the World
    Beginning in 2006, Macquarie University will offer a full world history program at the undergraduate level to complement its existing postgraduate world history program. Roundtable organizers thus sought to spur discussion of the problems of teaching world history through the voices of its own undergraduates who had recently taken world history courses at Macquarie.
    Student Therese Clarke, who had taken Macquarie's first year world history course, HIST112: An Introduction to World History, began by raising topical concerns about the necessity of world history courses for undergraduates. For Therese, who grew up in Northern Ireland and had experienced the nationalist violence in that region, world history was particularly meaningful. In her view, "the advantage of world history is its holistic approach — world history takes up the challenge of helping humanity understand who we are and where we have come from." 6
    Student Veerle Nouwens then gave her assessment of the second year course, offered as part of Macquarie University's world history program, HIST252: War and Peace in World History. For Veerle, this course offered an international perspective on political debates both past and present. It provided "historiographical skills as an undergraduate student," combined with "flexibility and contemporary thinking." However, in addressing the problems of inclusion and exclusion in the course, asking "how do you choose a war?", Veerle underlined one of the most pertinent methodological problems faced by all scholars of world history. This sentiment was echoed by Rob Bruce, a student of HIST299/399: World Interactions and Encounters since 1492, who believes that the scale of world history is both appealing and daunting, and can often neglect individual stories due to its scope. He wondered whether world history was just an extended tale of western perspectives, and how other perspectives could be incorporated to better reflect understandings of different worlds. 7
Julia Miller wrapped up the section with a discussion on the advantages of external learning opportunities. Macquarie University offers students online educational tools, including discussion forums and study aides such as quizzes, revision, and reading lists. This eases the isolation of external learning by connecting students from across the country, and facilitating online discussion about course materials and expectations. Macquarie's "Centre for Open Education" co-ordinates the university's distance education program including the BA, BSc, BEd (ECE) and LLB degrees and some postgraduate distance education programs.2  
    Macquarie University's postgraduate students were then invited to briefly discuss their experiences of researching world history, and to outline their research agendas. Nicola Myton introduced her topic, which focuses on ethics and world history. Nicola's thesis will assess how the moral understandings of world historians shape their work, and subsequently aid in the development of a body of knowledge that is perceived as global history. Sharon Muffett followed with a discussion about her research topic, which analyses how 19th century British historians wrote world histories. The significance of this project will be in its rearticulation of the historiographical assumptions that underpin world history scholarship. Sharon had studied world history at undergraduate level, and found its scope and breadth to be an appealing area of research. Julia Miller finished the session, discussing the compatibility of environmental and world histories. She argued that world history, due to its geographical and temporal scope, provided a suitable framework for the enquiry into environmental history. Student perspectives of world history provided an insight into how world history courses are received, and raised important pedagogical issues such as subject selection and teaching approaches, course structure and content, and encouraging postgraduate research potential. 8

The Internationalization of World History Research
    After the Macquarie students discussed their own research and experiences in world history courses, the roundtable was opened to discussion on the following question: "What does the future hold for researching world/global history in an international context?" It quickly became apparent that, at least for the world historians gathered at the roundtable, the problem of forging links with other institutions and securing adequate funding is fundamental. Dr. Gareth Austin, from the London School of Economics, suggested the Global Economic History Network (GEHN) as a model of both collaboration and funding opportunities. The Network, to which Austin belongs, has sought and received funding from private institutions and foundations precisely in order to carry out collaborative, international research. Indeed, the London School of Economics describes GEHN's mission as follows:
GEHN is an international network of some 38 academics with credentials in several disciplines (history, economics, economic history, anthropology, geography, sociology) and affiliated to universities in Britain, Holland, Italy, Germany, the United States, India and Japan. Thanks to funding from the Leverhulme Trust, a network is now operating to promote research, teaching and co-operation in the innovatory and rising field of global economic history.3
    In addition, Austin promoted the new, internationally-edited Journal of Global History, arguing that the world of global history has become large enough for multiple journals, which in turn will promote the development of new, collaborative research agendas. Austin demonstrated that collaboration is becoming a real possibility for world and global historians. 10
    Professor Patrick Manning, from Northeastern University in the United States, then suggested that even though collaboration is difficult for many historians, it is a necessary strategy if world historians wish to attract funding. Manning went on to suggest that comprehensive global collaboration would sustain and generate interest in world history projects around the world. Associate Professor Greg Melleuish, from the University of Wollongong in Australia, added that international programs could also be of strategic national benefit, encouraging interdisciplinary connections between the sciences and humanities. For example, "Big History" introduces students and researchers to the potential of exploring earth and planetary sciences, astrophysics, and biological sciences as part of a coherent program detailing history from the Big Bang through to the present. The sciences offer world historians enormous material pertaining to the development of not only life and human societies on earth, but also of chemical and biological evolution, the formation of the planet, solar system, stars, and the universe.4 Professor David Christian, from the San Diego State University in the United States, then suggested that a research project assessing the development of world history enterprises in countries around the world would aid the project of collaboration. He said that many in the field believe American agendas are shaping the historiography of world history and that such a project would broaden perceptions of world history both inside and outside of the US. In particular, Christian argued that comprehensive knowledge about world history in different countries would be beneficial to the project of internationalizing world history teaching. 11
    Dr. Matthias Middell, from Leipzig University in Germany, furthered Christian's argument by saying that the different national historiographical traditions in world history need to be recognized and understood by world historians as part of effective collaboration. Middell asked whether there was a global approach to historiography, or whether historiographies were still bound within national contexts. He offered Leipzig University's collaborative "Transnational History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present" as a model for creating a global approach to world historiography. This postgraduate program takes an interdisciplinary approach to global studies by combining area studies with a variety of social sciences and humanities disciplines. Moreover, it attracts students from all over the world, which further globalizes the program. 12
    Professor Ritsu Ijuia from Hosei University, Tokyo, then elaborated on a collaborative project being undertaken by Japanese world historians. The project, a twelve-volume collection of world history documents since 1905, is to be aimed at secondary schools. One of its themes is "Japan and World History" which documents and analyses Japanese national history and its relationship with other countries. 13
    Masao Nishikawa, from Tokyo University, expanded on the project of world history in Japan. He said that the "specter of world history" appeared in Japan in 1945, after the collapse of the Japanese Empire. World history was first organized as a teaching subject, and did not begin with research specialties as other history subjects often begin. Moreover, teachers were obligated to teach world history within the wider subject of social studies. Finally, while he argued that Japanese world history texts pay attention to "all corners of the globe," Japanese is not an "international language." 14

The Internationalization of World History Teaching
    The final section of the roundtable was devoted to the problem of world history teaching in national contexts. Dr. Hughes-Warrington asked the group to reflect on how world history can be taught in an international forum. Should world historians be exploring international approaches to teaching, and how can such approaches broaden and further develop the field? Dr. Adrian Carton then spoke about the recent collaboration between Macquarie University and Northeastern University in the United States, in which the two universities conducted a "global tutorial" in 2005, connecting students in both universities completing HIST299/399: World Contacts and Interactions From 1492. After participating in the tutorial as unit convener, Dr. Carton said that the experience "demonstrated that you can learn world history in a global electronic environment, making this a really innovative way of reaching across borders and facilitating cross-cultural interactions in the classroom to mirror the global dimensions of the teaching material." In response to this success, Dr. Hughes-Warrington added that a similar collaborative course is now being taught between Macquarie University and Leipzig University in Germany. Students of the global history Masters program at the University of Leipzig will join Macquarie's HIST359: World Histories, program online as of October 2005. Beginning in 2006, the European Master of Global Studies Scholarship will be available to Macquarie's world history students under the European Union's Erasmus Mundus program. Under the program, students will study for their first year at Leipzig University and for the second year at the London School of Economics, the University of Vienna, or the University of Wroclaw.5 15

Changing Parameters of World History?
    The opportunity to discuss the current challenges and possibilities of world history highlighted both the successes of recent collaborative efforts as well as the challenges that continue to face world historians around the globe. Indeed, efforts undertaken at universities such as Leipzig University, the London School of Economics, the University of Tokyo, the University of Osaka and Northeastern University demonstrate sincere and sustained efforts to internationalize world history research and teaching. At the same time, it became clear from the discussion that the requirements placed upon research development and funding by national governments significantly limit the appeal of international collaboration. Indeed, governmental funding programs often require that research programs strengthen national interests, which can sometimes be at cross-purposes with the goals of international collaboration and knowledge-sharing. In addition, world historians in many countries continue to work against the tide of very strong national historical traditions, which tends to overshadow efforts to internationalize historical research. Moreover, even when world historians pursue global histories, their work very often is taught within the confines of national paradigms. 16
    Faced with such challenges, the roundtable offered praise for existing collaborative efforts in the field of world history, and recommended that such efforts continue to expand. In addition, roundtable participants advocated that practitioners of world history explore the variety of histories being written in their own localities, and supported the creation of more research programs in the field. They also highlighted the need for more world history research, and the need to encourage scholars working in the field. In short, roundtable participants argued that much work still needs to be done in order for world history to live up to its promise and potential. World and global historians, in order to truly internationalize, need to develop programs that adequately address a wide variety of cultural specificities in learning, language and perspective. As yet, pedagogical practice is not global, even though global and world history is grounded in pedagogical practice. Therefore, world historians need to produce new research aims to encourage new perspectives while implementing international educational paradigms. 17


Biographical Note: Julia Miller is a postgraduate student at Macquarie University, whose research focuses on the social construction of El Nino in New South Wales. Sharon Muffett is also a postgraduate student at Macquarie University. Her thesis will explore the ways in which world histories were written in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain. Nicola Myton is a postgraduate student at Macquarie University, whose research focuses on ethics and world history.


1 Over fifty scholars attended the roundtable representing Universities and Institutions in Australia (Macquarie University, University of New South Wales, University of Wollongong and Edith Cowan University), The United States of America (Northeastern University, University of Hawai'i, Columbia University, San Diego State University, Miami University), Germany (University of Leipzig, University of Mannheim), Britain (London School of Economics), and Japan (Hosei University, University of Osaka, University of Tokyo).

2 Visit Macquarie University's Centre for Open Education at: and, which provides an introduction to Macquarie's distance education programs. Also see this is Macquarie University's online teaching facility, accessible only to students, but designed to provide distance education and local students with additional resources.

3 Patrick K. O'Brien, Centennial Professor of Economic History, LSE (Convenor of GEHN), Global Economic History Network (

4 See David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big Histor, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004) and Fred Spier, The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang Until Today (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996).


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