World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format  Article citation        

Book Review


Finney, Patrick, ed. Palgrave Advances in International History (Basingstok and New York: Plagrave Macmillan, 2005). 366 pp., $26.95.

     The Palgrave Advances Series presents short edited volumes intended to summarize scholarship and the "state of the question" in a major sub-discipline. Since most of the earlier volumes were authored by major British authors, this volume—and one on "World Histories" edited by Marnie Hughes-Warrington—represents a new departure. Finney ably introduces the topic of international history (which was once known as diplomatic history), and brings together twelve American, British, and Australian authors to write short essays on specific topics. The essays are well-written for the most part, and provide solid summaries of the debates within the field of international history and the neighboring field of international relations. This volume can be a useful handbook for world historians who are unfamiliar with international or diplomatic history but wish to learn its key concepts and find out which articles and books they should consult to strengthen their teaching.

     In his introduction, Finney describes the evolution of diplomatic history, which once focused on issues of war and peace through the activities of foreign ministries, into the somewhat broader "international history" which includes attention to economic relations among states, the mindset of policymakers, and the domestic sources of foreign policy. Despite this evolution, international history until recently has been marginalized within the historical profession because it appeared to be politically conservative, separate from the wider issues of social change, and wedded to the notion of political leaders acting as "realists" defending state interests. The new emphasis on culture as a major force in explaining political change, the increased interest in international issues following 9/11, and the expanding fields of world history and globalization studies, Finney argues, offer new opportunities to broaden international history and make it an important partner of other historians' work. As described below, the essayists in Finney's volume provide a rich set of arguments about how the scholarship of international history can inform world historians' teaching and research.

     Diplomatic decisions, T.G. Otte argues, are no longer attributed to small groups of actors, or even individual great statesmen, who act to defend some largely unchangeable national interest or reason of state. Instead, political elites or new "political generations" can be influenced to see their state's interests in new ways. Otte approvingly quotes historian Paul Schroeder: "The international system changes when enough persons change their minds about it." (51) John Ferris argues that military history, which is undergoing a renaissance, has enriched international history. Military equilibria or crises, internal to a regime or among states, dictate foreign policies. Asian rulers often chose to submit to the West in the nineteenth century rather than modernize armies that might overthrow them. Arab states more recently depend on armies for internal support, not to defeat enemies such as Israel. As Ferris argues, "Arab regimes prefer to lose a war rather than their army." (66)

     Political economy, too, Bruce Cummings argues, enriches international history. Economic growth, and how governments are able or unable to tap it for military power, is crucial. Britain's inability to sustain foreign intervention after 1947, Soviet Russia's collapse after 1989, the recent enormous growth of China's economy, and the U.S. economy's ability to sustain a huge military and constant technological innovation since the 1950s have profoundly shaped foreign policy for every state. Hegemony, the de facto power by the U.S. over a large range of international events, is the fundamental fact of the recent and current international system. Hegemony and its future are incomprehensible without political economy, Cummings asserts.

     One powerful trend that these essays highlight is the new openness by political scientists doing international relations to a variety of approaches that are familiar to historians but which had been eschewed by the realist tradition that focused on interests as the predominant force. The later chapters of Finney's volume, indeed, deal as much with the penetration of historical concepts and methods into "international relations" done by political scientists as they do with international history done by historians. In a chapter on ideology, Nigel Gould-Davies argues that virtually all international relations theory has de-emphasized ideology as an explanatory factor in favor of "interests" as the motive behind state actions. A fuller appreciation of ideology would better explain the Cold War than interest-based theories, he argues: ideology shaped the Soviets and the U.S., and as ideology weakened, the Cold War came to an end. In an essay on "International Relations Theories and Methods," Miriam Fendius Elman shows how political scientists and historians have increasingly borrowed each other's methods as the former have turned to multi-causal explanations and as historians have increasingly drawn on theory.

     At the same time, there are subject areas that international relations specialists now study, but which they are still unable to bring fully into any explanatory scheme. Intelligence, i.e. secret information, has rarely played a role in most scholars' large-scale interpretations, even though, as Peter Jackson and Len Scott assert, historians' work and officials' memoirs increasingly reveal that spying and covert operations were often of major importance in shaping international crises. "Propaganda, communications, and public opinion," Susan Carruthers writes, are recognized as crucial forces influencing governments' actions and as important tools that governments use against their enemies or to support their positions. Although they are increasingly studied, Carruthers argues, they still present challenges to existing paradigms in international relations theory. Andrew Rotter makes a similar point by arguing that "culture," a concept with which anthropologists have grown uncomfortable, now serves to explain why the U.S. sticks with its ally Israel in the face of factors that realism might predict would undermine the relationship.

     Jeremi Suri makes a compelling argument that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been too often thought of as citizens' groups, usually pressuring states for liberal ends. NGOs, in the form of dissidents in the Soviet Bloc and peace activists in the West, helped weaken and end the ideological confrontation of the Cold War, for example. A broader definition, he claims, would include any non-state actor. Al-Qaeda is an NGO that has changed the world, and its "reform" program is hardly liberal.(242) Some of the most significant historians working on imperialism—Louise Young on Japanese Manchuria and Matthew Connelly on French Algeria—according to Mark Philip Bradley, demonstrate that the home front has always been the key arena shaping empire and de-colonization. Glenda Sluga wryly points out that "in international history gender hardly ever concerns women." (312) Various aggressive acts have been explained as "masculine" acts by statesmen worried about their loss of status. Fittingly, the last, and in many ways, most ambitious of the essays is "Global History" by historian Akira Iriye. Iriye argues that international relations have to be understood as occurring in the center of long-run historical changes in social organization, economic structures, and cultural shifts such as the rise of human rights and environmental consciousness.

     The thumbnail summaries of major trends in international history and international relations and the rich bibliographical references in the endnotes after each essay make this volume a useful tool for world historians who would like to integrate diplomatic history and international relations concepts into their courses.


Carl Strikwerda
College of William and Mary


Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2008 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use