WHA Conference Paper

World History Association of Texas

Divergence & Convergence:  People, Events, & Ideas that Have Shaped the World
World History Association of Texas 2010 Conference
Co-Sponsored by St. Edward’s University
Austin, Texas
February 27-28, 2010

I just learned that my paper was accepted by the World History Association of Texas. I am looking forward to presenting my work and gaining feedback on my course. I have linked both European and World history concepts into this 20 page piece.

The 2010 Conference of the World History Association of Texas will focus on historical and interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the people, events and ideas influential in globalization.  Conference organizers welcome proposals that connect world history teaching and research.  Possible topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • The digital age, social networking sites, and the use of information and communication technologies in furthering or resisting political and economic structures
  • Shifts in modes of production, consumption, and entertainment
  • Prince Shotoku, B.R. Ambedkar, Hồ Chí Minh, Nelson Mandela, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Margaret Thatcher
  • The global impact of religions, ideologies, ethical constructs, trade, commerce and economic theory and practice
  • Global themes in the humanities and social sciences

Here is the abstract for my paper:

Title: Exploring the Concept and Impact of Oceans in Teaching World History and European History

The term ocean does not carry much extensive meaning for students taking the World History or European history survey course; better yet, if anything, the term has no political, social or economic value unless it is used in reference to mark political warfare or basic geography. However, one might contend that oceans, specifically the Atlantic, had a significant impact on the rise of the modern European state, and thus contributed to Atlantic revolutions. Because oceans have shaped the development of the World History course, I will explore the impact of waters such as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic. My focus will address that of oceans on the early colonial stages of geo politics, and how formative states such as France, England, Spain, and the Low Countries struggled to maintain stability amidst colonial expansion and state building. Moreover, it is important that students understand the impact of the Atlantic as a shaper of modernity in both the North American colonies and European states. In order to do this, my paper explores the origins of World History by examining the periodization of 600 C.E. to 1750 C.E. The purpose is to illustrate the processes and global connections starting in the “core zone” of the Indian Ocean network and shifting throughout the period to the Atlantic world. Furthermore, the dichotomy of the Atlantic world via economic expansion and Enlightenment concepts have less value to the teaching of both world and European history without discussing the global relationship shared between the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Thus, the Atlantic world saw the use of religious constructs as a form and method in justifying Atlantic slavery, racial categorization, and the subjugation of women due to its injection of economic processes linked to the Indian Ocean.

Teaching World History and the modern European history course presents  several challenges as it relates to linking political and economic history to that of social history. Often times teachers separate them as though they are monolithic themes with very little relationship to the other; students are left to make connections for themselves, which works against them in understanding global history. I make a number of attempts at building conceptual bridges that explain the relationship of one theme to the next. To no surprise, it is easy to focus on the political development of states as a reference to other unfolding topics.

The process in my course starts not so much in the Atlantic world, but in the Indian Ocean. Juxtaposing the role of oceans to a time frame is key and fundamental in the development of power politics and economic systems. For example, I like to start with Lynda Schaffer’s Southernization. The basic premise in her work is that the embryonic step of European modernity got its birth in the Indian Ocean world – often noted as the International Zone and center for global trade. She contends in her work that:

The term southernization is meant to be analogous to westernization.  Westernization refers to certain developments that first occurred in Western Europe.  Those developments changed Europe and eventually spread to other places and changed them as well.  In the same way, southernization changed Southern Asia and later spread to other areas, which then underwent a process of change.[1]

The process of southernization had its greatest impact first in the Mediterranean world circa 1450, then in the Atlantic world circa 1650. Showcasing the transition from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean then to the Atlantic illustrates change in focus but not in political authority. By mid-eighteenth century, the British interest in India increased as the Moguls slowly declined as a power actor in the subcontinent. Still, the birth of a Eurocentric concept of modernity would start with the five leading Atlantic states that expanded across the Atlantic market. The true development of a western culture starts with this sense of political and economic exploration. It was the expansion of European society, which consisted of a number of parallel and competitive enterprises by European states and trading companies in which the main enemy was not an overseas power but a European rival – hence the term geo politics.[2] The economic development of European colonies and trading points were designed to cater to the needs of the imperial power; yet while this economic process was under way via settlement by Spain, England, France, Dutch, and the Portuguese, a process of social and intellectual transformation was taking place vis-à-vis economic labor systems.

By the mid-eighteenth century, western European states were undergoing an intellectual transformation that would define its role as a leader in shaping the Atlantic as well as the world. Moreover, the dawning of the Enlightenment has traditionally been depicted as a benign period of rationalism that saw the triumph of tolerance over barbaric prejudices and superstitions.[3] Recent scholarship has depicted the Enlightenment as a period of economic progress, but at the expense of racial injustice. According to Colin Kidd’s The Forging of Races, the study of the Enlightenment has is a central topic amidst those from the left and right of the cultural wars. Moreover, this central theme often used by teachers to establish what Eric Hobsbawm called the Dual Revolution (political and economic) established the rise in a new form of racism – neo racism, which was linked to the Atlantic. Emmanuel Eze claims that:

The Enlightenment’s declaration of itself as the ‘Age of Reason’ was predicated upon precisely the assumption that reason could historically could only come to maturity in modern Europe, while the inhabitants of areas outside Europe, who were considered to be of non-European racial and cultural origins, were consistently described and theorized as rationally inferior savage.[4]


[1] Lynda Schaffer, “Southernization” Journal of World History 5, spring 1994, pp. 1-21.

[2] Hedley Bull & Adam Watson The Expansion of International Society 1988, Clarendon Press, pages 26 – 27.

[3] Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races, 2006, Cambridge Press, page 79.

[4] ibid, 80.

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8 thoughts on “WHA Conference Paper

  1. This is an interesting topic. Are you saying this reflects teaching and learning in your course? Is this more Euro or WH?

  2. Not sure how you feel about longue durée, but I would think that Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II might be interesting for your subject. Specifically, I’m interested about how Braudel splits time into multiple levels (geographic time, events, etc.). I suppose it’s dated now and the Annales school is out of fashion…

  3. Carson: Just had to say good work. And I love that article on Southernization. I used it in my AP World history class and the kids really enjoyed it.

  4. Edward! Its been months since we last spoke. How have things been?

    This article looks fascinating– have you ever read Janet Abu-Lughod’s ‘Before European Hegemony?’ This book gives a nice overview of pre-modern global systems of trade and commerce, specifically centered around the Indian Ocean. I’m sure you’ve heard of it– you are always two steps ahead!

    The premise of this article, specifically the imperial aspect, intrigues me along industrial lines as well– what role did the Atlantic Oceans (or, perhaps, water harnessing/navigation in general) have in the formation of a machine-culture in Europe? Perhaps this feeds into the proletarianization/racialization of labor in the West?

    I’d love to read a full version of your article when its available.

    I’ll be down in Austin at the end of March for the British Scholar Conference. If you are free (perhaps Spring Break?), maybe we can meet up.

  5. Pingback: A Global Approach « The Professor

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