Global History

Year Awarded: 2011

This Initiative is actively conducting research.

[  Weatherhead Initiative on Global History Website  ]

Global history is one of the leading new approaches in recent years that has helped to transform the study of the past. The contemporary trends summarized under the term “globalization” have lent urgency to research that examines historical processes, networks, identities, and events across the boundaries of the nation-states that traditionally served as the privileged framework for much of the discipline. Historians worldwide have contributed to exciting research on the trends that so many societies have undergone together—whether economic and demographic, religious and cultural, or political and military. In the process, global history has drawn on the expertise of political scientists, sociologists, art historians, economists, anthropologists, and others.

Harvard University has among the greatest concentrations of scholars anywhere who are interested in this approach to the study of the human past. At the same time, the study of global history at the University has lacked any programmatic cohesion as a field. Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History, and Charles S. Maier, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, with the encouragement of Beth Simmons, former Weatherhead Center Director, have created an institutional framework for global history at Harvard. Their goal is to make Harvard one of the world's leading centers for research and teaching in global history.

The Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH) was the first of the WCFIA’s planned “research clusters” designed to build on and focus its faculty associates’ leadership in new directions for international study. The Center provided funding for the first three years and is the institutional home for the program. As co-directors, Professors Beckert and Maier organized a steering committee among the many faculty in history, social sciences, and from the professional schools, including the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. WIGH has secured partial funding, including a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation, to allow it to continue on a long-term basis. 

In 2016–2017, the team continues an ongoing seminar on global history and welcomes a cohort of postdoctoral scholars and visiting fellows from Brazil, Canada, India, Switzerland, Colombia, France, Italy, the United States, and Germany. The Initiative has negotiated strategic partnerships with leading centers for global history abroad: the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar in Senegal, East China Normal University in Shanghai, University of Delhi in India, and University of São Paulo in Brazil. In 2016–2017, University of São Paulo and University of Delhi will each host a Harvard graduate student for one semester. Embedding the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History in a network of like-minded institutions around the globe inserts Harvard students and scholars into the networks of research on global history and provides bases for their research sojourns abroad. Global history is a global activity, and with the Weatherhead Initiative to focus its own contributions, Harvard can play a key role in helping to shape this cooperative endeavor.

Principal Investigators

Sven Beckert

Executive Committee; Faculty Associate (on leave 2016–2017). Laird Bell Professor of History, Department of History, Harvard University.

Charles S. Maier

Senior Adviser; Executive Committee; Faculty Associate. Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, Department of History, Harvard University.

See also: Initiatives