HIST 3813A: Problems in Global and Transnational Histories (Field d or e)
Fall 2020

Instructor: Professor Andrew M. Johnston

Global and transnational perspectives highlight the interconnectedness of all historical processes.  They change the way we understand many ideas that currently circulate in global and international studies. We tend to tell stories about the world’s history by using local, national, or at best regional, accounts of the past.  This has given us highly distorted images of how we got where we are today. What we once thought were unique and disconnected features of “our” (national) societies are, it turns out, anything but.

This course explores the central concepts of Global, Transnational and World histories, introducing students to the exciting new developments in fields that have, over the last 20 to 30 years, dramatically overturned many of the discipline’s traditional ways of conceiving of the past and present. Today, for example, while we debate what globalization under neoliberalism means for the gap between rich and poor, the destruction of the planetary environment, the “universality” of humanitarian and human rights norms, the frequency and intensity of interstate conflict, we should recognize that none of these issues are novel. They’re not even new to the Twentieth Century. Global and transnational perspectives highlight the interconnectedness of all historical processes, and change the way we understanding many of the taken-for-granted assumptions that currently circulate in global and international studies.

This course is, indeed, designed to tackle the practical consequences of shifting our way of understanding the most pressing issues of today away from the ahistorical assumptions that often dominate contemporary global and international discourses. Our political and economic leaders act on the world as if what they believe about how it came to be, how its material and ideational forces driven human activity, are true. But what if they’re understanding of the global past is wrong? This course therefore aims to take a series of issues that are central to our modern condition—globalization and economic imperialism, human rights and humanitarianism, colonialism and anti-colonialism, international conflict and law, transnational sexuality, environmental transformations, cosmopolitanism and identity—and interrogate them from across time and space. Above all the very categories of “national,” “international,” “transnational,” “world,” and “global” history will be evaluated and tested against historical evidence.

Class Format

This is likely to be taught as a seminar and so emphasis will be placed on class discussion, presentations, and a research essay. We will meet once a week online.

Requirements and Assignments

Assignments entail conventional historical formats, such as undertaking a research paper or book review essays, but these may also be involve presenting research in smaller workshops, making podcasts, or maintaining your work on cuPortfolio.


The exact reading list will vary from year to year according to the contemporary issues for which a global historical perspective is most needed. But for starters, we will read selections from: Sebastian Conrad, What is global history? Pierre-Yves Saunier, Transnational history, and Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin , eds. Internationalisms: A Twentieth Century History (2016).

Prerequisite(s): a 2000-level history course or third-year standing and 1.0 credit in history including at least 0.5 credit in Field d courses (Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America). This course is mandatory for all Global History Specialization students in BGInS, but it is of course open to all students who meet the prerequisite.