Aspects of global history, as presented this week atthe Anglo- American historians'conference

July 4, 1997

Professor Terry Ranger, St Anthony's College, Oxford wants to break away from traditional histories of Europeans in black Africa by studying how Africans responded to Europeans in colonial times - other than as colonial leaders.

He uses evidence of how Africans treated wandering tramps and shipwrecked Europeans, comparing it with their attitudes towards those in positions of greater power. He also examines how Europeans were affected by Africa.

Tom Tomlinson,professor of history, University of Strathclyde, applies global history to Alfred W. Crosby's book Ecological Imperialism, which explains the agricultural success of European emigrants and their descendants.

Crosby argued that "neo-Europes" such as the United States, Canada and Australia benefited from a combination of European people, the plants, animals, pests and pathogens they brought with them, European-type climates and the inability of indigenous plants and animals to compete. But Tomlinson says that in this century, industrialisation has been more important for the growth of neo-Europes than agricultural expansion, while land use has expanded more rapidly in other parts of the world.

Francis Robinson, Royal Holloway, University of London, examines how the Christian and Muslim worlds have helped shape each other. He says they share the belief in one God, in prophecy and revelation, many of the same religious stories and scriptures and intellectual roots.

The initial impetus was Muslim. Silk, cotton, paper and sugar came to the West through Muslim hands. Arabic words entered European languages. Islamic painting, textiles and glass were used in medieval buildings across Europe.

Subsequently, he says, the influence was the other way. The West has brought Muslim economies into a world system and helped design Islamic cities. Muslim elites have studied European languages and drawn on European thought.

David Edgerton, the Centre for the history of science, technology and medicine, Imperial College, London argues that most past Anglo-Saxon study of the history of technology has confused innovation and technique. Inventions are concentrated in place and time, but use spreads over a far wider area and timespan. Even if there is little difference in when a particular technology is adopted, there are often huge national variations in how far.

He argues that modern interest in technology is skewed to the future and sees technique as the answer to the world's problems. Instead we should see technology as the accumulated knowledge of many traditions over many years.

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