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Welcome to Global History Lab!

I am genuinely looking forward to getting started on this course with you. It will be exciting and innovative; we will chart new educational territory. And we are going to learn a lot about our planet together after the course opens on September 9th.

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Course Emails

Email from December 24th - Last Letter

Hello everyone:

“My family has been torn apart by the collapse of the Somali state. My father and six of his brothers were killed because of their tribe affiliation, and my mother was forced off her land by the barrel of a gun. She went from being a land owning young mother to a widowed victim of violence. For more than 25 years, my mother spent her life in Kakuma refugee camp, haunted by the pain and humiliation of displacement and upheaval. She recently passed away and took her grief to the grave.”

These are the words of Mohammed, one of the students in our course, currently living in Kakuma Camp in Kenya. He tells the story of the origins of the calamity that befell his family as a parable about states, borders, and the problem of belonging for many people in our world. I will explain shortly why I start my last letter to you with Mohammed’s words.

This is my final letter. Last week I left you off with the question – an open one, in my view – about what kind of story, which narrative, will prevail about our interdependent world. Has convergence and integration been a good thing, or a sacrifice? To whom, for whom? The answers to those questions will depend on what we think about borders. I will get to that issue in a moment. But first, some words of gratitude.

For starters, thanks to you for joining me – and each other – on this voyage. I have been so impressed and inspired by your work. If I could start all over again, the new version of the Global History Lab would look quite different on account of your contributions.

Gratitude also goes to the many people who have helped make this enterprise work. Mona Fixdal and Marija Naumoski at our Teaching and Learning Center have been amazing – dealing with our issues at all times of the day, and night! Thanks to the instructional teams as well, starting with Caitlin Harvey and Thaïs Gendry – who have been the teaching assistants for the students at Princeton University and at the University of Geneva; your teams posted truly illuminating work. Then there’s the group who’ve helped teach in our three refugee sites, Lorenzo Bondioli, Elisa Prosperetti, Maya Wahrman, and James Casey (for the second year!). Last year, three wonderful students in Camp Kakuma in Kenya took the course, and have been stalwarts this year as assistants on the ground. Mohamed, Esther, and Christine – we are all in your debt now. In Camp Azraq, thanks go to Fahd as well. There are no doubt many others, and I wish I knew you all by name so I could single you out. But none of the humanitarian history programming would be possible without the wisdom and support from InZone at the University of Geneva, and its director, Barbara Moser-Mercer.

Some of you have inquired about a follow up.

The course does have a Facebook page, but I must admit I am only a sporadic user. But here it is: Global History Lab on Facebook.

Occasionally, I post news and relevant articles on world and global history.

Also, a group of Princeton graduate students who took a seminar with me last year on the global history of capitalism have assembled their own online course on the same theme, “The Global History of Capitalism.” It’s shorter (6 weeks) and promises to be super interesting. It starts on January 15th. You can get details and enroll here:

Global History of Capitalism

I just enrolled!

Back to the questions about our global narratives. How we think about interdependence nowadays depends on how we think about the comforts of borders. For some, borders make us feel safe; they enclose us, like the arms of parents, within circles of people with whom we share common languages, beliefs, histories; they shelter the self-congregators. For others, borders shorten our horizons, narrow opportunities, and limit our learning. For one side, they comfort, for the other they constrain. There is no superior narrative. But for those who find comforts in enclosure, global processes can often be threatening. For those who find borders confining, global processes are a release – including from old commitments. As we have seen, for the past seven centuries, humans have been torn and pressured by these rival urges.

But borders have histories. All semester we have been discussing the ways in which humans have crossed them, made them, and crossed them again. One of our bigger themes has been not just crossing from one state to another, but being forced to cross them or being rendered persecuted non-citizens within them, to become stateless – which we have defined as the condition of being bereft of rights to have rights. From the first examination of chattel slavery from Africa, to the expulsion of Cherokees from the United States, to the effort to exterminate Jews during the Second World War, making stateless people has been the flip side of making states for the people who are chosen to belong within them. Making borders has also led to expulsions across them and deprivation within them.

The final week’s presentations in the Gallery deal with this issue once more. If you consult the presentations on Track A – Statelessness – you will see how teams grappled with the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, how the Muslim minority in a majority-Buddhist country first became pariahs at home. In recent years, they went from persecuted at home to driven out to swelling camps in neighbouring countries. In the past year alone, some 650,000 have been forced to flee across the border, and piled on to the worst humanitarian crisis of our times – and the largest number of stateless people since the Second World War. Most of the Rohingya have left for Bangladesh, a country already overwhelmed by the looming threat of climate changes.

Our Gallery features a number of presentations I would like to draw your attention to, as they are written by refugees themselves, and so have a special place in our learning about the world.

Christine posted one on behalf of the refugees in Kakuma. Maya posted one on behalf of the refugees in Azraq.

Both presentations are clear: the making of stateless people was the result of state policies. Refugees didn’t become refugees by accident, but by design, as part of an ethnic and religious cleansing operation to favour the majority at the expense of the minority, starting by seizing land, taking water, and killing civilians. It’s now becoming clearer that women in particular were targeted for abuse to drive the Rohingya from their homes. The fate of the Rohingya has also become the subject of international activism, like Human Rights Watch, and of the global media, like the New York Times short documentary that we posted in the case study. What is striking is the limit to global activism in our day – for despite the pressure at the UN and world public opinion, there is little appetite for intervention, to hold a nation state like Myanmar accountable for own abuses committed against people that once lived there for centuries. We may live in a globally integrated world, but borders still matter. So do the institutions and policies of nation states. Once upon a time, some globalization-boosters argued that the old nation state was obsolete. Both the presentations remind us that this was, at best, premature.

So, the humanitarian catastrophe is visible globally and the subject of consternation, we are reminded of the persistent power of nation states.

But not all nation states have the same power. We’ve been exploring this all semester as well. The relative strength of states has often been a determinant of the balance of global power. So, I want to draw your attention to one more presentation, by Mohammed Hassan Mohamed – a Somali refugee living in Kakuma. This presentation is a gift to us, a bonus for those of us who want to learn more about the deep history of statelessness.

Mohammed recounts the deep history of the crisis of Somalia, from the rise and fall of a project for Greater Somalia, and the human devastation that followed a state that, as pundits now say, “failed.” For three decades, the Horn of Africa – which we saw was so crucial to Indian Ocean sealanes seven centuries ago – has been in turmoil. But what’s the origin of this crisis? Read Mohammed’s testimony.

Surprisingly, Somalia was not as “artificial” a state, its boundaries less arbitrary or imposed as many others. So, why the crisis? I urge you to read Mohammed’s interpretation.

Please leave comments in the boxes below the presentations.

The Gallery will be open for another month. You may spend it touring the 9 weeks of presentations, to see what you have learned and shared with each other.

One final piece of news: Mona has asked me to remind you that we are planning to send out the Statements of Accomplishment around the middle of January.

The French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville once noted that the hardest part of writing a book is finding the ending. In many ways, the same goes for a course, and the letters that lace it together, especially a course of history. This is because, in a fundamental way, the histories we have explored are not over. At all. They go on. So, instead of ending with closure, consider this an opening, an invitation to start a new chapter, a new book, a new odyssey in worldmaking.

With the hope that this course has encouraged you to start your worldmaking anew, let me wish you the very best for 2018.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from December 16th - Ending Week 12

Hello everyone:

This is not my last letter, but it does cap the lecture series. In a few days, I will send my final letter and reflect on what I have learned in the Gallery space that you have created and contributed to.

For now, I would like to wind up with a brief history of our present. When I recorded the lectures for this course, some five or six years ago, it seemed like a different time. Back then, “globalism” had the upper hand. When we taught something called “global history,” it often carried the assumption that global integration was irreversible. After all, many pundits called it the only game in town. Nowadays, people are not so sure. What is global history in an era of a great backlash?

We have seen crises before. The last big one was in the 1970s. Many people then predicted a breakdown of the global system created in 1945. It nearly did. Then, the global system got two, improbable, lifelines.

One came in the form of credit. Moneylending took off. After 1973, the global financial industry soared; within a decade, financial markets had grown 400%. The value of daily trading on the New York Stock Exchange grew from $10 million in 1970 to over $1 billion by 2005. Now, it was not just commodities that pulled the world into one market, but credit. An alarming amount of financial interdependence, however, took the form of debt – both household and governmental. Total credit market debt (public and private) in the United States doubled from 1970 to 1998. Then it soared and never looked back. According to McKinsey, the global stock of debt to GDP rose even more after the crisis of 2008. [1] Last year, it ballooned to $152 trillion – over 225 per cent of world output. Half the debt load rests on government shoulders.

The second was cheap fossil fuels. Despite warnings that we would bake the planet, the need to move vehicles, spread factories to Malaysia and Morocco, and cool homes in Delhi and Detroit, the scramble for market shares and middle-class betterment, meant more combustion of coal, gas, and oil. The credit spree invigorated a carbon binge of historic proportions. Liberalizing world trade and industrializing Asia released 4 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere in 1970; the figure is now 10 billion. Fully half the fossil fuel-induced CO2 emissions worldwide since 1750 have taken place since 1985.

Credit and carbon became the new conditions for global integration. They replaced the welfare and development states as buffers to the risks and perils of deepening market life. Expanding public services and protections softened market risks before 1973; they got replaced by the private comforts of combustion and monthly credit card notices.

If the access to carbon and credit appeared to solve the problem, there was an additional, legitimating shock. In 1989, American, or “western,” leadership got a new lease. At least for a while. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the USSR gave way to some unseemly gloating about American grandeur and the triumph of free markets. But recall: if America became great again, it was thanks to the fact that the Soviet bloc collapsed first – under the weight of its own heavy metal ideology. As if to coin a new age of American leadership, the idea of a ‘Washington Consensus’ came to the rescue in the same way that the Marshall Plan had in 1947. The difference was, of course, that the cocktail of austerity and debt restructuring under the Washington Consensus never won the undying appreciation of consumer-citizens of the Third World that the original global new deal won from counterparts in Japan or Western Europe in the 1940s.

As the credit-carbon lifelines should remind us, it can be reckless to predict the end of a system that may, instead, be going through growing pains. It may well be that we are rehearsing something akin to the 1970s nowadays. But it is worth underscoring that the response to the malaise of the 1970s yielded more, not less, integration.

There are some basic challenges ahead. For starters, we might consider Donald Trump and others like him that want to restore national sovereignty and grandeur at the expense of global security or sustainability, as the effects and not the cause of the problem. After all, long before Trump’s inauguration, Europe was already splitting at the seams. Today, we are left with a Europe comprised of disparate states, an economy on the ropes, and plagued by a common enemy in some of its major cities that, rather than uniting them, divides the continent into two separate blocs. Indeed, more than any time in its modern history, the threats to Europe’s common fabric come from within, not from without. With the old threat of Communism peeled away, the internal divides of a deeply heterogeneous union only got magnified.

The past decade exposed almost all of Europe’s fundamental weaknesses. The massive capital flows across the continent were not a problem as long as the money kept moving from richer countries to poorer ones, from savers to spenders, from the old core to the newer peripheral members. But capital flows suddenly reversed themselves in 2010, in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown: after a decade of infusion, suddenly households, banks, and firms in borrowing countries saw money stampeding out, leaving them unable to service their debts.[2]

The structures of the union snapped under the weight of the crisis. The priorities of the two founding countries did not align: today, Germany is a creditor and France a debtor, and they diverge on how to manage the string of financial crises that have affected Europe since 2008. Thus, instead of a coordinated and collaborative response, leaders resorted to emergency last-minute solutions that only just succeeded in preventing catastrophe, but set off a ruinous spiral of public sector borrowing.

Then Europe got thumped by the migrant crisis, which, perhaps even more than the financial crisis, has brought the union’s incapacity for decision-making into sharp relief. Unrest in the Middle East and parts of Africa has sent more than a million asylum seekers across the Mediterranean, about half of them from Syria. Attempts to share the humanitarian burden have pulled back the veil on the depth of Europe’s various divides. Unable to act in concert, the current governance has pushed crisis management down to the national level. One of the pillars of European integration, the Schengen system which created open borders for the internal movement of people, is on life-support.

After a long life, seven decades of liberal internationalism, buoyed by American leadership (some might say hegemony) is now exhausted. In effect: the unique moment that produced the liberal Leviathan passed. The Cold War – not to mention 1945! – is a matter for textbooks. The addiction to carbon and credit is under assault. The bill for relying on fossil fuels is turning up in the form of climate change. Anyone who has seen the sickening photos of a dying polar bear taken by the Mexican photographer, Cristina Mittermeier can recognize the impact of climate change happening right now.[3]

It may be time to start thinking about global cooperation without a Leviathan at all. There were steps in that direction; to me, the Paris Climate Change Treaty was a step in that direction. That now seems on hold, eclipsed by the snarling nativism of Nation-X Firsters.

But does that mean the only alternative is open belligerence and unilateralism? I don’t think so.

If I were forced to wager a bet, my guess is that we will muddle through. We won’t see a tilt either way. Why? Because the beneficiaries of integration, like the coastal elites of the United States, the financial and high-tech classes in southern England, the cosmopolitans in Moscow and Melbourne – and Buenos Aires and Mumbai – have not gone away. Their domestic coalitions may be in bad shape, and it may take some time for them to reckon with the fact that not everyone prospered under neo-liberalism.

There is a second reason why we will incline to muddle through: there is little appetite for going further into the credit-and-carbon dependency. Here, I am afraid, I have to pause because the US Congress will soon pass legislation that will create a historically unprecedented crater of debt in the public purse – and not just for future Americans to pay, but for the whole world to pay off. One can only hope that the deep unpopularity of this measure will lead to a backlash.

Muddling through and managing the fallout as best we can may be the best we can hope for. At least for the moment. In the meantime: we have to square up to our double impasse. The first is: we face an exhaustion of the old model of integration, which traded off national sovereignty for global public goods but relied on welfare and development-states to manage the disruptions of integration.

Whether the impasse becomes a full-blown crisis, like 1914 or 1929 depends in part on how we resolve a second impasse: what kind of story we want to tell about the longer epic of global integration? It’s not at all clear. Is this a pause in the bigger narrative about the Great Convergence into one world? Or is this a permanent rebalancing in favor of the nation state after decades of elite-driven globalism? Who knows? But which narrative wins the contest for public sentiment will matter: stories can be powerful instruments for mobilizing public energies and personal fortunes to build alternative worlds.

Jeremy Adelman


[2] Thomas Piketty, Jeremy Adelman and Anne-Laure Delatte `The World Needs a Strong Europe,’ Foreign Policy, 4 April, 2016


Email from December 9th - Starting Week 12

Hello everyone:

We enter our last week together. I always get a bit grumpy at this point in the course. For starters, I begin to think about all the things that I missed, things that, if I had another semester, I would want to talk about with you. But we are running out of time…

This past week we explored the making and unmaking of the three-world order. It was so compressed that I skipped aspects of the period from 1945 to 1973 that shaped who I am – and, I think, who you might be, even if you were born after the OPEC oil shock of 1973, the end of the Vietnam War, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. These would include rock and roll, the birth of portable music, the emergence of container shipping.

Container shipping? How could that possibly be important to world history? Well, it was. In the middle of the Cold War, 1956, a year after “non-aligned movement” conference at Bandung, one American businessman got the idea of outfitting an old oil tanker to carry 58 containers to a port in Newark, New Jersey, just down the road from Princeton. He started a transportation revolution – one that we might liken to earlier revolutions we have explored in this course, from the use of galleys for long-distance travel and steam to drive into the interiors of continents with railways. Containerization transformed shipping, dramatically slashed the cost of getting bulky goods to distant ports, and made it easier to ship delicate machinery and electronics in carefully packed and sealed boxes that could be easily handled in ports instead of bashed around by bulky stevedores. The advent of cheap foamed polystyrene – also known as Styrofoam – also helped.

But you know what helped the shipping container break out in the mid-1960s? The Vietnam War. It was the need to ship huge amounts of complex military materiel to Indochina that sent the US military looking for a cheap and secure way to wage a war so far away. And lo and behold, these American magnates who were wrangling over how to standardize box sizes, cranes, and dockage facilities (so that trains could just run up alongside massive container ships, lifts could swing the containers onto flatbeds, and off the giant box could go from a New Jersey coastal port (Elizabeth NJ became truly the first global port exclusively for containers) to Chicago, from Shanghai to Beijing, Rotterdam to the rest of Europe, Santos to São Paulo. So, while the American military gave these pioneers the first big contract and the impetus to standardize and cheapen shipping, the whole global division of labor quickly changed as the world adapted and adopted standardized containers (technically, they are known as “TEU’s” – twenty-foot equivalents). Now, China Shipping Container Lines “Globe”-class container ship can hold over 19,000 TEUs, which has sent canal builders and bridge engineers scrambling to rebuild their infrastructures.

If you want to get a sense of the scale of these behemoth vessels, Google the CSCL Globe.

Lowering transportation costs made it easier for the “Third World” or new exporters to industrialize. By the late 1960s, Japanese electronics, commodities that were not easily shipped in bulk without protective containers, flowed to the rest of the world. I remember when my father bought me my first “stereo” - a gorgeous Hitachi that I could use for “long play” record albums of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin while I gawked at the album covers with my friends. Then came Japanese cars. Then the Sony “Walkman.” Then Japan began to offshore some of its plants to Thailand, and after 1986 to China. Korean electronics jumped onto the stage. Soon, old North American electronics companies went bust; they could no longer compete. Even my LP record collection became obsolete when CD’s took over – and then those became obsolete.

At least I can still listen to Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

There was a seamy side to this new geography of economic and cultural power, fueled by the rise of the container ship in the 1970s. And that was: old ports populated by millions of stevedores, went belly up in a matter of years. East London. Brooklyn, NY. Oakland, California. Behind the malaise of the 1970s and early 1980s was a dramatic change in the global division of labour, the rise of new cities and cultural entrepôts, a shift from industry to services and high tech, and a tilt towards Asia in global affairs. Six of the top ten container-shipping ports in the world are in China; there is not one in the United States.

The spread of industry to new corners of the earth, more wealth and consumption, also contributed to an ever-deeper addiction to carbon-based fuel, which lay the groundwork for rising temperatures and climate change.

What is new and what is old about our globalization? These are some of the issues we tackle this week as we consider how the container ship was part of a profound shift in global interdependence, the importance of strangers in far-away places to peoples’ everyday lives. We are more interdependent than ever, and yet the world’s ability to grapple with its common challenges is also more stressed out and fatigued than ever. Now that you have been learning about global integration and disintegration over the past 700 years, what's so new about our globalization? Share your thoughts here:

I look forward to your reflections and responses.

With best wishes,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from December 2nd - Starting Week 11

Hello everyone:

In the past few weeks, we have been exploring what the British historian E.H. Carr called “the Twenty Years’ Crisis,” the period spanning 1914 to 1945. It was the darkest moment in human history, which witnessed unprecedented savagery on the battlefield and industrial arsenals trained deliberately on civilians as a logic of war. Fueling the violence and atrocity was heightened competition between national and imperial rivals who sought homogeneity within societies while turning neighbors into tributaries or possessions. The result was an implosion of power at the cores of the system that got integrated over the course of previous centuries. The epicenter of the carnage was the two eastern fronts, the cores of the old world: a struggle between Germany and Russia on one “east,” and between Japan and China on another “east.”

Self-destruction on this scale can be mind boggling. It’s kept scholars busy for generations. It can also be the source of continued misunderstanding. When I first taught this course online, some five years ago, one of the students – a wonderful sociologist from St Petersburg – complained about my depiction of the horror of the Nazi siege of Leningrad (1941-44). That nightmare lasted almost 900 days and took around 900,000 civilian lives, the most lethal siege in human history. Behind the lines, in a starving city, some mothers resorted to eating cadavers to survive in order to feed their little kids. My student complained that I had lapsed into American stereotypes of Russians, Hollywood clichés about heartless Soviets. (One only has to watch old James Bond movies to appreciate what she was talking about.) I explained that, if anything, I had wanted those who grew up associating the war with the heroics of the “western” front needed to understand the horror of other fronts – and the agonizing decisions that ordinary people faced, the human side of the atrocities. The point of the story about Leningrad was to summon compassion and empathy. Our exchange led to a vibrant, fascinating, dialogue about understanding and misunderstanding across borders. It was a reminder that the very same thing can mean different things to different people – and that an important part of thinking globally about our shared past involves the ability to understand the viewpoints of others, even if we don’t always agree with them.

Now, Week 11, turns to the rebuilding. How does one do that when the Second World War left not only enduring enmities between former allies, especially the USA and USSR, but left all sides bristling with weapons, including nuclear bombs (the Soviets would detonate their first in 1949, in Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan)? There was a world to secure with norms, rules, and institutions to prevent a relapse. There was a global economy to rebuild. And, old European empires were under pressure to retreat in Africa and Asia. None of them would do so voluntarily. The result was the unfolding of an old struggle over empire within a new struggle between Cold War belligerents.

As we will see this week, the post-War decades saw a complex fusion of Cold War tensions, decolonization, economic prosperity, and aspirations for development. In some basic ways, many of the institutions and practices that govern our world today were those created in the wake of 1945 and molded to handle the challenges of those years. Let’s take a close look at them together.

Yours truly,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from November 26th - Starting week 10

Hello everyone:

As some of you know, we have been experimenting with new ways to open channels of communication, exchange, and learning collaboration with refugee students in sites in Jordan and Kenya. A team of Princeton graduate students works with partners at the University of Geneva, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and non-governmental organizations like CARE and Souriyat, to include displaced learners in the Global History Lab. The conditions are often very challenging – lack of power, no internet, and difficulty getting across refugee camps to learning hubs. These hurdles notwithstanding, last week all the refugee teams were able to post their Case Study 6 presentations under Track A. I would urge you to have a look at the following teams: Palymra, Kakuma, and Team Azraq. Please look at their work and leave constructive comments. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate all the learners in Kenya and Jordan for their efforts and contributions to this educational experiment, and to thank the Princeton graduate students, Maya, James, Elisa, and Lorenzo for their dedication and hard work. My gratitude also goes out to partners in Geneva, Kakuma, Azraq, and Amman for making this possible.

A question we might pose in those case studies is whether, after the end of chattel slavery, forced systems of labour migration created new forms of statelessness – defined as the deprivation of rights to have rights. When peoples do not belong to institutional structures that provide basic services, from physical protection to decent water (to name a few basics), and when they do not have access to systems to make claims for these rights, they can be regarded as stateless. It will not be until after 1919, with the formation of the International Labour Organization (in Geneva!), that some kind of system began to be put in place to hold governments accountable for ensuring basic rights for all workers – partly in response to the forced labour systems of the earlier era.

By the same token, it was after the Second World War that we see a bevy of multilateral institutions emerge to address the needs of stateless civilians more generally, not just defined by their claims as workers. Starting with the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (1943), and successors leading to the UNHCR (1950), there was growing recognition that the modern state system had also created a new legal condition of mass statelessness – and that some global “regime” had to be erected to address the needs of those who had no rights to have rights.

So it was that war, the heightened pressures of warrior-states, tightened borders, and drives for ethnic purification of national communities also created a global response. Out of atrocity was born modern humanitarianism.

Through the twentieth century and to our day, we have been grappling with the new ways in which societies rebuilt a global order in the wake of the Second World War, through the Cold War, and beyond. We can ask: how did global leaders forge a system of inter-dependence across nations while at the same proliferating and reinventing the importance of the nation state?

The year 1919 might be considered Year Zero for the first effort to create a worldwide system for governing inter-dependence. The signature was the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. But at the same time, there were other deals. Among the examples of how we became inter-dependent across borders while creating new borders is the mysterious but vitally important history of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Signed between the French and British governments during the First World War, it outlined the ways in which large territories of the Ottoman Empire would be carved up between Paris and London after 1918. It was negotiated in secret; the talks originally included a Russian party. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the deal got leaked to the public – to the embarrassment of the French and British governments. Among the provinces that fell under the new Mandate system were Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq – seedbeds of current conflicts in the Middle East. The later League “Mandate System” would also extend to parts of Africa once controlled by the losing side of the First World War. Some have argued that this persistent, imperial, mindset among Europeans spoiled the effort to create a new internationalism in 1919. Indeed, some went so far as to say the failures of internationalism in 1919 created the conditions for the nationalist horrors of the 1930s and 1940s.

What distinguished the ends of the two World Wars, and how might we think of the different humanitarian responses? If the League of Nations “failed”, in what ways did the United Nations learn some lessons in 1945? Share your ideas of what the world learned from its worst wars here:

One last note. My apologies for last week’s email in which I had sent a photograph of my grandfather. For some reason, the photo got removed from the email to you, so my friends behind the scenes managed to post it in my last note under “Updates and Emails” here:

Best wishes,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from November 19th - Starting Week 9

Hello everyone:

At this point in our course, students often ask me if I am a pessimist! I have to confess, that I don’t blame them for the question. Last week and especially this week and next, we will be contending with the visual repertoire of human atrocity. Among Princeton students this past week, we discussed extensively the photographs of troops posing in front of the bodies of fallen rebels. (We focused in particular on the images of hanged Herero insurgents with German officers mingling below them). These images shocked public opinions. They also fueled a frenzy in the media to portray rival empires as more brutal. There was, in short, a competition over pictures and narratives, which intensified the fight between empires.

But am I a pessimist? No, I am not. There are conditions, however, especially when competition between nations and empires heated up, when the atrocities worsened. This is going to be a big theme in the next two weeks. If you are interested in my recent thoughts on the dangers of “declinist” forms of thinking, you might want to read this:

Still, it is hard to find anything redeeming in horrors we are going to be discussing. But let's think historically. First of all, horrors need to be explained. Where did they come from? One argument we have been exploring in the past week is that the global entanglements -- rival empires, scrambles for possessions, the rising language of race and superiority, created a very interdependent and yet precarious world order. This is clear to us now, in retrospect. But it was also apparent at the time! A recent book by Margaret Macmillan, (The War that Ended Peace, 2013), argues that many people were warning that a war in 1914 would be violent like no other. But elites had gotten used to the form of resolving conflicts over the course of the 19th century, and discounted the toxic effects of hyper-nationalism and new forms of total war technology. Their old habits of inter-elite bargaining was simply unprepared for the challenges that confronted the interdependent but rivalrous world of the 20th century. Sound familiar? Because we can think historically means we can avoid repetitions. We created global institutions precisely to manage these tensions. They are much easier to destroy or take for granted than to build.

The second point is that the horrors also produced hopes; from the atrocities also emerged humanitarian responses. We are now squarely in the 20th century, which has sometimes been described as “the century of extremes.” (The term is from the late Eric Hobsbawm, one of the pioneers of modern world history). He was thinking of communism and capitalism, liberalism and dictatorship, nationalism and globalism. But we might add: horror and hope. A century of change and a century of reaction; a century of horror and a century of hope; a century of convergence and a century of great separation. To call it contradictory is almost banal. So, when you watch the lectures and read about the horrors, remember the other side of the coin.

I am making these two points because we have been laying the groundwork to understand the darkest moment of world history. Starting this weekend, we are going to be dwelling on the causes and course of the global Thirty Years’ Crisis that ran from 1914 to 1945, which will carry us from the battlefields of the First World War and the Great Influenza of 1919, to the siege of Leningrad, the Holocaust, and the slaughter at Nanking. It is easy to get very depressed at what's coming. I do. But I encourage you to think historically: look for explanations, look for reactions and responses, find the angels of history, even if they are pursued by the demons of nationalism and racism.

When I reach this point of the course, I also start to see the traces of my family's history. Right now, I am looking at a fragment of a postcard of my great grandfather standing among his fellow Scottish Highlanders (he is in the middle row, third from the right). He sent the postcard, as many soldiers did, from the war front in France to his wife and two children outside Glasgow. Like millions of others, he never returned home; this fragment is the last memory we have left of him. My great grandfather was among the millions who vanished in a terrible conflict. His son eventually moved to Canada, and then to China with his wife, herself an immigrant from Ireland to Canada. It was in China that my mother was born and raised before they were all forced to flee before the invasion of Japanese troops in 1937 (they would later return to China in 1945, and remain there until Mao's victory in 1949). Jeremy Adelman’s great grandfather in France, c. 1915

This is the century, therefore, that enters our families’ living memories. How did war and the search for peace affect your families? Tell us.

I have started a post in the Professor's Forum for us to talk about how family histories and global histories got entangled between the First and Second World Wars. Join the discussion here:

With best wishes for the week,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from November 12th - Starting Week 8

Hello everyone:

Our lull is over; we are back to work in the Global History Lab. You will notice that the pace of the story is slowing down as we approach the present. This week, we come to the edge of what will be the world’s most violent and calamitous moment starting in 1914. One of the guiding paradoxes for us is: how more integration could yield more turmoil. This challenges many theories of what is called “convergence” – which assumes that the more that societies become interdependent, the more willing they are to cooperate and even collaborate. Certainly, this was a prevailing notion behind the globalization in our recent decades, and informed much of the hope that we would be able to tackle global challenges, from managing nuclear arsenals to tackling climate change (I will get to both of those later in the course).

This theory, that interdependence would yield cooperation and sharing, had a vintage. One of the prophets of this vision was none other than Adam Smith, which is another good reason for thinking about his legacy! Another figure was John Stuart Mill and many nineteenth-century liberal thinkers. Even Karl Marx believed that the all-conquering capitalist spirit (he and Engels called it “bourgeois society”) would stitch the world together. In so doing, it would prepare societies for a transition from capitalism to socialism. The Communist Manifesto was one of the great masterworks in the history of global thinking.

But this week, we are examining what started to go wrong with that vision. If countries grew more interdependent and needed each other more thanks to migration, more open trade, foreign investment, and shared scientific knowledge, why the divergence?

Consider the themes of this week’s Gallery presentations. Track A examines the ways in which new patterns of labour recruitment and drafting, in this case from China to Cuba, replaced forced labour systems. But how “free” were these indentured workers? Did they have, as the great German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, would write in the late 1940s, “have rights to have rights?” Track B looks at what we might consider the origins of our modern global health system and the efforts to cure diseases and contain plagues – and the belief that it was the job of states to protect their citizens and soldiers. We even see glimpses of an idea that states should protect strangers in their midst. Track C looks at the effects of technological change on the warfare, including war on nature. Track D looks at the cult, faith, in progress as expressed in Great Exhibitions and the confidence in new, frontier-opening, technologies.

These are an index of the ways in which the world was converging. How much did these forces plant the seeds for the great uncoupling and the crisis of 1914? Last week’s forum looked at the ways in which Globalization 1.0 depended on empires (you will see that the conclusion was a tossup: some of you felt that globalization created the empires, while others felt that empires created globalization).

This week, let’s discuss the seeds of global dissolution. Having watched Lectures 15 and 16, share your thoughts: what were the main forces that led to the outbreak of war in 1914? Are we going through similar, uncoupling, forces now?

I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Jeremy Adelman

Email from October 28th - Starting Week 7

Hello everyone:

This week we enter a bit of a lull. Princeton and Geneva students faced their mid-terms, and next week, the learners in Jordan and Kenya will sit for their mid-term exams, thanks to our wonderful partners at InZone in Geneva. Next week is also what we call a “fall break” in Princeton, and the following is a break in Geneva. Thank you for your patience as we accommodate the peculiarities of our academic calendars around the world!

Still, there is much to discuss and learn. One of the big themes in lectures last week and next concerns a new model of global integration, this one powered by new transportation and communications technologies, new ideologies like free trade and free labour (no matter how unevenly – some would say hypocritically – they spread), and a new precept of integration: a shift from interconnection to interdependency.

Once again, we see what appear to be contradictory forces: more integration across borders, with the flows of ideas, commodities, peoples, and capital, AND the consolidation of national imaginations and powers within borders.

The nineteenth century has often been seen as the century of nationalism. But one might also argue that it was the century of interdependence, by which I mean that societies relied ever more on basic needs from outside. So, a shock like the rise of cotton prices due to the American Civil War in the 1860s could reverberate and lead to cotton expansion in Egypt and Brazil. By the same token, a financial crisis in Argentina in 1890 could shake the foundations of the London capital market.

It is for this reason that scholars often refer to the late nineteenth century as “the first globalization,” or Globalization 1.0. One of the points of this course is to explore the multiple ways in which parts of the planet converged, so that in a sense globalization has gone through several waves and taken many forms over the centuries. On the other hand, it’s in the nineteenth century that we see a global convergence that looks the most like ours, enabled by technologies and driven by the pursuit of private gain, higher wages for poor workers and profits by investors and speculators.

One crucial difference, as you will note by Lecture 14, is that much of this convergence had a powerful motor-force: expanding, modern, empires, from Tokyo to Moscow, from London to Washington, and even one might say that territorial conquest and integration was a feature of Argentine, Brazilian, and Canadian states. And everywhere, we see how the expansion of territorial empires created new forms of oppression and, yes, expulsion from states and extermination.

So, my question for this week is: were new empires the cause or the consequence of Globalization 1.0? I started a forum discussion here. Please share your thoughts.

With best wishes,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from October 21th — Starting Week 6

Hello everyone:

For the past week, I have been thinking a lot about what we are learning and how we are learning. These things are connected. Last week and this coming week, as we study the 18th and 19th centuries, we witness the world closing in, “vacant” spaces filling up, empires grinding away at each other’s frontiers. This is sometimes called the demise of distance, how ships, railroads, telegraphs, and global migration stitched the world together into one interdependent system.

But interdependence can cut several ways. For Adam Smith, 1492 had been a revolutionary moment because it threw open vast new resources and created enormous opportunities for “settlement.” But one person’s settlement is another’s displacement. As Euro-American colonists moved into interiors of Russia, the Americas, and Southern Africa – just to take a few examples – incumbent, or “native,” peoples got pushed aside. Some got harnessed to be chattel slaves that would be the condition for the most dynamic frontier expansion. This was most acute in the Southern United States, with the spread of cotton-growing and African slavery.

So, we are dealing with what global historians call “juxtaposing processes.” This means that interdependence unleashes forces that are at odds with each other. We see more freedom and more bondage, more wealth and more inequality, more interaction and more conflict. Just look at the themes for this week’s exciting Gallery presentations. Track A looks at the expulsion of the Cherokees from their homelands in United States territory as they became, in a sense, “stateless” to make way for settlers in the United States. Track B looks at how eighteenth-century science in the tropics created new – and valuable! – medicines to cure diseases (like Malaria), to create new commercial crops, to open more tropical lands for colonization, and to cure ailing bodies (let me draw your attention to two fantastic presentations from students in Geneva!). Track C: how the spice islands went in short order from being homes for self-sufficient villagers to plantations through Dutch organized violence. Track D examines how Europeans and Chinese viewed each other on the eve of the “opening” of China, by force, with the Opium Wars (1839-42 and 1856-60). Integration and stratification, riches and misery, knowledge and denial. The making of the modern world does not conform to one simple – either positive or negative – storyline.

How does what we learn connect with how we learn? Just look again at the Gallery, and consider how we are learning by developing abilities to listen to and speak across borders. We have Princeton and Geneva students, learners in refugee camps, and of course everyone else.

But global learning is harder than many of us imagined. There was once a one-world dream, a hope of a world of cosmopolitans who were curious about other peoples and who learned to become tolerant and respectful, if not cooperative and helping of strangers. We will see in future lectures how this vision informed peacemakers after the First and Second World Wars. It also motivated the search for solutions to climate change (something I will get to later in the course). But before we get to the peacemakers, we have to understand the escalation of wars – and spread of total war.

The global vision also framed a lot of universities’ efforts to promote understanding across borders, to invest in exchanges and encounters between peoples as a way to learn.

This, as it turns out, was more of a challenge than the dreamers, even the practical ones, imagined. Even making our partnership to create this course is full of advances and setbacks, joys and disappointments. The vision also got a rude awakening with the resurgence of nationalism and nativism worldwide in recent times.

But still: here we all are. And in fact, we are in dialogue. Here are a few examples from the discussion forums, invitations for us to engage in global conversations. These are posts (in the General Forum) related to the juxtaposing processes I talked about above.

Blessinggirl observes how the Enlightenment helped create new ideas and practices of property called “fee simple.” It released enormous personal and social energy for producing new wealth. But it also unleashed massive land-grabbing, which we are studying this week.

Sybs_1 asks (referring to Lecture 10, Segment 2), about how Prussian armies could rally patriots to fight for a monarch but not be able to enjoy the rights associated with a republic? I replied to her query: This is a fantastic question. Let me first start out by clarifying that while monarchs resisted (even the English monarch, in an earlier moment) conceding sovereignty to people, and inscribing their rights, it did not mean that one either lived in a monarchy without rights or a republic with rights. Lots of monarchies allowed arrays of rights within them; lots of republics denied them, often to people who got "excluded" because they no longer belonged to the nation or the state -- and thus became stateless. To wit: the case of the Cherokee discussed in Track A this week. See how the wonderful team from Amman, called Palmyra, presented the case:

So, part of the deal in Prussia was to fight for the new nation of Prussia (a nation that was still very much in formation throughout the 18th century), with some hope that there would be a new age of integration, grandeur, and yes even recognition and rights thereafter. It's one of the paradoxes of the post-Napoleonic years that these same new nations -- Russia, Prussia, Austria -- new, in the sense that they were once empires or kingdoms, wound up being very repressive until later in the 19th century.

Your question, Sybs-1, reminds us that nationalism can emancipate and exclude at the same time. This will be a big theme for us to analyze this coming week.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from October 14th — Starting Week 5

Hello everyone:

With the instability came splendor and new modes of thinking. This allows us to think about something like the Enlightenment – curiosity, science, the drive to understand the laws of nature, and what makes humanity “universal” – very differently. Often seen as something that Europeans created on their own, here we can see it is a remarkable effect of global interactions. In this sense, East Asian dynamism (lecture 7) connects to empires and the Enlightenment (lecture 8). One might argue that global integration helped to fuel new understandings of mankind.

This is the context in which Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). As you know, this is a book to be reckoned with, and my students in Princeton and Geneva get barraged to read it. But The Wealth of Nations too was a product of global history. I have been reading this book over and over all my adult life as a source of insight into the world as well as a consequence of the world’s interactions. Here’s a copy of my edition.

We can think of many great books this way.

Speaking of books, this week we had some presentations that confronted the role of books in global integration. Have a look at two terrific reports from the University Geneva teams on Track B, which deal with how scientific knowledge enabled greater seaborne exchange, and how greater maritime exchange spurred the need for “new science.” Several of the Princeton teams also confronted this theme in Track D, where they talk about the ways in which Chinese and Europeans perceived each other, recorded these perceptions into books and documents, and these then framed the views of “the Other.” It was a mixed story of curiosity and disdain, interest and suspicion.

These processes also spurred the emergence of new state powers. If you read the presentations in Track C – look out for Tiger Traders’ for instance – the question of how long-distance trading companies fueled the making of European powerhouses is explored. This coming week’s lectures will look at how the escalation of Europe’s imperial competition globalized world war and revolution; but one might say that it was set in motion with the formation of the Dutch East Indies Company in 1602.

Finally, as Track A shows, the formation of centralized, imperial, states, from China to America, also had the effect of creating a global class of stateless people. These ranged from slaves – as previous weeks have shown – to “native” peoples in continental interiors, like inner Eurasia or as the presentations in Track A show, in the United States. Were native Americans, like the Cherokee, made stateless by the expansion of the US? Check out the presentations to explore this topic.

This week’s presentations are wonderful. They really add to what we can learn from global history by looking more closely at some case studies. Also, I appreciate all the commentaries that you have been sharing.

As you are moving into the next phase of your lab presentations, here are some skills I want you to practice and refine.

    1. Answer the challenge question with an argument based on evidence from the lectures and documents as your foundation. Some of the presentations are wonderful collages of information. But the evidence should also service an argument or explanation of the problem at hand. Here’s a suggestion: state your argument or explanation at the start of your presentation. Grab our attention with YOUR idea. Compel us with YOUR argument. Engage us with YOUR position. Then have the evidence flow in a way that develops your team’s opening statement.
    2. Engage with the documents. While the internet and books are fabulous resources, we want you to use the voices or images from the past. That is the point of using primary documents. Use them. Here’s a specific suggestion: if you don’t have quotes or references to the images (or even the images embedded) in your presentation, you are not yet connecting the past to our present. Try using quotes and/or images from your primary documents.
    3. Where possible, use a concept. This is something we are working on a lot with students at Princeton and Geneva. Your arguments and evidence will come to life by using some of the framing ideas. Here are a few examples: division of labour, conquest, perceptions and assumptions about “other” people, empire and state structures. As this course proceeds, the conceptual webbing is going to thicken. So, I want you to try out using and applying concepts in your presentations to give you a solid foundation for what’s to come. Here’s a suggestion: in your teams, after you have read the lab materials, decide among yourselves which of the big concepts or ideas you want to experiment with, then figure out what your argument is, and then marshal your evidence. Try it all out on your big audience, including me. Using concepts is also a very good way to frame your argument – as Point 1 suggests above. These are all strategies to help you argue, engage, and frame. (Call them my Three Commandments for this week).

Next week, we will explore the consequences of several centuries of imperial competition and the explosion of scientific learning about the world. The effects will be a worldwide revolution and the release of new energies for expansion and integration. How much did the age of revolutions and the rise of nation states change the balance of world order? How much did they fundamentally change it?

I am looking forward to learning more!


Jeremy Adelman

Email from October 10th — Starting Week 4

Hello everyone:

This letter is a bit delayed because I spent the weekend in a workshop about the future of “the history course.” Some of you may know that enrollments in history courses in the United States – and possibly around the world – have been declining for about 20 years. There are many arguments about why. The same applies to the study of literature, philosophy, and what we call the humanities. But people were very curious to hear about how this course was trying to reverse the course of history – and I showcased some of your amazing work on the gallery as examples of how we can be engaged in learning about the past in new and exciting ways. (I should add, at the same time, that the data for this year is that history enrollments in the United States have been surging all over the country, largely, we think as a reaction to the way recent politics have set off disputes about the past and historical memory).

This week we made a great advance in the course. First, there are 34 complete presentations up on the Gallery site. That’s very impressive! And I see that many of you have ventured into the Gallery site and left comments. Thank you for all your contributions to global learning! Below, I will give you some suggestions about how to leave constructive feedback in the Gallery.

We move forward into a new phase in global history. We have explored the effects that Europe’s encounter and conquest of the New World had on the wider Afro-Eurasian system of exchange. We have also looked at some of the disastrous consequences for Native peoples and Africans. One of the important dimensions explored by the presentations in Track A on the history of statelessness looks at the ways in which integration also created inequality. This week’s topic asked whether the Catholic Church of Brazil played the function of a State in a slave society? Did religion make slaves less the subjects of the power of their masters. I would draw your attention in particular the several wonderful presentations, especially by teams in Camp Kakuma in Kenya and a team of learners in Amman Jordan, called “Palmyra.”

Another index of how integration creates divides is in the story of how Europeans began to “bio-prospect” in the tropics, extracting indigenous knowledge about plants to turn them into modern medicines. Look at Track B and the presentations from learners in Geneva.

Two other ways in which integration created global stratification was in the opening of the silver trade from Mexico to China (in the Track D) and in the Portuguese penetration of India in the early 16th century (Track C). There you will see the Princeton teams at work, among the many others.

What unifies the themes of these presentations? Integration also created instability. The world, as so many of the Gallery presentations illustrate, began to shrink. Societies became more connected with each other. Global trade and competition between states also had the effect of deepening the tensions between rivals. We will see how this topic unfolds in the next two lectures and this week’s case studies.

Last week, I started a Professor’s Forum on the global effects of 1492, and we engaged (almost 60 posts!) in a lively discussion about how 1492 transformed the world even as it created new hierarchies and inequalities. How to explain the richness and exploitation at the same time? Was it the printing press that made Europe unique, or the “windfall” of the resources of New World? These resources were both natural and human. What mattered more?

This week, I will launch another Forum: it is about how global integration produced growing state power AND growing statelessness at the same time. Why did this happen? What kinds of states flourished as a result of early globalization? Here we will explore the origins of the paradox of our times. I hope we can also invite the learners in Kenya and Jordan to join this conversation. I will call this post “Integration and Power.” Check it out:

This coming week you will be venturing into Gallery space and leaving comments and contributing to each other’s learning. This is an opportunity for you interact and learn from each other. As you leave comments, consider the following:

    1. What did you learn from this presentation? Give us your take-aways.
    2. How did the presenters engage with the sources of the case study?
    3. What do you think is missing? Was the context clear? Could the documents be better used?
    4. What did you think about the exposition or style of presentation? What suggestions do you have for this team for the next assignment?

Remember: be helpful; be constructive. We are here to learn from each other. The world is full of rancor and resentment. But our course about the world doesn’t have to share those traits. The best feedback is supportive yet suggestive – it helps colleagues improve their teamwork for the next lab assignment.

With best wishes for the week,

Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 30th — Starting Week 3

Hello everyone:

We are at the point in world history in which the causes and consequences of Europe’s “discovery” of the Americas remapped global relations, a discovery that led to encounters, conquests, and integration. As we will see in later lectures, these processes continued to unfold – and some would say are on-going. Some would say, in fact, that only now are we finally closing the book on fusing the American biome to the Afro-Eurasian one. Among the long-term legacies was human dependence on extensive natural resources as well as new practices of unfree labor.

So: joining the Americas to the Afro-Eurasian networks and polities had profound immediate and long-term repercussions.

Nowadays, the world is engulfed in a polarized debate about trade and integration. Let’s take a historical look at the issues. I started a thread under “Professor’s Forum” in the Discussion section. Did 1492 kick off modern globalization? We’ll debate that question in this here:

I will log in to that forum to engage your questions and positions.


This is also the week in which we upload and follow team presentations! If you go to the “Course” page, then click on “Go to Assignment Lab” you will be carried to our Gallery where team presentations are showcased. Have a look. Read them; leave comments! Look out for the presentations from the Princeton (popular keyword: Tigers, the University mascot), and two from Geneva (well-done Geneva teams!).

The Gallery is an opportunity for you to learn from and with each other, which is an important principle of this course. Remember, we are learning this artform; in a world overflowing with rancor and suspicion, let’s change the tone in this Gallery.

Here are some tips on leaving comments and suggestions:

    1. Be constructive. If you have a criticism, share it. But also share a solution to the problem. It’s harder to learn from criticism if it’s not forward-looking.
    2. Be engaging. Think about what the presenter is trying to argue. Don’t just offer your own position, clever as it might be. It’s important to learn to listen to others.
    3. Be encouraging. Putting “stuff” out there for others to read is a brave act; you are willing to put your voice and views on the line. So, let’s respect each other’s voices. Remember, a lot of people are doing this for the very first time in their lives, most of them are not native English-speakers. So, even if a presentation falls short, we point out the shortcomings AND remind our co-learners that we are looking forward to their next presentation because there is always something to learn.

When comments come in, the person who uploaded the presentation will receive an email notification. He or she should let others know in your group communication that there’s a comment or more.

I started to read the presentations, and have a few tips for next week’s crop (which will be larger):

    1. Frame. Answer the challenge question with an argument and tell us why your argument is important for understanding the history of the world. Grab our attention with YOUR idea. Compel us with YOUR argument. Engage us with YOUR position. What is a division of labor? What models of conquest or encounter were available for expanding systems? Your arguments and evidence will come to life by using some of the concepts we have been exploring in this course. Here’s a suggestion: after you have read the lab materials, decide among yourselves which of the big concepts you want to experiment with, then figure out what your argument is, and then marshal your evidence. Try it out on your big audience, including me.
    2. Engage the documents. Be historians. While the internet and books are fabulous resources, we want you to wrestle with the challenge of how to take voices or images from the past and render them into analyses for the present. I want to make sure that you practice the challenges – and the frustrations – of making sense of views from other times and places than our own. Obviously, I don’t want you not to bring in extra material; but don’t miss what you have at your disposal. Here’s a specific suggestion: if you don’t have quotes or references to the images (or even the images embedded) in your presentation, you are not yet connecting the past to our present. Don’t forget to use your narrative mapping exercises to ensure that you are fluent with your primary documents.
    3. Contextualize. Set the stage. What is happening in the world at the time of your case study – and how does your case study help illuminate global processes of exchange, expansion, and social learning? Here’s a specific suggestion: in your opening tell us about two happenings elsewhere in the world at the time of your case. Then, in your conclusion, tell us the repercussions of what you have studied in the global context. Point to some specific examples, if you can. This will close the loop between the context before and after your case study.

So, that’s our mantra for this week. Frame with a concept, engage your sources, and contextualize. Try these out in the lab and let’s see what we produce.

One last thought on teamwork. It’s hard. Sometimes, really hard. We are all approaching this course from different corners of the planet, from different time zones, and oftentimes with competing claims on our time. Teammates have to be mindful of this diversity. Collaborative work also invariably creates problems known as “free riding.” (where some teammates coast on the work of others). Let’s try hard to overcome that problem – while being aware of the hurdles.

Diversity is what makes this course so unique; it is also what makes it a challenge.

Here are some suggestions:

For the more active teammates, bear with the teammates that have less time to devote. If you are an editor and have drafted a presentation, ask for specific suggestions (find a quote from document X, or write a line about image Y). Sometimes, it is easier to collaborate with the tasks are specified and bounded.

For the teammates who want to be involved but can’t log in everyday, tell your teammates about your constraints and tell them when you will be setting aside the time(s) to jump into the lab. Then, stick to your commitments and enjoy them when you do. Reserve an hour on Thursday evenings, or an hour on Saturday mornings. But just be clear with your teammates about when they can count on you.

It’s all about managing communications and expectations.

So, let’s learn together. Check out the Gallery space. Leave your thoughts behind. Get into the 1492 thread and let’s debate there. And enjoy collaborating.

Now I am looking forward to learning more from you!


Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 23th

Hello everyone:

This week marks an important transition in our course, from getting to know each other to getting down to work! Now, it is time to take our efforts to the next level. There are 75 teams ready to produce presentations for the whole learning community. We are thus moving quickly into a new phase of global education. Thank you to everyone in Princeton, Geneva, Jordan, Kenya and beyond, for pulling this together!

First, as a group, we shift to learning together by collaborating. Starting tonight (Princeton time), we roll out two lectures plus lab assignments. You can real the materials at your leisure if you are auditing the course. Those of you who are going to apply your learning in teams will now have your first case studies.

For students who are not in Princeton or Geneva, the expectation is that you will work on one case study every two weeks (this is what earns a statement of accomplishment). However, knowing some teams in the past, some of you will be striving to do one per week! I leave that up to you. But so you know, the Princeton and Geneva students will be producing one presentation per week – so, be sure to look out for the kind of work we do at “home.”

Second, we have already started to learn collaboratively. It began with the Bellini Assignment. And it’s also alive in the discussion forum. There, we have been debating whether photographs have helped or hindered global understanding. There have been many illuminating posts, and it's well worth following and engaging:

There is one timely post from Kathia_ZN from Mexico, reflecting on images of the recent earthquake in Mexico. She tells the story of one report of a girl trapped in the rubble, in which the footage of rescuers frantically working -- but it turns out there was never a girl in that rubble. So, the distributors of the image change its original meaning. Why they did that is what I mean by being active observers, "beholders," applying the critical skills we use in texts to images. Thank you Kathia -- and we all hope your family and friends are safe. One suggestion on the use of these discussion forums. Be sure to post your thread under the correct label (General, Current Events, Assignments etc). This will make sure that there is some organization to our use of the forums. There is also a good emerging discussion started by jhberman in response to one of the lectures, about the political aftermath of the crises of the 13th and 14th centuries.

Third, there is a theory behind this method of underlying teamwork: to make us more inter-dependent in our learning.

This is important. As we become inter-dependent in our learning, we will be exploring how the world became more inter-dependent – in a way, we are embarking on the uneven and often difficult pathways to our current globalization.

As the world became more inter-dependent, it also became more unequal. It is a paradox sown into the nature of integration, and I will spin this thread into a wider tapestry as the weeks go by.

But for now, consider this: the inequality started with a violent process of integrating the Americas – a world apart – into the Afro-Eurasian commercial systems. This week, the lectures turn to the foundational changes unleashed by 1492. The world was never the same afterwards; the consequences for the Americas and its peoples were, as you will see, wrenching. Not all forms of global integration are peaceable. Some involve a scale of violence of horrific proportions. But the incorporation of the Americas also had profound consequences for the Old Worlds.

Fourth, let me end with some practical issues. Since these are your first lab projects, I will be intrigued by your contributions. Remember, work in teams and solve your challenges together. There are no “right” answers to any of the questions, but compelling interpretations based on the materials you have. As you will see, there is a lot of explanatory text to make the reading or gazing accessible.

Here are a few tips.

    1. No need to spend a lot of time looking at extensive references beyond what we provide. In the past, some teams felt the need to put a lot of citations and references. Or to do a lot of extra online research. I do not discourage this. But it is also not necessary. Try to focus on the materials we have provided for you.
    2. Some text materials start mid-way into a page as we have copied the sources into PDF’s or used online sources. We’ve indicated which page to start at, but it’s not always clear which paragraph. Always start where there’s a section break with a subtitle OR the first full paragraph.
    3. Oftentimes, indeed as much as possible, we’ve indicated where you can get background material for a subject from the textbook. But since the textbook is optional, I am hoping that (1) someone from the team might have access to it, or (2) you won’t feel that this is an impossible hurdle. You make do with what we have been able to provide online – and do the best you can. Certainly, don’t drop the Lab if you don’t have the text.
    4. What mode a presentation? It’s true, I have asked you to upload presentations. But they can take many forms. Some of you will submit text only. That’s fine. Some may include images. Some of you even will use videos. You are free to use multiple forms of media.
    5. Review the Submission Guidelines. A team leader should upload your team's case study presentation by the due date, Friday, September 29 by 22:00 EDT. If the team leader is unavailable to submit the presentation, someone else on the team should be designated to do so.
    6. Have fun; remember, we are all learning from each other.

Things don’t have to be perfect the first time around. But you will learn from the group, and you will learn once the assignments are posted and you can view and comment on each other’s work – and let those exchanges (a keyword in this course!) shape your future presentation. As we go along, your teams will work become more proficient at teamwork and the assignments will get richer and richer. Just think of where we started out!

Some of you have asked for information about the “we” that we have become. There are now over 1,650 enrolled from 98 different countries. The largest bloc, 32%, comes from the United States (this just means they are registered in the US; many of these are not necessarily US citizens). The next bloc is from India (4%), then Brazil (4%), Canada (3.4%), and then a bunch around 2.5% (Germany, UK, Australia, Switzerland, France) and 2.2% from Jordan and 2.1% from Russia. We are a very global group!

Have a great week.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 18th

Hello everyone:

It’s so exciting to see your conversations unfold about the images you produced for the Bellini assignment. I have been gradually making my way through the hundreds of submissions. If I don’t get to all of you it’s only because there are so many! Here are a couple of general observations.

First of all, the range is astonishing. We have a gallery of paintings and photos from every corner of the planet. With that come examples of what world history looks like from different angles. So many of the images you chose dealt with stories and icons of making a collage of collective identities. Often-times, it's war that makes these identities. Phatima Mohamad posted a moving image of "Homecoming" by the German painter, Buhler, about soldiers returning to families after the carnage and the emotion of recovering a place in the world. A number of you posted images related to the events of September 11, 2001 -- and noted that the images had significance not just for Americans, but world wide, and including Muslims. Your interventions are reminders that there were victims in many places of that horrible day. And MaNo83 posted something under the title "The Absurdity of War" -- a photo of an elephant in a French zoo being dragged into use in World War 1. Atrocities, appeasement, battle scenes, redemption, and cruelty are populating the gallery, which I take as a symptom of shared concern about tensions in the world nowadays -- but, possibly, how war unites and divides at the same time; it creates new shared identities and dissolves others.

These comprise the variety of group identities created as humans learned to live together on – and occasionally fight over – the planet. As our course develops, we need to be mindful that the very same process – a war, global economic integration – can have different meanings seen from different vantages. It is one of the challenges to thinking globally.

Another theme I saw emerge was of slavery; many paintings, photos and portraits of the way in which unfree labor shaped the global past -- and its present. Here too, I hear echoes of concern about the ways in which global integration can also create unfreedoms and deeper social divides. It is one of the paradoxes we'll have to reckon with: how more inter-dependence has sometimes created more division. The issue of slavery will also be important, as you will see, as we address the deeper history of statelessness and the longer-term origins of the current global migration crisis.

Thanks to so many of you who posted such wonderful photographs. As you know, I have been thinking about the history of photographic images, and the role they play in creating an imagination of the world and it's far-away places. I have learned so much from the gallery that I need to re-visit some of my own ideas!

This week, you are forming teams to get ready for the release of the first module (lectures 3-6 and the first pair of case studies). We have 60 teams already formed, all very nicely distributed across all four tracks -- though War and Peace, as one might expect from the evidence in the Gallery, is the most popular.

I should alert you that some teams are "closed" – specifically the teams comprised of Princeton University and University of Geneva undergraduates, and the teams in the learning hubs in Kenya and Jordan. So, these are teams you can't unfortunately join voluntarily because we will be grading these students for university credit. If you are looking for an open team, you can go into the Discussion section where there are a number of threads of fellow learners meeting up. Or you can go into the Teams section and look at the teams that have already been formed by track – and see which ones have room.

We are capping teams at 7 members each; our experience is that more than that and they can get unwieldly.

Two more final points:

First, please add photos to your profile and say something about yourself in your profile; it helps team-mates to choose each other.

Finally, edX has me profiled as JeremyIan for some reason, so those of you who are in conversation with me can know who it person behind the name is.

I hope you are enjoying Lectures 1 and 2. The discussion thread in the Professor's Forum on photographs is also full of fascinating insights and interventions, so be sure to check out the global conversation unfolding there. Later this week, I will post a new topic for discussion.

Have a wonderful week.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 14th

Hello everyone:

Two quick announcements.

First, many of you are eager to get started, so we are going to release the first pair of lectures a day early, on Friday 22:00 EDT instead of Saturday. This is one-time only because some of you have already been involved in the Gallery exchanges and have your teams set and would like to start watching lectures.

Second, I am so impressed by the exchanges happening in the Gallery, especially around the photographs. There has been a long-standing debate about whether photos create accurate portraits of far-away events, especially in wars and atrocities. Do photos help us understand? Or do they confuse? In the age of "fake news" and social media, should we worry about the political use of photographs?

Let's discuss this in an online Forum in this course. First, read the essay linked below, which I just published on the history of humanitarian photography:

Then, go to this discussion forum under "Professor's Forum" and leave your thoughts. Tell us what you think. What's your experience?

I will be responding to your comments.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 12th

Hi everyone:

Just a quick note. It's Tuesday; we are only a few days into the course. But already the Gallery is full of learners' submissions of the "Bellini" Assignment. The digital spread of images is truly awesome and global. Even if you don't want to upload an image and introduce yourself, you can start learning global history by exploring the Gallery that your fellow learners have created.

It's easy. On the main "Course" page, you will see the Bellini Assignment highlighted in the menu. Click it. The scroll down the page to Step 3, which takes you to the Assignment Lab -- it will open up a separate window, and there you will see the Gallery open up. (Each week, the Gallery space opens up as a separate window).

Here are just a few highlights. There's a fabulous photo of Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, a great drawing of "To All Artists!" by Max Pechstein, images of two 9-11's, one in New York in 2001 and one in Chile, in 1973. There's a photo of a Free Mandela (we'll get to him later in the course) rally, and a portrait of Father Vieira in Brazil (we'll get to him too!). The first Russian female astronaut, Valentina Tershkova, and Quentin Matsys' painting, "The Moneylender and His Wife". And there's even an epic painting by Juan Manuel Blanes of the Uruguayan struggle for independence. I could go on and on... If you want to know more about these scenes, and what they mean to others around the world, go to the Gallery. Be sure to leave comments and questions for each other in the dialogue boxes below.

Remember, if you want to participate, this assignment is due by Sunday September 17th at 22:00 EDT.

Once you have done that, proceed to finding or creating your team. But the Bellini does create dialogue boxes under the posts for you to exchange ideas and to get to know each other, and even start to form teams there.

Jeremy Adelman

Email from September 10th

Welcome to the Global History Lab!

Greetings! I am genuinely looking forward to getting started on this course with you. It will be exciting and innovative; we will chart new educational territory. And we are going to learn a lot about our planet together after the course opens on September 9th.

This is a course I have been teaching for many years at Princeton; it is still a Princeton course. Many Princeton students will be with you working on the same materials you are, following the same lectures and discussions. In this sense, ours is a Princeton course gone global and the world brought into a Princeton course. Here's a short welcome video:

As I write, there are about 1,300 students from 92 different countries enrolled. Among them are teams of displaced learners in hubs we have created with partners from the University of Geneva’s InZone project, which runs higher education initiatives in emergency zones in Africa and the Middle East. I am grateful to my friend and collaborator, Professor Barbara Moser-Mercer, and her associates for helping mount learning hubs in refugee camps in Jordan and Kenya, and in the city of Amman. A warm welcome to the students who will be joining us from there and helping us learn global history together. We have an open thread for students to introduce themselves. There will also be an opportunity to "meet-and-greet" with what we call the Bellini Assignment (see below).

This is the fifth time I have taught this course online, and the second time on the edX platform. With the help of a fabulous behind-the-scenes support team, we have really harnessed the possibilities of new digital media to good old-fashioned intensive classroom collaboration.

For starters, spend some time exploring and familiarize yourself with our course site, note the schedule and different tabs.

As we proceed, the course will have some basic components.

  1. A series of lectures, rolled out in modules. They will be posted early Saturday night Princeton (New York) time in pairs, so you can watch two lectures per week.
  2. A textbook written specifically for this course by a team of Princeton-based authors with chapters aligned per week. The lectures and the text will give you foundations and background. Note: the textbook is an option for those who want to expand their knowledge of global history. It is not required. If you buy it, you can choose any edition (the book tends to get better with each new edition), but be sure to buy only Volume 2. If you want to get a copy, the easiest is to order it online via Amazon or your favorite bookstore. Or urge your local library to get a copy. Or there is an "e-book" version on the W W Norton (publisher) website:
  3. To deepen what you learn, we will be asking you to apply knowledge in case studies comprised of primary documents selected from the global past. These will be posted weekly along with the lectures. Case studies have been organized into four thematic tracks, (1) statelessness, (2) war and peace, (3) trade and integration, and (4) science, medicine and global health. Consider choosing one theme for the duration of the course, and follow the Gallery space to see how your team-mates tackle other themes. This year, we will allow students to form teams of one. We recognize that coordinating around the planet can be difficult, so we are opening this option. But for those with the time and inclination, creating and participating in group teams with fellow learners is a deep way to learn globally.

How do you get to know each other to start forming teams and exchange views? When the course opens on September 9th, you will be invited to engage in a preliminary exercise. This will familiarize you with the interactive mode of the course, and allow you to establish a profile so students can seek each other out to form teams. We call this “The Bellini Assignment” because you each choose an image from the global past (which includes yesterday) and tell us why it is important to you. I happened to choose a painting by the Bellini brothers. You will post your selections on the course’s discussion forum. Just follow this link:

As you upload your own image and tell us what this image means to you, we will be posting these as they come in. So, be sure to check out the Gallery site of the course to see each others' postings and to open dialogues!

With the Bellini Assignment and two lectures, we begin to get to know each other, form teams by Sunday September 17th. Then we get down to work together.

The course site has further instructions about lab activities, the weekly readings, and the schedule for the lectures. All will be explained as we go.

Some of you are eager to get started. The easiest step would be to begin with watching the lectures and tackling the Bellini Assignment.

Again, a warm welcome. I look forward to getting to know you in the coming weeks!

Jeremy Adelman