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Response to Review no. 749

Iftekhar Iqbal’s review has the effect on me of a truly brilliant commentary – it makes me want to go back and write the book again. I think the outcome would be largely the same, but I would have to consider underscoring the fact that I see ‘world’ history and ‘global’ history as very distinct genres, having (for me) different value. Professor Iqbal’s statement ‘So, Crossley responds to her question, “how to tell a story without a center?”, through multiple stories with multiple centres. She seems to be happy about it, because she does not particularly strive to see a distinction or convergence between “global” and “world history”’ puzzles me.

The book is about narrative strategies used both in what I would call (along with Mazlish and others, whom I invoke in the book) ‘world’ and in what I would call ‘global’ histories; I note that on pp.106–7 I even call the words themselves antithetical. My conviction is that as a narrative strategy world history is coherent and accomplished (though still able to be extended to new narrative centers), while global history faces the continuing paradox of attempting to tell a story without a center. Of the two genres, I regard global history as the more important. It is also the more difficult, as some authors lean away from the materialist approach which, in the book, I regard as exemplified (though not perfected) by Andre Gunder Frank. The idea that I do not strive to see a distinction (convergence may be another question – it is true I do not see how they can converge) between world and global history is startling to me, and will be to many of the colleagues who have heard me going on about this, excessively, for years. Indeed the first edition of The Earth and its Peoples was distinguished for its conscious attempts to pursue ‘global’ in preference to ‘world’ history. I think it is possible that I muted the extremes of my opinions on this in order to present a more teachable text. But I have given Professor Iqbal the impression that world histories with multiple centers would be a satisfactory substitute for pursuing (if never achieving) a truly global history. So, anywhere I give that impression (I am still looking for the misbehaving passages) I would certainly rewrite to better suggest  – if not represent the degree of – my own convictions on this. Of course, we would still be dealing with genres, and narrative strategies; Professor Iqbal acutely cites my comments on language as a limit.

Cutting-edge directions in global history get pretty brief mention in the book, mostly because I was convinced that by the time the book came out, whatever I described would have been superseded by something I would then wish I had described instead. I hazily suggested the directions in which global history was tending, hopefully pointing at the ones that were more objective as contrasted to more cultural. When Professor Iqbal writes ‘Within the categorical limits set by herself, Crossley finds no broader space for issues like the evolution of the middle class, multinational corporations, or environmental resistance at the global level’, I’m sensing that I was not clear enough about the book’s emphasis on narrative strategies. I do believe that all those particular important issues would fit handily within the narrative categories I reviewed (in fact I think that the middle-class theme might have slipped into the ‘convergence’ section in the discussion of Jan Tinbergen), but in any event I do stress in the book that the narrative archetypes I identify and with which I then identify certain authors are heuristic, porous and fungible. I am hoping – along with Professor Iqbal, I think – that new strategies might indeed emerge from the pursuit of the ever-receding object of a truly global story.

I am grateful to Professor Iqbal not only for his searching and generous comments, but also his polite omission of the fact that there is a ridiculous typo on p.1 of the book, giving the wrong publication date for Wells’ Outline of History (a correct date is in the associated note, and there is more commentary on my errata page); this was corrected in later printings of the book. I close with thanks both to Professor Iqbal and to IHR’s journal for this wonderful method of increasing scholarly exchange.