Message-ID: <>
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 22:39:13 +0000
Sender: PHILosophy OF HIstory and theoretical history <PHILOFHI@YORKU.CA>
From: Nikolai S. Rozov <>
Organization: Novosibirsk State University
Subject: Re: Macrohistory? World history?

Macrohistory? World history?

Exchange between Whitney Howarth and Nikolai Rozov, 27–28 January 1999

On 27 Jan 99 whitney howarth <H-WORLD@H-NET.MSU.EDU> wrote:
From: Whitney Howarth, Northeastern University

Recently, an h-world post appeared from Nikolai Rozon requesting critics of Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah’s work Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social and Civilizational Change and another post appeared calling for panelists to join the upcoming SSHA conference to present papers on: Macrohistorical Dynamics.

The first of these posts canonize such Macrohistorian luminaries as St. Augistine, Ibn Kaldun, Karl Marx, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Antonio Gramsci, and Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar. It claims that presentations of macrohistorians focus on their personal biography, theory of knowledge, shape of history, stages of history, basic metaphors, causes and mechanisms of change, and visions of the future.

Though these descriptions seem a little vague to me, it does certainly sound like the same work that we world historians are up to, and thus, I’m confused. This leads me to resurect an old debate, and to offer a new query. . .

Do the names that we call ourselves (globalists, world historians, world-system analysts, world systems scholars, macrohistorians, or universalists) make a difference? Are we more or less united in our objectives to see connections and break the stunted static claims of nationalist scholars—or are we causing greater fragmentation by the devices we invent and to which we claim title?

World history is a new field struggling for acceptance and recognition—and sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if we are doing it a dis-service with our inventiveness.

Dear Whitney and All,

I feel myself responsible to answer your question because it was my (with Andrey Korotayev and Steve Sanderson) incentive to start new panels (1997) and since 1998 a new network in Social Science History Association: ’Macrohistorical Dynamics’.

I understand very good your anxiety because I hate myself the trends of inventing new and new narrow specialities and self-isolating of academics in them with aggressive reaction on each attempt to cross a boundary.

I dare to claim that the case with ’macrohistorical dynamics—world history’ (further MD, WH) does not belong to this fruitless trend.

From my viewpoint WH as a field of inquiry and teaching is a very wide, new but nevertheless normal and fullscale HISTORICAL discipline; though it implies general theories (like w-s analysis, civilizationism, etc) but at the same time the focus of historical work is the same as in other historical disciplines: to reveal facts, to connect them and to create correspondent narrative.

MD, in the contrary does not belong only to history but it is also a part of philosophy of history, macrosociology, geopolitics, cultural studies, international relations, social and cultural anthropology, etc. In fact it is an interdisciplinary area that is needed just in order to connect previously isolated fields, and by no means to create one more closed box.

I agree that the very term of macrohistory may seem vague but it does not mean that the subject of this field cannot be conceptualized rather clearly and precisely.

MD really has a rather large intersection with WH in the common object or area of study (the whole human history from prehistorical times of first Homo Sapience Sapience to our days and in global scale). At the same time the main task of MD is not in revealing facts and providing total narrative (the tradition of McNeill,1963) but rather to construct and test theories that can explain (and in ideal predict) major long-term changes, trends, cycles, and systemic transformations in human history.

I prefer to originate this tradition in Kant’s fundamental paper in the Idea of History (1784) but one can remember Ibn-Khaldun, Vico, Bodin, Montesquie, Condorcet, Turgot, Herder, Hegel, Voegelin and many others.

Works of K.Marx, M.Weber, E.Durkheim, W.Pareto, N.Danilevsky, O.Spengler, P.Sorokin, R.Merton, A.Kroeber, L.White, B.Malinowski, M.Harris, Bagby, Coulborn, C.Quigley, A.Gramsci, K.Jaspers, N.Elias, T.Parsons, D.Bell, W.Rostow, S.Eisenstadt, R.Carneiro, S.Rokkan, E.Gellner, A.Toffler, J.Goudsblom, A.Stinchcombe, F.Spier, S.Sanderson, C.Chase-Dann, Th.Hall, D.Wilkinson, G.Snooks, D.Little, G.Modelski, Ch. Tilly, Th.Skocpol, J.Goldstone, J.Foran, J.Galtung, D.Chirot, Ch.Ragin, R.Collins et al— they are all divided among boxes of history, anthropology, sociology, economics, philosophy of history, etc. but should I prove that they all deal with the same rather wide but definite theoretical field? One can call it theoretical history, macrohistorical sociology, or (the theoretical study of) macrohistorical dynamics (MD), what’s wrong with it?

There is no harm in new names, the harm is in mutual distrust and isolation.

Take into account that this field of MD essentially differs from a real core WH in tradition of Ranke, Braudel, McNeill, Ph.Curten, Chaudhuri, M.Adas, J.Bentley, P.Manning and majority of members in H-World. Differs but not isolates. Such authors as A.Toynbee, A.Frank, Wallerstein, E.Wolf, Landes, E.Jones, J.Abu-Lughod, B.Mazlish, P.Anderson and many others write world history (or its important parts) but in fact they are mostly concerned with explanation of long-term and systemic changes in history (=MD), labeling it by various specific names (world-system analysis, global history, etc. that are with no doubt also legitimate).

My own care concerning MD is to fill it maximally by theoretical thinking, by which i mean old good nomological tradition that has been presented best of all by Carl Hempel and Imre Lakatos. Having been severely criticized and almost rejected by analytical philosophers of history and historians in 1950-1970, this tradition only in recent years has proved its intellectual power (the most bright result was theoretical prediction by R. Collins (1980-86) of collapse of Soviet Empire (Warsaw block and USSR).

WH always will be the main empirical basis for theoretical MD studies. From the other side WH also needs MD for structurizing, integration, explanation overwhelming pools of historical facts.

I even think that it would be very useful to include some general theoretical MD pieces on major principles, structures, laws of MD and social evolution in each WH compendium and in each WH university course. Believe me, readers and students if provided by such general conceptual patterns will accept much more smoothly and with much more enthusiasm the whole following bulk of one damned event after another.

I really hope that world historians who are so strong in bridging things, not in isolating them, will support this old-new field of MD.

MD is by no means a rival, but a theoretical part of their discipline through which WH can and should be connected with very wide outer intellectual activities.

thanks, and welcome to submit papers to MD network (choose ’paper proposal’)

Nikolai Rozov