World History in the US: The Example of Teaching and Researching at the University of Chicago, Harvard and Columbia University 1918–1968

Naumann, Katja

In the USA, universal history or global history is written and taught mainly as history of civilization(s). In this form, it has enjoyed notable popularity in the course of the 20th century. Contrary to the newly found self-assurance of US American traditions and to the German admiration of a seemingly effortless rise to power, in the author’s opinion this history is longer, while also being more complex and a result of both the geopolitical and social needs of a rising world power and the specific institutional structures of the US American higher education system. The dissertation project examines the history of the institutional and textual formation of world history in the USA. The analysis aims at two fields of research and a general question: Within the framework of the methodological debates in world historical and global historical research, the aim is to contribute to a scarcely empirical debate on the limitations and problems of a conceptualization of world history as history of civilizations, and to analyse the consequences of a global historical point of view focused on cultural interconnections. Furthermore, the project intends to show the entanglement of world historiography and geopolitical interests and point out that this perspective – even if it claims to contribute to an intercultural understanding – is always affected by the country’s positioning in foreign policy. Within the field of research on the history of historiography, the analysis focuses on processes of institutionalization and their dependence on location, both on the national and on the local level. Over and above its main focus, this project delineates the clash of different patterns of territorialization within a specified range of cultural interpretations or academic historiographical world orders. The debate about world history as an academic field of knowledge is thus regarded as a mirror for the meshing and struggling of different spatial references, reflecting the evaluation of processes of nationalization, internationalization and globalization. The central question addressed in this study is with which contents, within which institutional structures and within which (geo-) political framework conditions was history of civilization constituted as a variant of world historiography in US American universities from 1918 until 1968? To answer this question, three universities will be examined: the University of Chicago (UoC), Harvard University, Cambridge (HU) and Columbia University, New York (CU). This relatively narrow approach using three examples will be broadened by the investigation of funding from several philanthropic foundations: the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Furthermore, the developments at colleges and history departments will be placed in a wider context by examining debates, important decisions and recommendations of the American Historical Association (AHA), the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and partly the Department of Education. The PhD project by Katja Naumann is supervised by Matthias Middell and Hannes Siegrist (Institute for the Study of Culture, University of Leipzig). It is funded by the DFG and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and will be continued in 2011.