International Studies
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International Studies

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Issues

Stanley Toops, Mark Allen Peterson, Walt Vanderbush, Naaborle Sackeyfio, Sheldon Anderson

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eBook - ePub

International Studies

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Issues

Stanley Toops, Mark Allen Peterson, Walt Vanderbush, Naaborle Sackeyfio, Sheldon Anderson

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About This Book

This book provides a much-needed classroom text in international studies that is genuinely interdisciplinary in its approach.

International Studies focuses specifically on five core disciplines; history, geography, anthropology, political science and economics, and describes them in relation to one another, as well as their individual and collective contributions to the study of global issues. The expert authors also emphasize the continuing importance of area studies within an interdisciplinary and global framework, applying its interdisciplinary framework to substantive issues in seven regions: Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, South and Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and North America. This new edition has been completely updated and substantially revised with two new chapters on Media, Sovereignty and Cybersecurity and Sustainable Development.

This disciplinary and regional combination offers a useful and cohesive framework for teaching students a substantive and comprehensive approach to understanding global issues.

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Part One

The Disciplines of International Studies

Chapter 1

The Past in the Present

Historical Interpretation in International Studies

DOI: 10.4324/9781003028314-3
The word history comes from the Greek (ἱστορία) meaning “inquiry”. In current language, a history means a narrative, helping us to understand what happened and why it happened. In Chinese, history is 历史(lishi). “Li” refers to a chronicle, the traditional version of the character shows sheaves of grain counted from season to season. “Shi” is a narrative, a writing, the character shows a stack of books bound together. So, from Greek, we have an inquiry and, from Chinese, a writing of a chronicle. Historical inquiry combines all of the disciplines of international studies. Historians use geographical, economic, political, cultural, and any other relevant sources—regardless of their disciplinary category—to create an accurate portrayal of the past. History teaches students to evaluate evidence, consider contradictory interpretations, and construct coherent narratives. History is a useful way to understand human experiences and the patterns of change within society.
The study of history, in contrast to other disciplines in international studies, is part of the humanities. Economics, anthropology, geography, and political science are generally thought of as social sciences; anthropology and geography also have elements of the natural sciences. History has connections to the social sciences, many colleges and universities link history to the social sciences. In international studies, we study the histories of countries, global events, and people to gain an understanding of current issues around the world.

What Is History?

In 2003, author Bill Bryson wrote a thin volume called A Short History of Nearly Everything. On the one hand, the irony in Bryson’s title is obvious, but on the other, there is a commonly held notion that history is everything that has happened in the past. That would be a very long book indeed. The past disappears if no one remembers it or passes it along. History is a written, oral, or visual reconstruction and interpretation of past human endeavors based on available sources.
Students often use the slang phrase “you’re history” in the same way they think about history, that it is something over and done with. The historian’s task is to revisit the past again and again, scrutinize histories for their veracity, and use new sources of information to verify, add to, or revise them.
The Oxford English Dictionary has several definitions of history. “The branch of knowledge that deals with past events; the formal record or study of past events, esp. human affairs.” “A written narrative constituting a continuous chronological record of important or public events” (OED, 2020). History does utilize sources, often sources that are written, but the sources can also be spoken, of people’s memories of past events. History deals with when and what happened, but also why it happened.
The ancient Greeks and Chinese both wrote histories of their worlds. Herodotus (484–425/414 BCE) was credited for being the Father of History by the Roman writer Cicero. Herodotus wrote The Histories about the wars of Greeks and the Persians, recounting perspectives from both Persians and Greeks. Herodotus was from Halicarnassus, a city populated by Greeks and Persians (what is now Bodrum in Turkey). As a young man, Herodotus travelled around the Mediterranean. Sima Qian (145–84 BCE) wrote the Records of the Grand Historian which covered two thousand years of history of China up to his time. He was from Shaanxi province north of the capital of Chang’an (modern day Xi’an) of the Han Dynasty. Sima traveled around China as a young man and was sent to the lands west of China with a military expedition. Sima became a Confucian scholar and, like his father Sima Tan, the historian of the imperial court. Both of these early historians reviewed sources, both traveled around their worlds, both wrote early histories of their peoples and “neighbors” and both completed systematic investigations of the past events of their times. Sima Qian did not write about Greece and Persia. Herodotus did not write about China (Martin 2010). Historians today may be able to write about both Europe and Asia. Some historians today might have command of both Greek and Chinese languages and familiarity with both The Histories and Records of the Grand Historian in the original languages. Most historians would probably specialize in a history of a particular time and place, for example the ancient Mediterranean or ancient China.
There is no agreed-upon record of the past. Historians can come to some consensus on what was a major event and when it took place, such as natural disasters, economic depressions, or wars, but they differ on questions of causation, interpretation, and significance. History resembles a criminal trial: detectives compile evidence, and prosecutors use it to reconstruct the crime. Defense lawyers then call witnesses to revise that version of history. The reasonable-doubt standard for conviction always applies to any history.
Historians usually remembered the exploits of major political and religious leaders, such as Alexander the Great of Macedonia in the fourth century BCE or Emperor Charlemagne in the late eighth century CE. Written histories were often tales of war and imperial victories or defeats. Family histories traced the lineage of important historical figures, for example, the dynastic succession of ancient Roman or Chinese emperors, or the popes of the Catholic Church. Bureaucracies and legal standards were built on keeping records of past practices.
Until the late twentieth century, political history dominated the profession. From Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century BCE to Edward Gibbon’s late-eighteenth-century History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, most historians studied the political fortunes of the most powerful members of society, most of them men. Many histories were panegyrics to glorify and justify the rule of the dominant political classes. The history of religion and ideas provided the spiritual and philosophical foundations of temporal power. Historical accuracy played a secondary role to the narrative’s didactic purpose.
Influenced by the humanism and rational thinking of Renaissance and Enlightenment scholars, as well as by the rapid technological changes of modern industrial society, some nineteenth-century historians in the West championed a new empirical approach to history. Karl Marx devised a political-economic theory of history based on the “scientific” truth of class conflict (Figure 1.1). German historian Leopold von Ranke claimed to write history “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist,” or history “as it really was.” Von Ranke and fellow positivists tried to inject the scientific method into the process of writing history. They called for histories based on empirical evidence and historical objectivity. Reference notes cued the reader to the documents used to prove the truth of the history. To reflect this change in the approach to studying history, many history departments shifted from the humanities to the social sciences during the twentieth century.
Figure 1.1Karl Marx.
Source: Library of Congress.
The Rankean model came under increased fire after World War II, when revisionist history began to question the “scientific truth” of history. Revisionists claimed, often correctly, that conventional histories about the past were myths intended to foster a sense of national unity and national pride. They revealed that many stories of the past manipulated historical facts and ignored non-dominant perspectives. In the United States, revisionists laid bare the lies that the Johnson and Nixon administrations told about the Vietnam War. Civil-rights advocates demanded a truer version of the past to reflect the dismal treatment of minorities in American history. In Europe, historians exposed the brutality of imperial rule, state violence against working classes, and, in light of the Holocaust, Europe’s endemic anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies. Historians examine and re-examine new evidence to reframe the past, or to confirm previous accounts (Arnold, 2000).
Today, postmodernist historians deny the existence of any objective histories. They argue that the past cannot be recovered and that no narrative can be an accurate reflection of what actually transpired. Like impressionist and expressionist art, they consider history to be a partial and particular depiction of reality as the creator creates it or the audience perceives it. Observed from different angles and distances, and under different kinds of light, the image changes.
Postmodernists emphasize the cultural mediation of historical memory; in some ways, they argue, historical narratives reveal more about the author’s beliefs and cultural milieu than history “as it really was.” Historians are the filter through which the past is constructed. They bring their own personal, national, or class biases to the trade. They are carried along by the stream of human history, and they influence the cultural context and are influenced by it. Even video and film documentation is dependent on the framing, camera angle, and editing. Scenes can be staged, and in this age of computer imaging, entirely contrived. Because history is merely a representation of the past and is continually shaped and reshaped, postmodernists argue, there can be no objective historical truth.
Professional historians know this, but they still make a good-faith effort to use all relevant sources and write balanced narratives that come as close to the truth about the past as possible. Reliable histories depend on the skill and thoroughness of historians, the cogency of their logic, and conscious subordination of the biases that they bring to their work. Sources take good historians where they may not want to go. Writers who start with a premise, fit the sources to prove it, and ignore contrary evidence are more interested in polemical than historical discourse. The resolution of international disputes often depends on histories and historians dedicated to accurate renditions of the past.

Historians and Their Tools

The historian’s task is to garner all available relevant sources to construct a plausible story of the past. Historians scour archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories of documents and artifacts. They often gather data through interviews, although the passage of time limits their utility. Journalists are historians too, but short-term deadlines limit their access to relevant evidence. Historians benefit by drawing on a wider range of sources, although the clues to the historian’s case are always incomplete.
Historical data are often divided into two, somewhat subjective, categories. Primary sources include artifacts, diaries, letters, memoirs, e-mails, autobiographies, interviews, official documents, visual images, coins, stamps, demographic statistics, economic records, and polls. Primary sources are written by people and still show the biases and perspectives of the writer (Presnell 2019). Primary sources are direct evidence about the past from someone involved in the past event, without an intermediary’s interpretation. Theoretically, primary sources are raw objective data that are untainted by bias or the knowledge that historians will use them to construct a history. There is a fine line between primary and secondary sources, however, because it is often difficult to know what motives people had for leaving sources behind. For example, did the minute taker of an important foreign-policy planning session give an honest rendering of the meeting, or did that person intend to exaggerate the wisdom of the participants? Like a prosecuting attorney, the historian must search for other corroborating evidence to find the truth and decide which primary sources are most reliable.
Letters and diaries may seem to be direct and objective links to the past, but the authors often write them knowing that historians will read them later. Autobiographies are also written for posterity; authors are unlikely to provide critical self-examination of their lives. Eyewitness accounts, a staple in the journalist’s trade, provide very different pictures of a single event. The historian is well aware of the irony in the witness-stand pledge to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” There is no such thing. Taken at face value, statistics appear to be the most objective of all primary sources. But as any sociologist knows, statistics are only as good as the data from which they are derived. And even the most accurate statistics can be skewed to fit a political agenda.
Secondary sources are oral or written narratives derived from primary sources. Secondary sources are interpretations that draw on primary sources (Presnell 2019). The authors of newspaper articles, journal articles, and books gather sources to interpret what happened in the past. Secondary sources include books such as Vietnam: A New History (Goscha 2016), journal articles such as “The Ming Rejection of the Portuguese Embassy in 1517” (Fujitani 2016), websites such as Wonders of the African World (PBS) or film...

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