Review Essay: Caribbean History and its Relevance to Global History

By Jerome Teelucksingh,  The University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago

Global History has been constructed as a research tool which is interdisciplinary, multinational and cross-cultural. Wolf Schafer believed Global History is “the unwritten history of the twentieth history.”  He sought to distinguish between World History and Global History. The latter was viewed as “a new and distinctly different approach to the study of global processes in contemporary history.”  However, Schafer neither defined the parameters of ‘contemporary history’ nor provided convincing illustrations of these ‘global processes.’ Furthermore, Schafer argued that World History in its ‘totalizing form’ attempted to record the entire human past and all of humanity.  This proposition by Schaffer seems skewed especially since a complete record of all events and processes is impossible.

An obvious dilemma is the issue of the vague and hidden boundaries separating World History and Global History. Global History scholars have not clearly defined the criteria for this sub-discipline as evident from the claim, “World History practitioners sometimes like to refer to their work also as Global History.”  Patrick O’Brien contended, “The case for the restoration of Global History rests upon its potential to construct negotiable meta-narratives….”  The question arises –  would the ‘restorers’ of Global History appreciate the significance of Caribbean History as one of the meta-narratives? O’Brien’s use of the word ‘restoration’ suggests that Global History once existed but has been forgotten, discarded, sidelined, overlooked or abruptly aborted.

One also wonders if Global History has become out-dated and irrelevant. For instance, Bruce Mazlish uses the term “New Global History” and defines it as, “…the study of a wide range of dynamic factors or processes which are encompassed by the word “globalization,” and must be understood in terms of a new and evolving analytic method and a particular body of data.”  The defining of globalization also seems to have different meanings. William Gervase Clarence-Smith contended that ‘globalization’ goes back to the ‘Big Bang’ or the departure of the Homo sapiens from Africa.  I would suggest that the 20th and 21st centuries be regarded as the ‘Age of Globalisation’. Although we are early in the 21st century, there is evidence that we have not fully  accepted the concept of ‘homo sapiens’ as belonging to a global family whose evolution and destiny is intrinsically interwoven and inseparably interlocked through time and space.

Caribbean History could probably fit into the existing paradigms of Global History. Markus P. M. Vink in “Indian Ocean Studies and the ‘new thalassology’” explored the dimensions of maritime-based studies.  A similar model could be applied to Caribbean History. This is particularly true for the ocean and sea basins in the Atlantic World that are sometimes used as a frontier and framework of historical analysis.  Elusive questions remain – could certain sub-fields as Oral History and Local History in the Caribbean be considered part of Global History? Should West Indian scholars devise new methods to reinterpret Caribbean History in a global context?

This relatively new field replaced the traditional World History which did not adequately consider the globalization process. West Indian History/Caribbean History remains a crucial component of Global History. In retrospect, West Indian History cannot remain hidden or camouflaged and continue being marginalized and overlooked from any epoch or sub-field being studied.

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Edited by Tracy C. Barrett

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.