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Co-Investigator: Timothy Brook, Department of History, University of Toronto
Project Title: The Prehistory of Globalization: Local Conflicts in Global Context, 1609-1954

Globalization is a concept generally accepted as the hallmark of the world we inhabit at the start
of the twenty-furst century. It may well be that the globalization of the present is occurring at a
rate faster than at any previous time, and with an intensity unprecedented in world history. To a
historian, on the other hand, the present world system can be seen as profoundly rooted in and
determined by the past. The institutions and practices that globalization denotes--global systems
of exchange, economic operations on a world scale, global labour mobility, non-economic
cooperation across the barriers of the nation-state, transnational structures of conflict mediation,
consciousness of the world as a unitary place, the reformation of local identities in global terms--
predate the present moment by many centuries. The transformations we now associate with
globalization are not simply the product of the past thirty years. They are continuous with, and
based on, the accumulation of historical experiences of contact, interaction, and conflict going
back to at least the seventeenth century.

         The history of global interaction provides us with invaluable opportunities to analyze
globalization as a long-term process. History gives us vantage points outside our immediate
position in the contemporary world order to observe the long process through which our global
world formed, and so begin to see consistencies and patterns of globalization. Indeed, without
the perspective of history, it is difficult to imagine how we can evaluate the striking benefits and
enormous costs of living in our world without falling back on contemporary ideologies that
justify rather than query globalization.

        In the process of globalization, groups of people have been plunged into conflict, usually
when encroaching groups find themselves in competition with indigenous groups (broadly
defined) for resources. The negotiations between them, which may be congenial or violent
depending on local conditions, leads to outcomes that structure the relations of both groups to the
world system. The process of conflict is assymetrical, each side bringing different economic and
technical capacities to bear on the negotiation. In extreme cases, particularly before the twentieth
century, the difference could be that between a small tribe and a well-armed state. In the
twentieth century, conflict more commonly occurred between states, although increasingly it
now occurs between groups within states. The outcome of conflict is contingent on numerous
factors, which vary according to the particular circumstances in which contact occurs. For the
purpose of the present project, however, the most salient factor for explaining the incidence and
outcomes of local conflict is the global context in which it occurs.

        What I have just described is hardly adequate to stand as a model of globalization. It is
not intended as such. The purpose of the research outlined herein, rather, is to explore and
highlight the power of global factors in the shaping of particular histories. The persuasive
rhetoric of nationalism has largely elided the global from explanations of key events in national
pasts. This elision continues to dominate the way in which the present phase of globalization is
understood--as an unprecedented, one-time-only transformation. In fact, the interaction of global
and local, while it may be more consistent now than it was four hundred years ago, nonetheless
shaped the possibilities of future worlds four centuries back in ways that continue to resonate
today. It is not just that contact, negotiation, and conflict between culturally distinct groups have
gone on for centuries, but that they have produced outcomes that make the world as it now is. Far
from being new, globalization has been intimately involved in this making all along.

        The design of the project is to examine seven moments in the history of the world system
over the past four centuries. Some of these moments are still remembered, but some have been
forgotten by the metropolitan historiographies that today shape what we know of the past, and
how we know it. My purpose is to use them to investigate the global context in which they took
place--and without which we are largely saddled with national histories or global ideologies that
favour particular national stories. The cumulative effect of studying these seven events widely
dispersed in place and time will be to explore the wide variety of interactions possible between
local conflict and global power. By taking account as well of the local memories and amnesias
surrounding these events, it will also be to demonstrate the extent to which contemporary global
system continues to be shaped by the meanings that these interactions layer on the present. The
history of the world thus becomes exactly, and no less, the sum of its parts and of how they are

        That history has not been continuous, nor unilinear, nor uniform. The global has been
present since the seventeenth century differently at different places and times, and at different at
different rates of degree or intensity. It proceeds differentially, based on the uneven spread of
resources and opportunities. Based on varying capacities to control resources and concentrate
them in ways that permit power to accumulate, structured disparities have arisen in the world
system: between indigenous versus imperial, poor versus wealthy, unarmed versus armed,
colonized versus autonomous. Global influences thus get asserted within a hierarchy of places,
privileging those at the higher nodes of the world system, imposing unanticipated burdens on
those whose places it has peripheralized. The concentration of power is never without local
resistance, however, nor does it occur without the compromises that local collaboration makes
        The double process of resistance and collaboration, both within and between cultures,
over time has had important effects on how people see the opportunities and limitations facing
them in local conflicts. To describe these opportunities and limitations, people have formulated
concepts concerning the appropriate exercise and limitation of power. These concepts are
roughly what we call and prioritize as rights. It is no coincidence that the formation of civil,
economic, and cultural rights has thus occurred historically in tandem with the expansion of
interactions between culturally distinct groups. This in turn has taken place on a background of
the elaboration of world systems of economy, knowledge, and technology--the concrete stuff of

        Part of the experience of globalization--what should be tallied among its costs--is
violence. Moments of violence regularly punctuate global interactions, producing outcomes
ranging from new terms of trade or political subordination to transformed cultural identities or, at
the furthest extreme, genocide. These moments of violence seem to contribute much to what
thereafter is possible and what is not in the local situation, thereby shaping the world system that
rests on such local interactions. Is the relationship between violence and globalization extraneous
to that process, an unfortunate and remediable byproduct of other transformations? Or is it
intrinsic to it, an unavoidable dynamic of global interaction when difference is at stake? These
are questions.

       The ten events have been chosen to research in relation to global context are:

       30 July 1609           Huron war against Iroquois on Lake Champlain
       2 December 1639        Spanish massacre of Chinese in Manila
       24 September 1720      entry of a Manchu army into Lhasa
       19 June 1830           French invasion of Algeria
       27 April 1898          execution of the Chimurenga leaders in south Africa
       6 April 1930           Gandhi's march to the sea to oppose the salt tax
       18 June 1954           the CIA overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala

Each of those moments of conflict depended on local compromise and competition, as well as on
external pressure for their outcome. Without the complex interaction among these factors, not
just in these seven locations but in each and every place where political, economic, and cultural
interaction occurs, the triumph of the modern world system would not have occurred as it did.

        My goal in analyzing these seven events is not to assemble them into a grand, unitary
narrative working its way from past to present. Rather, it is to use them as reference points from
which to look out across the world and think about the notions of time and space through which
we understand the world as a unitary place. In the course of constructing world history in this
fashion, a sense of the process by which global space emerged as sets of relational chains will be
developed. Taking the history of the world seriously means recognizing that what happens
elsewhere affects what happens here, and that what happens here matters everywhere else. The
connections can be made through unexpected accidents that cause precarious agreements
between competing groups to unravel; they can also be systematic, as they are through world
trade. In this process, both structure and contingency come into play.

       The seven events have been selected in the course of teaching a first-year introduction to
world history over the past two years. Basic research on all the events has already been done.
What is now required is to deepen knowledge of the particularities of each event though archival
research. Ideally this research will be pursued in all seven locations in order to gain a direct
awareness of the physical and cultural contexts of these events, and as well to probe for local
memories. I shall also want to search for local documents that might not yet be in circulation
among metropolitan historians that might reveal unnoticed global connections of local conflicts,
and as well exhibit local memories of the events. The project will also require working at
archives in the metropoles from which the encroachments that led to the conflicts were first

        The outcome of the project will be a book in seven chapters, one for each of the days
selected. My device for generating narrative unity will be to set up one location in Canada to
which these events are synchronized. I have selected an Ojibway reserve in Lake Huron for this
purpose. My intention in working from the perspective of this one place is to ground the project
within Canada and to localize it away from the obvious power centres of the world system. Slant
vision should help cast the current image of the globalized world in new and surprising ways,
and work against the hegemonic prejudices that recount history as though only nations resulted,
and only the winners mattered. The intention of the book is to avoid the worst habit of most

accounts of world history, which tell the history of globalization as the ARise of the West@,
followed by a ARise of the Pacific@ in the closing chapter. The past is not a straight line from
what was to what is. It is a maze of acts and accidents, flows and cross-currents, in which people
find themselves at points they never expected to reach. The totality is the globe; the process,
what we call globalization.

        This project will contribute to the larger research proposal on "Globalization and
Autonomy" by providing a series of in-depth studies of the conflicts and compromises to serve as
controls on the assumptions we tend to make about the originality of globalizing pressures in the
present. Without historical depth, observations on contemporary issues fail to be aware of the
degree to which our understanding of the costs and benefits of globalization rests on what has
already happened. More particularly, the project is dedicated to examining the destabilization of
social relations that contact and conflict bring about, showing how global interactions before the
present have been both destructive and constitutive. I am especially concerned to assess the
impact that destabilization has had on indigenous communities into the present. By enlarging our
consciousness of the history of the possibilities for indigenous self-determination that have
developed in the context of global pressures, this project will show how power and authority
operating in a global context have changed over the past four centuries, particularly as reflected
in the formation of claims to community and individual rights. My larger hope is to make this
study an experiment in how to represent globalizing processes without accepting their outcomes
as necessary or inevitable.

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