Global Intellectual History Beyond Hegel and Marx

Recent years have seen the growing prominence of “global history” as a subject of research, especially in North America and Europe. However, there is no consensus on what the contours of the subject are, or what the appropriate research methods for it might be. Further, there are quite a few skeptics among historians with regard to this trend. The appearance of a volume on the subfield of “global intellectual history” is an occasion to reflect on all these issues, especially when the volume in question suggests that “the future of intellectual history as a discipline lies in this direction.” This review essay, while appreciative of the effort to lay out the contours of the field, as well as to point to possible future directions for research and reflection, is nevertheless somewhat critical of the actual execution of the project. It is found to be lacking in chronological depth, and also highly uneven in quality, as well as excessively centered on a few “great thinkers” such as Hegel and Marx. A greater attention to the centuries between 1500 and 1800, when a polycentric global regime of knowledge (however tenuous it proved) was established, would have been particularly helpful. Most important, there is the question of whether a history claiming to be “global,” as distinct from “universal,” should not pay closer attention to questions of space and geography.