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Volume 4, Issue 2: Contents


The Story of Big History

  Consilience has long been the dream of many scientific thinkers, best expressed by the desire for a unified theory that could explain essentially everything. Such a desire is based on the assumption that there is a general unity that underlies the various branches of science, a unity that should be expressed by a simple and elegant law of nature. “Best of all would be if underpinning this scheme,” the astrophysicist Paul Davies explained in regard to a universal theory of physics, “there was some sort of basic physical principle that bestowed upon it a credibility and elegance, thus commending it to us on aesthetic as well as scientific grounds.” Ideally such a theory would be best expressed in a “mathematical scheme,” one that could be represented by a single and simple “formula compact enough to wear on your T-shirt.” And even better would be if such a theory could be extended to include not just the natural sciences but the humanities as well.
   Currently, a group of historians is claiming that it might be history that provides the framework for a scientific and evolutionary account of everything. Big History, so named by its foremost practitioner, David Christian, seeks to unite the two cultures under the framework of an elegant story of the universe, a history, in the words of fellow practitioner Fred Spier, “that places human history within the context of cosmic history, from the beginning of the universe up until life on Earth today.”

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Against Flows

  Motion is the first ingredient of transnational history. Without it, nothing crosses anything, there is no trans. This essay critiques a metaphor of motion that has emerged as a master trope of the transnational turn in historical analysis: the flow. Tracing a genealogy of the flows metaphor, I argue that it is not only a descriptively, analytically, and politically impoverished way of representing motion and change. It is also an instrumentality developed and deployed by vested interests to smooth out, and in so doing legitimate and win increased power over, the processes by which people and things move through space and time.
   The modern usage of the flows metaphor took shape within linked nineteenth- century transformations in capitalism and social thought. It vanquished a rival concept of motion and change, “work”—meaning both labor, and, in a technical sense, the energy required to move or transform matter in space, force times distance—because it permitted the nascent discipline of economics, particularly the universalizing mode of analysis . . .



A Tale of “Two Totalitarianisms”: The Crisis of Capitalism and the Historical Memory of Communism

  On June 3, 2008, a group of conservative Eastern European politicians and intellectuals signed the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism in the Czech parliament. The signatories to this Declaration proclaimed that the “millions of victims of Communism and their families are entitled to enjoy justice, sympathy, understanding and recognition for their sufferings in the same way as the victims of Nazism have been morally and politically recognized” and that there should be “an all-European understanding . . . that many crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity . . . in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal.” The signatories addressed their demands to “all peoples of Europe, all European political institutions including national governments, parliaments, [the] European Parliament, [the] European Commission, [the] Council of Europe and other relevant international bodies.”



Intervention: The Present of the Historian

  For the last thirty years, the conditions for practicing the historian’s craft have changed and they continue to change in front of our very eyes. One often reads the handy formula of crisis as an explanation of this: a “crisis” of history, “disoriented” history, it has been said, while our relationship to time has continued to change. With our future closed off, the past has been engulfed in shadow and the present has become our sole horizon.




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History of the Present is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal, with issues appearing in the fall and spring.
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