Macro-History: An Antidote to Eurocentrism?

Ayse Zarakol, University of Cambridge

In ‘The Mega-Historians’ (1985),Collins suggests not only that grand history is where history comes closest to addressing the theoretical concerns of historical sociology, but also ‘that accomplishments of specialized historiography have made possible grand history on a level that is technically much more impressive than what has existed before’. One of the main improvements he flags is in the accumulation of knowledge about parts of the world beyond Europe. Collins' focus in this essay is on the relationship between theory and history, but he goes on to make two related observations about grand (or mega or macro) history and Eurocentrism. First, historians writing about other parts of the world inevitably are pushed towards grand history because there is still a lot of ground to cover; his example here is Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China. Second, Collins argues that thanks to advances in non-European historiography, mega-historians (of 1985) are less Eurocentric than their predecessors: here, his examples are Fernand Braudel and William McNeill (compared favourably in this regard to Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee). More than three decades have passed since Collins made these observations, and while the social sciences have become more acutely aware of the pervasiveness of Eurocentric assumptions as both a methodological and an epistemological problem, macro-historical approaches are hardly ever posed as the antidote (and mega-history is even more rarely encountered than in 1985, despite the continued accumulation of historical knowledge about all parts of the world). This paper revisits Collins’ suggestion that macro-history may be one way out of the Eurocentrism of the social sciences, discussing both the reasons why this is the case and also the pitfalls to avoid in this endeavour.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 175. What is the "Historical" In Historical Sociology?