What social history was to the 1960s and 1970s, and cultural history to the 1980s and 1990s, global history has become in the first decades of the new century. Forty years ago, a young historian interested in the era of the American Revolution might have undertaken a dissertation on how independence affected daily life in small-town New England. Twenty years ago, she might have traced discourses of masculinity in the newspapers of the early republic. Today, a typical topic is more likely to involve the impact of “global” commodities such as tea and wine on American cities, or the role of foreign sailors on American merchant vessels, or the establishment of correspondence networks between slave-owners in the American South and the Caribbean.
So, the advantages of the global history approach:
• decentralizing historical narratives and exploring fresh connections;
• offstaging Europe and putting the Global South in the spotlight;
• giving voice to the subalterns;
• shedding prejudice, questioning the assumptions, avoiding reductionism.
And the weaknesses:
• cautious, overly controlled writing style and avoidance of strong statements;
• depersonalization/disappearance of important individual actors;
• disregard for large conventional frameworks (war; Communism);
• preference for global patterns to the detriment of local histories;
• tendency toward unwieldy, sprawling texts.
Solution? The authors should "come armed with strong, overarching theses, not just about how things changed, but why," to "trace an underlying logic to the way they developed".
Michael Goebel offers the specific solution – urban history:
Global historians have been good at drawing attention to connections, but in doing so they are tempted to “overuse the network metaphor,” as the Princeton historian David Bell has complained. Grounding their empirical work in specific places such as cities can work as an antidote to this problem. It helps to make their work more tangible and testable. Looking in detail at the local nodal points of long-distance connections of the past may actually also tell us something new about the nature of historic globalization.