How to ‘globalize’ the study of history

Each week, Symposium Magazine invites an author to guest-blog. This week, Prof. Scott K. Taylor is blogging about “Weather and War, Reconsidered.”

As I noted in my article, The Global Crisis is in some ways a summary and revival of an old historical chestnut, the “General Crisis” of the 1600s. By expanding the scope of the book from Europe to the entire world, and adding the dimension of climate change, Geoffrey Parker has revived an approach that was in vogue from the 1950s to the 1970s, but fallen out of favor since then.

This is not the first time that Parker has given an old idea new life by publishing a tour de force that summarizes and updates thinking on the issue in question. In 1988, he published The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800. Here he took another big historical debate from the past and made it newly relevant. Back in 1955, the historian Michael Roberts argued that Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (whose death is immortalized in the feature image for my article here) epitomized a military revolution in the seventeenth century based on new muskets; new tactics to take advantage of the muskets; bigger armies; and more ambitious strategies to use these newly efficient armies. Other historians then jumped in to argue that it was not Sweden but other nations that led the way – whether the Dutch in the sixteenth century, or the British in the eighteenth century.

The debate eventually died down. But now Parker has revived the idea of the centrality of military revolution, this time by pointing to cannons and fortification as the real engines of change. But more importantly, he has globalized the debate, pointing out that the real revolution was the rise of the West vis a vis the rest of the world.

What is next for Parker? He is still active and teaching at the Ohio State University, and we should look for him to hunt down another old historical argument, forgotten by his peers, globalize it and look at new evidence, and perhaps come out with another blockbuster.

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