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August 2015

Just back from WEHC—the World Economic History Conference—in Kyoto, where the daily temperature was a relentless 37 and more. (It seemed apropos that the location, the Kyoto International Conference Centre, was once home to Kyoto Protocol negotiations). I was there because a panel I had put together on behalf of the Laureate Program in International History had been accepted, an historical intervention by a group of historians who study international politics and economic history, at the meeting of an international history organization more usually home to economic historians who use numbers to answer questions about the past, but increasingly drawing the attention of culturally-focused scholars of trade, as well as economic life.

Precisely because the WEHC conference is rarely on the circuit of cultural, political or intellectual historians, it seemed a useful testing site for one of the central aims forof the Laureate program: encouraging new conversations among international historians about the significance of economics. I was extremely fortunate to gather support for the idea of a panel from Francine Mackenzie (Western), whose international economic history credentials are impeccable—she is a historian of the GATT. We organized the panel intending to discuss the ‘international’ framing of Thomas Piketty’s Capital. By the time we collected an excellent team, there was no time for Piketty (I will work that up for a forthcoming series of columns in the German review, Merkur). The final panel featured in speaking order: Laureate affiliate Jamie Martin (Harvard) , Laureate postdoc Sophie Loy-Wilson (Sydney), David Engerman (Brandeis), Francine Mackenzie (Western), and Eric Helleiner (Waterloo) as the commentator bringing it all together.

Laureate postdoc Philippa Hetherington will be reporting on the panel in a separate blog. I’ll just say that from my perspective it was a valuable experience particularly because of the individual papers. Each constituted a critical intervention into twentieth century history—whether economic ideas, economic practices, or economic life—seen from an international perspective—whether international institutions, or international relations, or international imaginaries. Each presentation brought into question component premises of existing narratives—whether of international development history, US foreign policy, the role of non-state actors in the dissemination of a wide range economic ideas, the place of international institutions and organizations in the history of states or non-state politics and economics, and just how those relationships and roles were negotiated or came into being. So rich pickings for the new international history, and those historians conversations with the new history of capitalism. And lots of interest and excitement generated (no small thanks to the contextualization brought to bear by Eric Helleiner, whose scholarship traverses the disciplines of pol sci, IR, history, pol eco in innovative ways. As importantly for the Laureate, the panel underlined the questions driving our own projects: Can we fruitfully disaggregate the history of the international from our analyses of globalization, especially when it comes to economics, and if we do what do we find? What place does a concept such as economic internationalism have in this history?

More to come, from the Laureate International History Program—Philippa, Sophie, me and others, and not least, the forthcoming ‘Scales of Economy’ project, which takes up all these questions, and more. Stay tuned to the Laureate site.


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international history and all things international


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Laureate Research Program in International History Laureate Research Program in International History