In the summer of 2017, I moved to Pittsburgh from Merced, California to begin a position as an Associate Professor of History at Pitt and to commence a four-year term as Director of the World History Center. Pittsburgh is my hometown, and during three decades away, I retained my affection for this world-historical city – a focal point of indigenous confederation and global warfare in the seventeenth century, a central place in the global history of industry and science for the past three hundred years, and home to hundreds of immigrant communities old and new. Nevertheless, I did not anticipate that I would ever return to Pittsburgh to live.
It was the opportunity to direct the World History Center that drew me back. The Pitt History Department is well known for its commitment to undergraduate and graduate training in world history, and the World History Center is one of only a small handful of centers anywhere in the world that are fully dedicated to this mode of inquiry. I am tremendously honored to be stewarding this Center for the next four years.
Our present and perilous historical moment makes the work of the Center particularly critical today. World history tells stories about people making connections across differences. Some connections deliver broad benefits and expand human diversity and creativity, and we need those models today. Others are violent and genocidal, resulting in death, dispossession and enslavement, and we need to know how those have shaped the present moment. Sometimes natural disasters or climate change set history in motion, and we are experiencing that today as well. Large-scale global realignments are tremendously unsettling to all the people who live through them. Today is such a time, and it is my hope that the World History Center can play some small part in offering critical analysis, tools for the afflicted, a space for reflection, and a commitment to building connections between home and the world.
I am privileged to be directing a mature center with a robust program of activity, and I intend to maintain all the Center’s ongoing areas of accomplishment. To that end, I’ll gather local and global constituencies together at Pitt around talks, events, brown bags, and visitorships. I’ll foster world history education through internships, graduate student assistantships, pedagogy workshops and educator networks. I’ll incubate individual and collaborative research and publication. I’ll help globalize the field of world history by supporting societies of world historians in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Center is only as successful as the intellectual community it supports, and I look forward to sponsoring programs and research by colleagues and students working on world historical topics that I cannot yet even imagine.
I am bringing my own intellectual commitments and professional networks to the Center as well. I have an abiding interest in digital and spatial history at the global scale. The Center has just launched a digital history postdoctoral fellowship, it is hosting my federally-funded project to develop infrastructure and content for a world-historical gazetteer, and it is initiating a digital atlas student internship. I also hope to find opportunities for the Center to work on world environmental history, the place of Asia in world history, and frameworks for long-term and large-scale history.
I am looking forward to a fantastic four-year term as World History Center Director and to the continued growth of this important field!