Fall 2020 Message from the Director


The World History Center offers autumn greetings this year amidst the most profound uncertainty that the world has seen in decades. Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed over a million people worldwide, with its terrible toll falling disproportionately upon the planet’s most vulnerable people. The assault on democratic norms and institutions and the rise of fascism reverberates across continents. Disasters fueled by climate change include infernos across the Pacific coast of North America, while in China, the Yangtze Delta suffers from an unprecedented extent of flooding. In the midst of these bleak times, we look nonetheless with hope and gratitude at the long-overdue reckonings that the year has also brought, including the ongoing global engagement with the history of the enslavement of African-descended peoples and anti-Black racism, as well as the myriad traumas and injustices suffered by the world’s indigenous peoples. 

Throughout this tumultuous year, we have found solace and insight through the study of world history. World History as a field and methodology reminds us that although pandemic, disaster, and oppression are common in human history, so too is recovery, resilience, and creativity.

In the spirit of hope and determination to grapple forthrightly with the past in hopes of building a more just world, the World History Center has planned events and programming for the academic year that address persistent and critical topics. The Center will present a series titled, “Global Indigeneities: Parallels and Intersections in the Global Fight for Reparations and Treaty Rights.” This series of diverse events aims to define and explore connections between past and present movements of resistance to settler colonialism and anti-Blackness. The WHC will also continue to cohost the Anthropocene: Epoch of Loss initiative in collaboration with the Global Studies Center. Finally, this fall, the World History Center is pleased to co-sponsor, with the Department of Sociology, a presentation by Jon Shefner about the logic of global economic policy, one by Fran Shor about white supremacy, and one by Joyce Hope Scott about global reparations. The WHC will also co-sponsor a talk by Jeffery Wasserstrom, hosted by the Pitt Asian Studies Center, about recent events in Hong Kong.

The WHC also continues to support a robust program of educational activity and outreach. WHC Associate Director and Head of Educational Outreach Molly Warsh continues to direct the Alliance for Learning in World History (ALWH). In the summer of 2020, the Alliance sponsored a day-long virtual professional development workshop for over fifty educators on the topic of “Teaching the Global African Diaspora.” The materials generated by all Alliance-sponsored professional development workshops, as well as additional world historical teaching materials collected by the Center, will soon be available to the public through the Center’s exciting new partnership with National Humanities Center. The NHC’s Humanities in Class Digital Library, an Open Education Resources Platform, will serve as the hosting platform. 

Meanwhile, in the WHC, Pitt undergraduate scholars receive training in digital history in the Digital Atlas Design Internship under the direction of Postdoctoral Fellow Susan Grunewald. Dr. Grunewald is also hosting a historical spatial data hackathon as part of our co-sponsorship of GIS Day in November.  In the spring of 2021, the Center will fund a Graduate Student Assistant in Public History, providing a student in the Dietrich School the opportunity to showcase their dissertation work in a public facing project. Graduate students in the history department can also pursue a Credential in Teaching World History. We congratulate our most recent teaching credential awardee, Bethany Wade. Please contact WHC Research Associate Ali Straub if you would like more information about any of these opportunities.

Research and publication activities are a cornerstone of the World History Center. The summer 2020 issue of the Journal of World-Systems Research features a timely discussion about global reparations. Both myself and former founding director Patrick Manning helped shape the discussion and co-authored the introduction. The WHC is also delighted to report that the World Historical Gazetteer is now live. This platform offers infrastructure and content for exploring historical place names and for enhancing contributed datasets with information about named places. The WHC also continues to host working groups that permit groups of faculty and graduate students to explore thematic topics in the global and transregional past. Our newest one is the Italian Diaspora Archive Research Map Project

Finally, the Center is delighted to welcome new affiliates to the WHC. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the Center will host two virtual research affiliates, Katherine Hart and Artan Hoxha. Vicky Shen joins us as the Graduate Student Fellow in World History. We are delighted to have Alexandra Straub, our new Research Associate, overseeing and initiating all of these activities.

We are grateful to you all for spending some of this difficult year with the World History Center.