As we write this note of welcome to the 2021-22 academic year, we are watching the news from Afghanistan with growing horror. Taliban troops are occupying the Presidential Palace while Americans and their Afghan allies rush to the international airport. Prospects are grim for American collaborators without US passports. They hope to seek refuge in a world in which the covid pandemic and attendant economic dislocations help to fuel nationalism and xenophobia that traps vulnerable populations in place. Meanwhile, we see Twitter feeds and news sites fill with hot takes and memes about Alexander the Great’s campaigns from twenty-five hundred years ago, and with images of airlifts from Saigon in 1975. We are reminded that pundits, politicians, and the public turn instinctively to world history at times of global crisis.
However, breaking news does not encourage nuance and context and so we are also reminded of the urgency of the World History Center mission. World history teaches us that the fertile valleys, hills, and plains around the Hindu Kush Mountains have long been a cosmopolitan meeting place: they were home to extraordinary Greco-Buddhist art; the center of a vast medieval Eurasian horse trade; a domain of diverse Islamic practices; and a locale where modern empires from Britain, Russia, China, and the United States have sought to extend their rule for almost two hundred years. We are inspired by work from historians like Juan Cole, who situates Afghanistan in a global perspective as a nation comprised of Tajiks allied with India, culturally-Persianate Hazara Shiites, and the Pushtun-led Taliban with its links to the expatriate Arabs of al Qaeda. Informed by work like his, world historians understand how to track the billions of US dollars that have flowed through Afghanistan to military contractors in Virginia and to the Dubai bank accounts of Afghan elites. We know that people always try to flee when home becomes impossible, that religion and empire are inevitably entangled, and that military dominance by great powers is often more fragile than it seems. We welcome you to join the World History Center, this year and always, to participate in conversations about topics like these.
We especially welcome you to our thematic activities this year, which will explore survival, resistance, and social formation in and beyond the outer reaches of states and other large networks. We are calling our series of sponsored activities “The Limits of Networks in World History: Peripheries and Beyond.” Events in this series will focus on places that have often been called frontiers, borderlands, and peripheries and that have more recently been termed sites of cheap nature, sacrifice zones, and capitalist ruins. Our invited speakers will explore questions about the ramifications of colonialism and resistance and the tolls of extractive economies. This fall, we look forward to welcoming Professors Sharika Crawford (US Naval Academy) and David Igler (UC Irvine) over Zoom as they discuss their recent work. We are also hosting a roundtable discussion on Ottoman and post-Ottoman peripheries, moderated by Gregor Thum and featuring three distinguished Pitt-affiliated scholars.
We are proud to have finished the academic year 2020-2021 having sponsored a robust program of activities despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. We oriented our signature public events and annual professional development workshop for educators on the intersections of global Black and Indigenous liberation. This programming included a talk by Tiffany Lethabo King and discussions led by Pitt professors Alaina E. Roberts and History Department graduate student Vicky Shen. June’s professional development workshop brought together three keynote speakers and twenty-five educators on the topic of “Teaching Indigenous History as World History.” We supported members of the Pitt community through the Digital Atlas Design Internship, collaborative research working groups such as the Italian Diaspora Archive Resource Map Project, and sponsorship for remote research like transcription and archival services. Our Graduate Student in Public History, Chie Togami, completed a project on Pittsburgh’s steel history as global history. This fall, she will lead a discussion (cosponsored by Group Against Smog and Pollution) titled “Community Voices: Pittsburgh, the United States Steel Corporation, and 120 years of Extraction."
We anticipate a productive and eventful 2021-2022 year furthering these initiatives and other activities while also preparing to host the 32nd annual World History Association conference in 2023. We look forward to making global and local community with all of you as we seek a future that draws on traditions of solidarity, creativity, and resistance from the global past.