History and Theory 43 (4):118-129 (2004)

Abstract
Much international and intercultural discourse about historiography is influenced by a way of historical thinking deeply rooted in human historical consciousness and that works throughout all cultures and in all times: ethnocentrism. Ethnocentric history conceives of identity in terms of “master-narratives” that define togetherness and difference as essential for identity in a way that causes tension and struggle. These narratives conceive of history in terms of “clashes of civilizations,” and they reinforce the idea that international and intercultural relations are merely struggles for power. The main elements of ethnocentrism are: asymmetrical evaluation, teleological continuity, and centralized perspective. This essay articulates possibilities for overcoming these three elements by replacing asymmetrical evaluation with normative equality; teleological continuity with reconstructive concepts of development that emphasize contingency and discontinuity; and centralized perspectives with multi-perspectivity and polycentric approaches to historical experience. Adopting these possibilities would lead to a new mode of universal history rooted in a concept of humankind that can help solve the problem of ethnocentrism. This idea of humankind conceptualizes the unity of the human species as being manifest in a variety of cultures and historical developments. This is in fact the traditional concept of historicism, which can be further developed towards a historiography that responds to the challenges of globalization and cultural differences. The essay outlines theoretical and methodological means in historical studies that bring this idea of humankind into the work of historians, thus enabling them to contribute to a new culture of recognition. The article is based on the assumption that the creation of such a culture is the most important task of scholarly work in the humanities in general, and historical studies in particular, at the beginning of the twenty-first century
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2004.00301.x
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