K. Naumann u.a. (Hrsg.): In Search of Other Worlds

In Search of Other Worlds. Essays towards a Cross-Regional History of Area Studies

Naumann, Katja; Loschke, Torsten; Marung, Steffi; Middell, Mathias
Global History and International Studies 13
523 S.
€ 49,00
Reviewed for H-Soz-Kult by
Chris Saunders, University of Cape Town

In recent years the University of Leipzig has emerged as a leading centre for the study of both global and area studies under the inspiring leadership of the enormously prolific Matthias Middell, Professor of Cultural History and Director of its Global and European Studies Institute. This large volume of 17 chapters, edited by Katja Naumann, Torsten Loschke, Steffi Marung and Middell, is part of an ongoing project to globalise the study of area studies. It should, in my view, be read together with the relevant essays in the even larger Routledge Handbook of Transnational Studies that Middell edited recently.1 That volume includes general essays on area studies in an international context by Marung and others that provide a framework into which the essays in In Search of Other Worlds can be fitted.

This book brings together the fields of global and area studies by presenting a set of 17 essays that consider the evolution over time of particular examples of area studies in different countries. Often very consciously the study of “the other”, area studies received a great boost from the Cold War, which led governments and foundations in the United States and elsewhere to pour large sums of money into such studies. In a stimulating introductory chapter, Middell points to aspects of the way in which area (or “world regional”) studies have evolved, and in some countries have been linked to colonialism and to decolonisation. Then follow four essays (by that concern the ways in which different scholars of the Soviet Union over time studied other parts of the world, whether involving ethnography, the study of the Indian sub-continent, Latin America or Oriental Studies). After these chapters are others on certain aspects of the study of other parts of the world by scholars in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Germany and France. Chapters by Torsten Loschke, Matthew Kohlstedt and Junko Koizumi show ways in which scholars based in the United States have studied Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, mainly during the Cold War. The volume concludes with a chapter on aspects of how Chinese and Asian studies evolved, in part by scholars from, or under the influence of, the United States and the United Kingdom, in Hong Kong and Singapore.

While much of the content of this very disparate set of essays concerns the post-Second World War Cold War period, the role of the Cold War in the development of area studies is only tangentially addressed. The authors might, too, have been encouraged to take their particular story into the post-Cold War period or even to the present. There is some astonishing information in these pages, such as, for example, that there are (or were; it is not clear whether this information is current) approximately 100 researchers in Poland dealing with Latin America (p. 195, n. 1), along with idiosyncrasies of style, such as the reference to “the arrival of the United States in Hong Kong” (p. 488), but most of the essays are well-written and researched and some, such as that by Andreas Hilger of the German Historical Institute, Moscow, are outstanding. Much of the detail of what is said about a particular case, however, will only interest specialists in that case, and only in the introductory essay by Middell is an attempt made explicitly to introduce larger and comparative questions.

Most readers will naturally wish to see what is said of their own particular area of study. In my own case, there are two essays on African studies, one a sketchy history of colonial and African studies in Germany and France by Felix Brahm of the German Historical Institute, London, and a more detailed chapter on the funding of German research on Africa by Holger Stoecker of Humboldt University, Berlin. As Middell points out in his introductory remarks, Germany’s loss of its colonies in the First World War set it on a different course to France, where the study of Africa was influenced by its retention of its colonies into the 1960s, which is where both these chapters peter out. A chapter on African studies in the United States would have emphasised the Cold War origins of such studies in the late 1950s, but the editors of this volume know the now quite extensive literature, little referenced here, on the development of African Studies in the United States and the United Kingdom.2

In his chapter Middell also points to the growth of expertise in area studies in the Global South, but that expertise is not adequately reflected in this volume. Nor is there any reference, say, to the interesting and ongoing debate about whether or not a Centre for African Studies is appropriate at a university in Africa, and, if there should be one, what such a Centre should study. In the context of a settler society in South Africa, “African Studies” at the University of Cape Town long meant the study of the indigenous majority until, in a new context in the 1970s, a new Centre for African Studies turned its attention to the rest of the continent.3 An essay on such a topic would be appropriate for a successor volume to this one. As Middell says in his introductory remarks, the essays in this volume are “pieces for a global history of the production of knowledge about the world that is yet to be written” (p. 22). This volume whets our appetite for more such pieces, and for the overarching synthesis that Middell will, one hopes, write one day.

1 Matthias Middell (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Transnational Studies, London 2018.
2 Pearl Robinson, Area Studies in Search of Africa. The Case of the United States, in: Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (ed.), The Study of Africa. Vol. 2: Global and Transnational Engagements, London 2007.
3 Thandabantu Nhlapo / Harry Garuba (eds.), African Studies in the Post-colonial University, Cape Town 2012.

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