TOPICS IN WORLD HISTORY
World historians spend a good bit of time deﬁning time periods in their ﬁeld, and also regions and major societies. As we have seen, they do not always agree, but they do recognize the importance of discussion and transparency. The picture is less well developed when it comes to the topics, or types of human activities, that world history emphasizes. This chapter explores the kinds of topics that world history almost always covers, but also how it is expanding its topical range and, ﬁnally, how the ﬁeld might potentially embrace even more subjects in future. A tension here is obvious. Just as world history in principle covers
all places at all times – but in fact tries to select more coherent and manageable emphases – so world history in principle covers any signiﬁcant type of human activity, wherever it enters the historical record. Furthermore, history as a discipline has been rapidly expanding its list of researchable topics over the past half century, particularly through the growth of the ﬁeld of social history. We now have serious historical work on childhood, crime, old age, death, leisure, food habits, even sleep. Can world history include a list of this sort? At what point does the expansion of topics become unmanageable? World historians generally agree that a few types of topics simply
must be dealt with. Trade patterns form an obvious case in point. Major political structures have to be included. Big cultural systems, like the leading religions, are unavoidable. Topics like environmental
history are also gaining some traction. But there is less agreement on how to handle certain other types of historical topics, including some of the newcomers on the social history list.