On January 23, 2019, the legendary historian J. G. A. Pocock (b. 1924) published a new article in the Routledge journal Global Intellectual History, «On the unglobality of contexts: Cambridge methods and the history of political thought«.
John Greville Agard Pocock, a John Hopkins University professor since 1975, is known as a vital co-founder of the Cambridge School; a historicist or contextualist method of analyzing intellectual history.
Pocock’s new text is shaped as a «review of a review»: a reading of Rosario Lopez’s article ‘The Quest for the Global: Remapping Intellectual History’, which was published in the journal History of European Ideas, in 2016, as a review of Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori’s book Global Intellectual History (2013).
Lopez wrote that ‘the quest for the global’ entails a critique if not an abandonment of the concept of ‘context.’ Pocock answers: «The beginnings of the ‘global’ critique are well known and may as well be accepted as common ground.»
When it comes to the «assertion that ‘Cambridge’ scholarship in this field is ‘Eurocentric’,» Pockock writes:
«This is obviously true, and calls for reformation. We recognize, but are not afraid to accept, that ‘political thought’ in a society distant from the European may be different in deep-seated ways from that we have learned to study, and that the meanings of the basic terms we shall apply to learning it may require restatement so drastic that we will find it hard to comprehend them. «
Pocock concludes his abstract thus: «But at this point the meaning of ‘global’ is no more than ‘multicultural,’ the transition from one ‘context’ to another; and we already know from Lopez that the ‘global turn’ may require us to go much further than that.»
On May 10, Global Intellectual History published a new article by the global historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud (founder of SGOKI): «Beyond decolonizing: global intellectual history and reconstruction of a comparative method«.
The article tries to go «further», as Herbjørnsrud «proposes to use the three terms complexity, connection, and comparison as part of a possible method for the discipline of global intellectual history.» Included in the notions of complexity and connection is «context». Excerpt from the article:
«The first two terms, complexity and connection, can be summarized in the concept of context, which stems from Latin contexere: ‘to weave together’. While the first notion, complexity, highlights the ‘internal context’ of a study object, a study of its connections illuminates the ‘external context’. These two concepts, in turn, pave the way for the third study object, and the third term, discussed here: comparison.»
Like Pocock, Herbjørnsrud refers to the debates of the 2010s:
«Scholars within several disciplines are increasingly arguing for the Academy to ‘decolonize’ and to offer a less ethnocentric narrative. By proposing a methodological draft for a global intellectual history, this paper argues that we can move beyond deconstruction and decolonization and focus instead on ‘reconstruction’ of a global and comparative perspective as a fruitful way forward for the discipline in the twenty-first century.»
In his article, Herbjørnsrud also covers the book of Moyn and Sartori. In addition, he refers to Pocock’s diverse background:
«Within intellectual history, J.G.A. Pocock published his interdisciplinary, six-volume Barbarism and Religion between 1999 and 2015, in which he studied the spread of ideas after the Roman Empire among so-called ordinary people. As pointed out in this journal,37 Pocock called for Maori history38 to be established as a subject as early as the 1960s. In addition, Pocock studied the writings of Chinese philosophers39 and the Arabian historian and thinker Ibn Khaldun, while simultaneously deconstructing the idea and term ‘Europe’ perceived as an entity with a common history.40
Pocock’s article quickly became the second most read article in the journal Global Intellectual History since its launch in 2016. On May 27 2019, Herbjørnsrud’s article entered the number 3 spot on at the journal’s «Most read» list. Originally, the article «Beyond decolonizing» was available for subscribers only. After less than two weeks, the article was converted into «Free access».