The Mental Decolonization: The Creation of a Collective Memory of Humanity

    Project Details


    In wake of World War II a new approach to the writing of world history appeared. The idea was to produce history books without particular geographical orientations and to emphasize the history of globalization, with the purpose of constructing a sense of international unity, promoting mutual understanding and ultimately shaping the foundations for permanent peace among nations.

    A noteworthy practical attempt was initiated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The preparatory commission for the organization acknowledged already that "peace in the minds of men" - which was the organization's overall goal - could easier be obtained if a collective memory of mankind was constructed. The task was therefore to launch an authoritative piece of world history providing a profound understanding of the interdependence of various cultures and accentuating their contributions to the common cultural heritage.

    After years of preparation - which included scholars like Joseph Needham and Lucien Febvre - the six volumes, History of Mankind: Scientific and Cultural Development, were published in 1963-76. The publication received massive critique, including objections towards the political implications of the content deriving from the Cold War, and towards the focus on science as the main thread in globalization, and the project show how difficult it was to reach a world-wide consensus on how to write history at the time.

    Nevertheless the volumes were ground-breaking in historiography due to the genuine attempt to be truly global in its objectives and in the composition of authors, and it would be reasonable to characterize the work an important forerunner of a new genre that has in recent years been labeled "global history" to distinguish it from the Eurocentric world histories of the past.

    The project highlights the long and troublesome process prior to the publication. It also draws attention to UNESCO's involvement in the internationalization of history and in the management of the International Committee of Historical Sciences, not to mention the creation of the Journal of World History - efforts that can be seen as major attempts to support the United Nation's practical decolonization and acts of peace-keeping through a kind of mental decolonization and peace-making.

    The research is based on transnational archival sources such as the papers of the International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind at the UNESCO Archives in Paris, the Julian Huxley Papers at Rice University Library, Houston (Texas) and the Joseph Needham Papers at Cambridge University Library.
    Effective start/end date15/05/200715/05/2011


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