Prof. Dr. Sebastian Conrad
Global History, (Post-)colonial History, Intellectual History
Raum A 355
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Sebastian Conrad holds the Chair of Modern History at Freie Universität Berlin. He joined the faculty in 2010 after teaching for several years at the European University Institute in Florence. He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin, a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études in Paris, and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara; in the spring 2017, he held the Theodor Heuss Chair at the New School, New York.
Sebastian Conrad is the director of the MA “Global History”, a joint-degree program at Free University and Humboldt University, Berlin; he is also the director of the graduate school “Global Intellectual History”. He is currently a Principal Investigator of the Cluster of Excellence “Contestations of the Liberal Script” and of the Cluster of Excellence “Temporal Communities”. He is on the editorial board of Geschichte und Gesellschaft, of Past & Present (2012-2019), of Modern Intellectual History, and of Esboços: histories in global contexts. Together with Margrit Pernau, he is the editor of the book series Globalgeschichte (Campus publishers). He is an elected member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and of the Academia Europaea.
For a full CV, see PDF.
"Greek in their own way” (Berlin Institute of Advanced Study, December 2017)
“What is Global History?” (Interview with Sebastian Conrad, July 2016)
"Enlightenment in Global History" (NYU Abu Dhabi, February 2014)
Sebastian Conrad, “Die Revolution der Zeit”, lecture (in German) (October, 2017)
“The Theory of Global History”: Interview with Sebastian Conrad (January, 2019)
Sebastian Conrad on Twitter
In our globalizing times, the traditional framework of looking at the past as enshrined in national containers no longer seems adequate. In order to make historical studies relevant for current public debates, more capacious frameworks are needed to account for the entanglements and interactions that made the modern world. This insight very much resonates with my own academic trajectory. During my training in both German and Japanese history, I acutely felt the constraints that the institutional framework and different disciplines (history and East Asian Studies) imposed on students, and on historians more general. For the past decades, therefore, I have been grappling with ways in which to look at the past beyond the confines of isolated compartments.
After spending several years in Japan and researching the way in which historians in West Germany and Japan came to terms with the national past after fascism and defeat in World War II, The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century (University of California Press, 2010); in it, I pursue a form of transnational comparison that is very much informed by postcolonial approaches. Due to the constraints of the German academic labor market – you are considered a historian proper only when writing about German national history – my second book turned to a classical topic of the German past, namely nationalism. In Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2010), I offer a global perspective on the transformations of German nationalism in the late nineteenth century, by looking at the way in which migration and global integration deeply affected the way in which the nation was negotiated in the Kaiserreich. An important dimension of Germany’s global connections were mediated by empire; crucially, these imperial structures reach beyond the formal, territorial colonies and need themselves be placed in the global context of the time, a theme I explore in German Colonialism: A Short History (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
In recent years, I have grappled with the question of how to write global history, and how it relates to related approaches like postcolonial studies and world systems theory. Globalgeschichte: Eine Einführung (C.H. Beck, 2013) is an introductory account, very much designed as a textbook for students. By contrast, What is Global History? (Princeton University Press, 2016) discusses on a more theoretical level the implications of a global approach for the notions of space and time, for the concepts that historians use, and the politics of global history.
Putting these ideas into practice, I have recently published volume 4 of the book series A History of the World, with the title An Emerging Modern World, 1750-1870 (Harvard University Press, 2018); my own book-length chapter on “A Cultural History of Global Transformation” has appeared as a stand-alone paperback in Italian. The book also includes a version of my most downloaded article, “Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique,” American Historical Review 117 (2012).
Currently, I am working on two independent projects:
Whose Nefertiti? How an ancient Egyptian queen became a modern global icon
The characteristic image of Nefertiti is known all over the world. Discovered in 1912 and first exhibited in 1924, her bust has turned into an icon of universal beauty that is globally recognized. How did this transformation happen, from ancient queen to modern beauty standard? How can we explain her worldwide resonance – in places like Germany and Britain, Brazil and Egypt, Bengal and the United States, places with vastly different aesthetic traditions? So far, Nefertiti’s truly planetary career has not yet been explored. This is a story of struggles over legal ownership and restitution; it is also a story about beauty standards in a globalizing world. But it is more: Claiming Nefertiti was about making claims on modernity. Understanding Nefertiti’s global fame, from German Egyptologists to Michael Jackson and Beyoncé, tells us much about the changing patterns of cultural globalization.
Beautiful Bodies: A Global History
The modern age has been called an age of beauty. Good looks sell – and can also be bought: the body has become a project, malleable and aspirational. The age of beauty is also a global age. Beauty crosses borders and reaches every corner of the globe with unprecedented speed. This state of affairs has a history. While our pervasive notions of beauty might seem quintessentially modern, they have their origins in the fin de siècle, a foundational moment of cultural modernity and global integration. In a series of wide-ranging chapters – ranging from bodybuilding, beauty contests, queer ideals of bodily beauty, to cosmetic surgery – I explore the emergence and global career of practices of beautification. The aim is to better understand how physical appearance has arrived at its current privileged status, how the modern cult of the body differs from earlier traditions, how bodily beauty is connected to power and inequality, and whose beauty it is in the first place.
For more on my publications, see my Academia site.
Japanese translation of What is Global History? published:
Gurôbaru history: Hihanteki rekishi jujutsu no tame ni, Tokyo (Iwanami shoten) 2021.
Princeton University Press, 2016
Chinese edition from China CITIC Press 2018. Taiwanese edition: Quan qiu shi de zai si kao (Gusa publisher) 2016; Spanish: Historia Global: Una nueva visión para el mundo actual (Critica) 2017; Russian: Chto takoe global’naya istoriya (New Literary Observer Publishing House) 2018; Estonian: Mis on globaalne ajalugu? (Tallinna Ülikool) 2018; Portuguese: O que é a história global?, Lisbon (Edições 70) 2019. Japanese: Gurôbaru history: Hihanteki rekishi jujutsu no tame ni, Tokyo (Iwanami shoten) 2021. Translations into Turkish and Serbian under contract.
C.H. Beck, 2013
Swedish edition: "Globalhistoria: En Introduktion," translated by Johanna Holmberg, Lund (Studentlitteratur) 2015.
Italian edition: "Storia globale. Un'introduzione," translated by Nicola Camilleri, Rome (Carocci editore) 2015.
Chinese edition: Quanqiushi daolun, translated by Chen Hao, Beijing (Shangwu yinshuguan), 2018.
Cambridge University Press, 2012
German edition: "Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte", C.H. Beck, 2008 (4th edition 2019)
Cambridge University Press, 2010
German edition: "Globalisierung und Nation im Deutschen Kaiserreich", C.H. Beck, 2006
University of California Press, 2010
German edition: "Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Nation. Geschichtsschreibung in Westdeutschland und Japan, 1945-1960", Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999Selected Journal Articles
“Globalizing the Beautiful Body: Eugen Sandow, Bodybuilding, and the Ideal of Muscular Manliness at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,“ Journal of World History 32 (2021), 95-125.
“Globalisierung,” NZZ Geschichte 29 (July 2020), 20-25.
“Greek in Their Own Way: Writing India and Japan into the World History of Architecture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” American Historical Review 125, no. 1 (2020), 19-53.
"Nothing is the Way it Should Be": Global Transformations of the Time Regime in the Nineteenth Century, in Modern Intellectual History vol. 15, no. 3 (2018), 821-848.
"The Dialectics of Rememberance: Memories of Empire in Cold War Japan", in Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 56, no. 1 (2014), 4–33.
"Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique", in American Historical Review, vol. 117 (2012), 999–1027.
""The Colonial Ties are Liquidated": Modernization Theory, Post-War Japan and the Global Cold War", in Past & Present, vol. 216 (2012), 181–214.Most recent edited volume
Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel, A History of the World. An Emerging Modern World 1750-1870, Harvard University Press, 2018.
German edition: Geschichte der Welt. Wege zur modernen Welt 1750-1870, C.H. Beck, 2016.For a full list of publications, see PDF.