Art in World History

By Sonal Khullar, author of Worldly Affiliations 

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts. 

The purpose of art, Amrita Sher-Gil wrote in 1936, was to “create the forms of the future.” Art was not limited by existing social and political conditions. Indeed it aimed to transform notions of nation and world. Unlike her counterparts in India, notably in Bengal, during this period, Sher-Gil did not believe there was an Eastern alternative to modernism, modernity, and the West. Indian artists would have to embrace oil painting, material conditions, and the historical present, and not look back to an idealized, spiritual, and premodern past. Sher-Gil’s model of making art and identity that resisted colonialist and nationalist norms proved influential in twentieth-century India.

Worldly AffiliationsWorldly Affiliations excavates a distinctive trajectory of modernism in the visual arts in India and emphasizes its cosmopolitan aims and achievements. It focuses on four artists —Sher-Gil, M.F. Husain, K.G. Subramanyan, and Bhupen Khakhar—who challenged the canons, disciplines, schools, and institutions of British colonialism and Indian nationalism. For these artists, cosmopolitanism was a critical response to colonialism, a way of asserting citizenship in national and international community that had been impossible under colonialism. This cosmopolitanism entailed a thoroughgoing investigation of categories such as East and West that propelled globalizing processes such as capitalism and colonialism. For the period I discuss in the book, the East was associated with the village, crafts, tradition, and nationalism, while the West was associated with the city, art, modernity, and colonialism. Artists challenged these associations, but the terms East and West remained active in various forms during the twentieth century.

Reflecting on the discipline of art history in the twentieth century, Subramanyan wrote: “Most histories of World Art emanating from European centres of culture present Europe as their main scene. . . . The arts of the rest of the world are side scenes that hook on to some point or other of this historical structure, or ladder of evolution: the arts of Africa, Pre-Columbian America, Oceania to the early stages; of Asia, to the middle (I still remember that when I visited the Edinburgh Museum in the mid-fifties all Asia was marked on a large cultural map displayed in its lobby as the Medieval world).” Subramanyan, like the other visual artists examined in Worldly Affiliations, deployed cosmopolitanism as a means to challenge logics that divided the world into East and West, medieval and modern, primitive and cultivated. This cosmopolitanism was a hallmark of modernism as it came to be practiced by artists in twentieth-century India, who explored worldly affiliations through unlikely—if ingenious—visual connections, synthetic gestures, and diverse archives of Eastern and Western cultural practice.

Sonal Khullar is Assistant Professor of South Asian art at the University of Washington. Her research interests include global histories of modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies. She is writing a book, The Art of Dislocation, on artistic collaboration as a critical response to globalization in South Asia since the 1990s.

Breaching the Frame

By Pedro R. Erber, author of Breaching the Frame

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts.

The late Hariu Ichirō, one of the “three greats” of Japanese postwar art criticism, once told me that his most resilient memory of a trip to Brazil as commissioner to the 1977 São Paulo Biennale was of a book by the Brazilian poet and art critic Ferreira Gullar. Hariu claimed to have read this book, Vanguarda e subdesenvolvimento (Avant-garde and Underdevelopment) looking up word by word in a Portuguese dictionary. Almost thirty years later, he was still able to summarize the main argument of the book, according to which the very concept of the avant-garde art contradicts the condition of supposedly peripheral cultures, condemned, as they are, to lag behind the cultural capitals of the West.

Not only in narratives of twentieth-century art but whenever we talk about world history, the old notion that Europe and North America constitute the centers from which modernity spreads centrifugally throughout the rest of the world, although much criticized, is still hard to shed. Pascale Casanova’s conception of a “world republic of letters,” structured around a capital and its peripheral dependencies, is symptomatic in this regard.

breaching the frameBreaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan examines the emergence of avant-garde movements in two supposedly peripheral locales. In investigating the apparent paradox of avant-garde art in the periphery, it disrupts our understanding of the belated, the advanced, and the contemporary. It tells a story of the emergence of contemporary art that goes beyond the local and particular, while refraining from representing world history as a single, unified narrative.

Pedro R. Erber teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian Studies from Cornell University, M.A. in philosophy from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, and B.A. in philosophy from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Erber is the author of Política e verdade no pensamento de Martin Heidegger and articles on intellectual history, art, literature, and aesthetics.

Istanbul Exchanges in a Global Context

By Mary Roberts, author of Istanbul Exchanges

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts. 

There has been much talk in recent years about expanding the discipline to create a global history of art, but what precisely are the new methods and protocols for writing these more encompassing transcultural histories? I have long thought that Istanbul and its cross-cultural webs of art patronage in the nineteenth century have much to tell us about what a global history of nineteenth-century art might look like. The capital of the Ottoman Empire had a particularly vibrant art scene in this period. European artists were working alongside Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans with many artistic initiatives receiving patronage from both foreign diplomatic communities and the Ottoman court. Webs of art patronage connected Istanbul to Western Europe; they operated between the capital and other cities within the empire and also encompassed links between communities in Istanbul and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus. In Istanbul Exchanges I have mapped these networks to gain a better insight into the visual culture produced for such diverse audiences.

Istanbul ExchangesThis is a history of art attuned to patterns of artistic exchange that accounts for the movement of art works in and out of Istanbul and its changing meaning on the move. Art produced in this context was created, apprehended and interpreted within a cross-cultural web of meanings. Sometimes this web was a battlefield of competing representations, at other times it was a negotiated matrix of divergent positions. Such cross-cultural transmission in nineteenth-century Istanbul was also entangled within patterns of misinterpretation, as visual forms were created reshaped, censored or productively misunderstood. By tracking these multi-sited and multidirectional art connections, I wanted to disclose the nodes and vectors that register the particularities of Istanbul as a place of cross-cultural contact while also situating Istanbul’s exchanges within a global history of nineteenth-century art.

Mary Roberts is John Schaeffer Associate Professor in British Art at the University of Sydney and the author of Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature.

Ana Elizabeth Rosas interviewed on the New Books Network

Ana Elizabeth Rosas, author of Abrazando el Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border, spoke to David-James Gonzoles of New Books in American Studies this weekend. Ana Rosas is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the departments of History and Chicano-Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Listen to the full interview at the New Books Network’s website, where you can also read David-James Gonzoles’ full review.

Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border
Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border

Abrazando el Espiritu (“embracing the spirit”), a study of the 1942 Bracero Program established between the U.S. and Mexican governments, navigates the deep impact that it had upon transnational Mexican immigrant families. Rosas’ book draws both from official government archives and family histories such as photographs, love letters, popular music, and oral histories in order to provide a closer, more personal understanding of the lives of these Bracero families and the challenges that they faced.

In this lengthy interview, she speaks about how she came to study her field, the link between the lives of Bracero families and those of contemporary migrant workers, the process of acquiring interviews and bringing the personal histories of families into her work, and the important role that love and connection play in understanding the historical moment of her study.

“A truly landmark study,” says Gonzoles, “Abrazando el Espiritu deepens our understanding of the costs of transnational labor migration on families and the efforts undertaken by women, children, men, and the elderly to preserve familial bonds amidst government surveillance and abandonment.”

Sale Extended Through June 5 – Save 40%







Our sale has been extended through June 5th!

Use discount code 15W8482 at checkout on our for 40% off your purchase. For orders shipped to the US and Canada use the “Shop Now” button below. For international orders please see our website for ordering instructions. This is your last chance!

This is the perfect opportunity to get some of our most anticipated Fall titles:

Parrots of the WildParrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds

Catherine A. Toft and Tim Wright

A synthetic account of the diversity and ecology of wild parrots, this book distills knowledge from the authors’ own research and from their review of more than 2,400 published scientific studies. The book is enhanced by an array of illustrations, including nearly ninety color photos of wild parrots represented in their natural habitats. Parrots of the Wild melds scientific exploration with features directed at the parrot enthusiast to inform and delight a broad audience.


Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3: The Complete and Authoritative Edition

Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet E. Smith

The surprising final chapter of a great American life. Created from March 1907 to December 1909, these dictations present Mark Twain at the end of his life. Also included in this final volume of the Autobiography is the previously unpublished “Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript.”




Islamic StateIslamic State: The Digital Caliphate

Abdel Bari Atwan

Islamic State stunned the world when it overran an area the size of Great Britain on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border in a matter of weeks and proclaimed the birth of a new Caliphate. In this timely and important book, Abdel Bari Atwan draws on his unrivaled knowledge of the global jihadi movement and Middle Eastern geopolitics to reveal the origins and modus operandi of Islamic State.



The Land of Open GravesThe Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

Jason De León with photographs by Michael Wells

In his gripping and provocative debut, anthropologist Jason De León sheds light on one of the most pressing political issues of our time—the human consequences of US immigration policy. The Land of Open Graves reveals the suffering and death that take place daily in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as thousands of undocumented migrants attempt to cross from Mexico into the United States.



Visit UC Press at the 2015 World History Association Conference

Join University of California Press this summer at the 2015 World History Association Annual Conference. The meeting convenes June 30-July 2 in Savannah, GA.

Please visit us at the Hyatt Regency Savannah for the following offers:

  • 30% conference discount and free worldwide shipping
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription

The theme for this year’s conference is “Art in World History” and “Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts.” Our table will feature our latest titles in world history, big history, and comparative/transregional history. University of California Press staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Check out @WHAtweets for current meeting news.

Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela

By Alejandro Velasco

This guest post is published in advance of the Latin American Studies Association Congress in San Juan, Puerto Rico. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference theme, “Precariedades, exclusiones, emergencias. Come back for new posts every weekday through the meeting.

9780520283329These days most people know Venezuela as a country mired in turmoil – whether it’s political battles between supporters and opponents of the late socialist President Hugo Chávez, economic crisis as oil prices plummet, or social unrest as people fill the streets to protest everything from spiraling crime to state violence. But thirty years ago the story was very different. Back then Venezuela stood for many as an inclusive democracy in a continent where dictatorship and civil war reigned. Enlightened leaders, strong parties, powerful unions – all spoke of a stable political system that for decades managed to ensure social peace.

Or so it seemed.

As I describe in Barrio Rising, the conflicts that grip Venezuela today aren’t a departure from but a continuation of decades-long struggles over what kind of democracy would take shape after the country’s last military dictatorship fell in 1958. More representative? More participatory? How to combine the two?

These struggles played out dramatically in the 23 de enero (January 23rd) neighborhood, a massive complex of barrios (squatter settlements) and public housing high-rises in downtown Caracas, Venezuela’s capital and largest city. Named in honor of democracy’s founding date, the neighborhood’s history mirrors the nation’s democratic history. Here, as one long-time resident put it to me, “the fight was fierce.” The fight to secure a democracy more responsive to the needs of the nation’s growing ranks of urban popular sectors in what is Latin America’s most urbanized country. It took place as poverty rose amid oil booms, and rose even more amid oil busts. It took place in the streets and in the polls, as residents made use of both formal and informal democratic tools – protest and the vote – to demand accountability from political leaders. And it took place largely out of view of scholarship that focused more on the institutions of democracy than on its everyday, lived experience.

Barrio Rising captures that experience. The questions it raises about the relationship between formal and informal politics extend beyond Caracas or Venezuela. They strike at the heart of debates over what democracy is – and what it should be – in highly unequal societies.

Alejandro Velasco is Assistant Professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

OAH Roundup

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the UC Press booth at the Organization of Americans Historians annual meeting in St. Louis this year. We showcased a broad range of groundbreaking and award-winning titles in American history. Below are just some of the authors that stopped by to show off their books.

Scott Laderman, author of Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing
Scott Laderman, author of Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing


Fay A. Yarbrough, Adam Arenson, and Stephen Kantrowitz, of Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States
Fay A. Yarbrough, Adam Arenson, and Stephen Kantrowitz, of Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States

This is also a great opportunity to revisit the guest blog posts by our authors, published in advance of the annual meeting.


American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders

By Gary Y. Okihiro

This guest post is published in advance of the Organization of American Historians conference in St. Louis. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference theme, Taboos. Come back for new posts every weekday until April 17.

Gary Y. OkihiroAsians and Pacific Islanders, indeed, people of color have transformed the history of the United States.  When seen from their perspective, American history is revealed in new light. The narrative begins not with the nation but with the world. The U.S. emerged from Europe’s oceanic search for Asia. Engulfed were Africa, Asia, and America in that expansion, which involved material relations and discourses that created Europe. At first, a periphery of the British Empire, the settler colony later emulated the core as an imperial power; extra-territorial conquests and colonization are central features of U.S. history. Land, taken from native peoples on the continent and on islands in the Caribbean and Pacific, and labor, supplied by enslaved, indentured, and wage laborers, were the resources that built the nation. From the start, “free white persons” delimited the republic’s members. When nonwhites, including Asians and Pacific Islanders, became U.S. citizens with rights, they instigated an American revolution.


Gary Y. Okihiro is Professor of International and Public Affairs and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. He is the author of ten books, including his latest two, Island World: A History of Hawai’i and the United States (2008) and Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones (2009), both from UC Press. He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Studies Association, received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Ryukyus, and is a past president of the Association for Asian American Studies.


Taboos and the American Civil War

By Adam Arenson

This guest post is published in advance of the Organization of American Historians conference in St. Louis. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference theme, Taboos. Come back for new posts every weekday until April 17.

Adam ArensonWas the American Civil War about more than slavery? Did it begin before the firing on Fort Sumter, and end long after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox? And was the ultimate outcome of the Civil War and Reconstruction shaped more by events in the American West than on the battlefields of the South?

As the Civil War sesquicentennial concludes, we can see how certain explanations of the Civil War Era might remain taboo: the argument that the Confederacy cared more for its American Indian allies than the Union did; that, as late as 1865, President Lincoln and other Republicans still hoped to send African Americans away from the United States; that the nature of U.S. citizenship would be determined more by challenges from Spanish-speaking men in California and white women in Wyoming than by actions in the former Confederacy. And counterfactual history has its own taboos: Can we truly evaluate what would have happened if the Confederacy took New Mexico, and reached San Diego? Civil War WestsOr if Confederate sympathizers had invaded Washington Territory from British Columbia?

These controversial ideas appear when we consider the histories of the Civil War Era and the American West in one frame, as part of an era of larger tests of U.S. sovereignty, and as fights over the nature of incorporation of a vast, diverse continent under one government. Rejected, affirmed, and mulled upon, these taboos find their place in the exciting new volume Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States.


Adam Arenson is Associate Professor of History and Director of Urban Studies at Manhattan College, author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (2011), and coeditor of Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (2013).