By Eric Weitz
Historians have always had a global perspective. Even though our contemporary world seems dominated by the nearly 200 individual states that make up the United Nations, historians consistently look beyond territorial borders to consider how goods, ideas, and people move around the globe. Who can imagine the United States without taking into account the millions of people who crossed continents and oceans to get here, some against their will as enslaved persons, others as immigrants seeking new opportunities, or those Native Americans who were internally displaced as European settlements expanded? Who can study the world of late antiquity without addressing the dissemination of new religious ideas—Christianity and then Islam—across vast stretches of the Mediterranean world and then further into Europe, Asia, and Africa?
At the University of Minnesota, we can proudly say that for decades, a global perspective has had pride of place in the Department of History, and in all of our activities—research, teaching, and public service. Scores of graduate students in African history have received their doctoral degrees here, and have gone on to teach at colleges and universities in North America, Europe, and Africa. Our historians of Medieval and Early Modern history study and teach about commercial exchanges, warfare, and religious ideas not only within Europe, but between Europe and its multiple points of contact in the Americas, Asia, Africa. Many American historians research migration and immigration in a comparative and transnational perspective. Asianists explore the movements of people and goods among China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Likewise, our European historians bridge many divides—between Eastern and Western Europe, the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean and the links further afield to the Black and Caspian Seas, Europe and the Middle East, Iberia and the Americas.
Fundamental to all the research and teaching that goes on in the Department of History is our collective facility in a vast range of languages. In this way, we are very traditional. We need the languages to read the documents and hear the stories of the people whose histories we research and teach, but we also believe that linguistic competence opens the way to a deeper understanding of a people's culture—and provides perspective on one's own native language and culture. Greek, Ojibwe, French, Japanese, German, Arabic, Spa-nish, Latin, Chinese, Hmong, Portuguese, Xhosa, Russian, Turkish, and Persian are just a few of the languages our faculty and graduate students read or speak or write (or all three). In fact, the College of Liberal Arts offers instruction in 40 different languages, a very useful resource for faculty and students alike. In this way, we also model for our undergraduates the notion that in our ever more connected world, knowledge of foreign languages deepens and broadens one's knowledge of the past and the present, and enhances one's capacity to engage with the world around us.
I hope that you enjoy this year's special issue on history at the University of Minnesota in global perspective. We've highlighted some of our exciting new global scholarship and some of our alumni and graduate students also working in that field.