Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The history of democracy, again

In the last month, I have been asked to write an article and review a book on the world history of democracy. I was trained in early medieval/late antique historiography, wrote a book on that subject, and then went on to study chivalry and write two more books on that. But in between those two periods, I wrote, with Phil Paine, what may be my most important work, an article called "Democracy's Place in World History," (Journal of World History, 4 (1993): 23-45).
Fifteen years ago now! And although I have no intention of abandoning chivalry -- I have at least one more book in me on that topic, which I hope to substantially write in an upcoming sabbatical -- something tells me (specifically, letters from editors in my e-mail box, electronic nudges from Phil Paine) that it's time to do some more on the world history of democracy. So you can expect more posts about it here.

In my view the history of democracy has many aspects, and it is a vital theme in all of human history even when manifestations of democracy seem missing. I will not be obsessing over every twist and turn of Canadian or American political life -- plenty of that to be found elsewhere. I hope I will find inspiration to talk about bigger and more obscure issues.

For instance, have a look at this post from Jan Chipchase's blog Future Perfect. As I understand it, Chipchase travels the world for a big consumer electronics firm, trying to identify future trends in consumer usage of existing and potential products. A lot of what he does involves seeing what people who do not have access to current technology might do with it if it were made available. The interesting part of his approach is that he has a strong respect for the ability of people currently too poor to have, for instance, bank accounts to understand what they might do if a cell phone made saving and transfering money easy instead of impossible, as it is for them now. He is interested in the future customer's ideas of how complex the future might be designed, even if the future customer is, say, illiterate. This, to me, is part of the current history of democracy.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog through your comment on Dymaxion World (via The Vanity Press;-) and love this combination of modern and medieval! Will check in again...

    Maybe you could give some reading references for your comments on Jihad and Crusade, I'm tantalized by some of your remarks... what exactly is the difference between the English/French and German perspectives on the Crusades?