The Pedagogy of Global History – World History MA at the University Pompeu Fabra: Studying globally, living transnationally


The University of Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona) created its MA in World History in 2007 organised by the Jaume Vicens Vives University Institute of History and the UPF’s Department of Humanities. Inspired by similar programmes in Germany and the United States, this particular MA degree approached the rather new discipline of World History along two lines. On the one hand, it included what is known as Global History, which according to the current coordinator, Professor Stephen Jacobson, is “where professors choose a theme and then develop that theme by selecting case studies through time and place”. Accordingly, to this date the UPF’s MA in World History has been offering courses on a variety of topics such as diaspora, genocide, hunger, war and slavery, for example. All of these topics are considered to be representative of what Global History is, meaning worldwide experiences that have shaped the world as we know it today. But global experiences apart, this MA also focuses on World History, which unlike the global approach, aims at underlying transnational experiences. In other words, World History highlights the consequences of one community’s actions or decisions over another. Particularly in this programme, students may work on case studies such as the British rule in India or the Spanish conquests through Latin America.

Campus Ciutadella

On how all these topics are taught, Prof. Jacobson asserts: “As long as you give students time to speak and time to read, the seminars have their own flow to themselves”. According to him, there is neither a more efficient nor a more particular way in which you may teach about World History that distinguishes it from any other discipline that deals with History, although “World History focuses more on case studies and comparative approaches”, explains Prof. Jacobson. Overall, despite the Spanish teaching methods being usually different from those used by non-Spanish professors, the latter leaving students more time to talk than the former, there is a common tendency to rely on the classic system that goes from reading books to writing about those books and discussing them afterwards: “Insofar as you discuss it, World History is a flourishing field with a lot of interesting materials permanently coming out”.

It is precisely through discussion that challenges arise, particularly because the students have always come from different backgrounds, which certainly enriches debate but also reveals weaknesses regarding the students’ knowledge about History or historical research. Nonetheless, as Prof. Jacobson puts it, these limitations “are advantages in the sense that World History requires people to think differently”, thus “it’s good for us to have students with different strengths and weaknesses and so it is not necessarily true that these are limitations”.

Dipòsit de les Aigües

The fact that this MA is located in Catalonia’s capital forcefully shapes or, at least, guides its contents as well as its discussion and research. Barcelona has historically been to Spain “what Liverpool is to London”, as Prof. Jacobson depicts it, which means that the city has been an economic centre throughout the European modern and contemporary history. Unlike other Spanish cities such as Seville, which is known for having an immensely rich heritage from the early modern period, Barcelona constitutes “a very contemporary subject”. This is the reason why the UPF’s MA in World History tends to focus both its courses and its research on contemporary history, which is to say from the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th to the end of the 20th century. But doing World History from Catalonia has another particularity, which according to Prof. Jacobson is due to the fact that “Catalan history has always been a little bit more different in terms of the Spanish History”. This is fundamentally because of Barcelona’s geographical location, which historically enabled the city to become a very relevant and dynamic center for economic and cultural exchanges, what consequently has made of the city a perfect place from where to study transnational issues, especially regarding European contemporary history. This is the reason why this particular MA in World History might tend to encourage its students to focus their research on Spanish contemporary and transnational history, though interests vary and sometimes students need to pursue they research abroad. In such cases, the University uses its “web and connections all over the world and try to help them”, which means that it “does not only self-recruit”, as Prof. Jacobson remarks, but help its students to develop their research where those might best fit, be it in the UPF or in any other university.

Truly, as long as students make their ideas and their questions overcome boundaries, World History will not solely remain an approach to the past, but will become also an approach to our present.

Bàrbara Molas Gregorio (Tarragona, 1991) graduated in Journalism in 2013 (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) and finished her MA degree in World History in 2016 (Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Freie Universität Berlin). Currently, she is working at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra on her PhD thesis, aiming to compare the reactionary discourses that were shaped from the Catholic sectors of both Quebec and Spain during the secularization process of the interwar period.



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