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Author: David J. Staley
Title: An Associative Assemblage of the History of Globalization
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 2004

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Source: An Associative Assemblage of the History of Globalization
David J. Staley

vol. 7, no. 1, April 2004
Article Type: Article

An Associative Assemblage of the History of Globalization

David J. Staley (11/28/03)

(Note: This is a smaller version of a digital installation presented at the March 2003 meetings of the AAHC)

Women at Textile Machinery in a New England Mill, c. 1850. Goucher, LeGuin and Walton, In the Balance: Themes in Global History, vol. 2, (McGraw Hill, 1998), 691.
Chinese sweatshop, from "Check Your Head: The Youth Global Education Network,"
Afican railroads. Tom L. McKnight, World Economic Geography (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1964), 580.
Thai peasant laying fiber optic cable.
Chinese workers build the Transcontinental Railroad. From Carl Barna, Richard Brook and Elizabeth Reiben, "Steel Rails and Iron Horses: Science and Technology Transform a Continent. Original source: California State Railroad Museum
Submarine telegraph cables of the British Empire, c. 1900. Goucher, LeGuin and Walton, In the Balance: Themes in Global History, vol. 2, (McGraw Hill, 1998), 790.
Alcatel submarine fiber optic lines.
"The Real British Lion," 1895 cartoon from the New York Evening World. Reprinted in Norton,, A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 3rd edition. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990), 645
Anti-World Trade Organization cartoon. "The Meaning and Impact of Globalization." League of Revolutionaries for a New America
Paul Gaugin, la Orana Maria 1891. Oil on Canvas 44 3/4 x 34 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Reprinted in John Kissick, Art: Context and Criticism, 2nd. Ed. (London: Brown and Benchmark Publishers, 1996), 353
Website from the Bank of Tahiti.
"The Herald of Civilization—Missionary Work of the Singer Manufacturing Company." Company photograph. Reprinted in Norton, A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 3rd edition. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990), 642. Original citation: Robert B. Davies, Peacefully Working to Conquer the World


The visual display above is a smaller on-line version of an installation I presented at the 2003 AAHC annual meeting at DePauw University. The full installation consisted of three SmartPanel screens upon which I juxtaposed images and text, resulting in what I termed an associative assemblage. The installation lasted approximately 10 minutes, although the presentation was looped so that it ran throughout the Saturday morning of the conference. The first part of my presentation consisted of viewers observing this larger installation; in the afternoon I held a discussion on the work, a discussion, I should add, that was lively and contentious.

Five years ago, I wrote an article entitled "From Writing to Associative Assemblages: "'History' in an Electronic Culture." That article described my vision of the future of history in the electronic age, where historians would use the computer not as a fancy word processor but as "a processor of images." I imagined that, in addition to more traditional written forms of representation, historians in the future would use computers to produce visual essays, multimedia soundscapes and virtual simulations as legitimate forms of historical scholarship, an argument I later elaborated in my book Computers, Visualization and History. The computer—especially its graphics capabilities—poses a significant challenge to our assumptions about representation in history. Historians who use computers to assemble images create works of art that communicate historical narrative and interpretation through association and analogy, in a manner very different from that provided by linear, logical written prose. The installation was a demonstration of my vision of a type of scholarship that I hope may one day become commonplace at all historical meetings, not just the AAHC.

The assemblage is intended to be viewed as a visual argument (with a very pronounced point-of-view) that I hope is debated by other historians with the same rigor that we apply to written arguments. The argument I make here is that there are patterns of similarity between nineteenth-century imperialism and 21st century globalization. I find it difficult to describe these analogies and patterns to you in words, since language forces me to line up ideas in sequential, logical form. But these patterns become apparent once I juxtapose the images, once I think of the past not as a linear sequence of words but as a spatial arrangement of visual concepts. A "right brain history" of the type I am advocating here would be non-verbal, analogic, multidimensional, spatial and holistic.

Let me stress that I see nothing wrong with traditional left-brain scholarship. I have written my share of articles, read conference papers and have written a book. My goal here is to encourage the expansion of our range of representation in history, to demonstrate the value of right-brain thinking for historical scholarship.