New endowed chair in history goes to Nile Green, scholar of global history and Islam
The Ibn Khaldun Endowed Chair was created through a gift from UCLA alumnus Hollis Lenderking and is named to honor the Arab historiographer and historian Ibn Khaldun, widely considered as a forerunner of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics and demography. As a scholar, Green aims to bring global history into conversation with Islamic history.
“UCLA’s history curriculum expanded — I should say “exploded’ — my view of civilization during the tumultuous and pivotal era connecting the 1960s and 70s,” said Lenderking, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA in 1971 and in 2009 also established the John Muir Memorial Endowed Chair in Geography, which is held by Glen MacDonald.
Lenderking recalled that when he was a student, the history department did not include specific classes on world history in the course catalog. He said he was fascinated to learn of its inclusion in recent years, especially considering the fact that the term “globalism” has become a lightning-rod for study and debate across societies, economies and cultures.
“It was hailed almost uncritically as the wave of the future in the 1990s, but has been rocked by disputation from every quarter in the decades since,” Lenderking said.
At a recent lecture celebrating his becoming the new chair, Green borrowed a phrase from poet William Blake to ponder “A World in A Grain of Sand: The Historian’s Dilemma of Scale” and how historians are reckoning with exponentially increasing amounts of data about more people in more places in more times.
“In recent decades, the accumulative character of historical knowledge has increased that dilemma, and access to big data will continue to do so, confronting the historian with the universal library imagined by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1941 story, ‘La Biblioteca de Babel,’” said Green, who in 2015-16 he held the William Andrews Clark Professorship and who in 2018 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
But world history is not necessarily the same as the history of the world, Green would argue. And his exhortation to modern historians is to explore processes that use manageable or even micro-optics to address large-scale, macro problems.
“World history is defined by an approach, or method, rather than a fixed scale,” he said. “It is the study of processes that are intrinsically inter-regional; that unfold across geographical, ethnic, linguistic, or political boundaries. Examining those processes doesn’t necessarily require writing the history of the whole world.”
Green has a new book coming out in May titled, “The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca.” He’s also currently writing a book titled “A Very Short Introduction to Global Islam,” which seeks to address the questions what global Islam is and where it came from, as well as a book about the Indian Ocean, using Urdu and Persian travelogues to tell the story of interactions between India, Iran, Africa and Southeast Asia.