Is The History of The World a History of The West?

Is The History of The World a History of The West?

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Is The History of The World a History of The West?

History is a complex and conflated term denoting the evolution of human civilization and the modern states and their interrelationship. When viewed from a human civilization lens, the history of the world dates back to when humankind debuted in the world millions of years back and continues to the ancient times when diverse civilizations thrived across all continents of the world. However, from an international relations perspective, history has a much shorter lifespan and more recent beginnings because it focuses on the emergence of the modern state system and the contemporary relationships between different states in the world order. Therefore, the world should be understood in terms of its lifespan to guide a coherent interrogation of its history. However, historical records are dominated by a Eurocentric view considering that most recorded history was penned by Europeans and stored in European archives. This domination by Europe in historical matters is central in understanding the history of the West, which is a more recent phenomenon compared to that of the world. Since the West is a more recent ‘world’ denoting the highly developed countries that include Europe and its affiliates, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, its history is short. Despite this, Western history dominates the international relationship discourse because international relations were mooted and developed into a discipline in Europe, based on the evolution of the political configurations its emergence. Therefore, understanding the history of the world is to interrogate the origins of the current world order, which requires interrogating the history of the West. In this regard, the history of the world is essentially that of the West because of the Eurocentric perception influencing the emergence and evolution of international relations significantly. However, this history is often tainted with influences that threaten the dominant worldview of international relations, with the West guarding its ideologies jealously to control the dominant narrative and discourse. In the ensuing analysis, I argue that the history of the world is a history of the West, particularly so when interrogating both histories from an international relations perspective. The argument is that the West controls the historical narrative so much that non-West influences to the history world are largely ignored or subverted to protect and preserve the extant world order. This critical analysis begins with differentiating world history and the history of the West alongside the international relations perspective of the two histories. After that, the arguments for the congruence of the histories of the world and the West are made, to overweigh the counterarguments using a thematic structure.

History of the world and the West, and International Relations

The history of the world is expansive because its spans from the advent of writing, record-keeping, and printing, which are some of the significant achievements of human civilization. However, since early human civilizations were geographically dispersed and thrived at different times, their histories are disparate. However, the West is a more recent phenomenon characterized by Western Europe and its affiliates in North America and Australasia. Therefore, the history of the West is essentially the history of Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, collectively. 

International relations is a relatively recent concept that emerged alongside the concept of sovereign states, which gained prominence in the early 1900s when it was established as a distinct scholarly discipline. However, although its history dates as far back as almost four millennia Before Christ, with the interaction of city-states in ancient Sumer civilization, its focus has been directed towards the relations between sovereign states, international entities, and multinational corporations. International relations deals broadly with diplomacy, foreign policy, trade, and armed conflicts and how sovereign states navigate resolve conflicts in these areas. 

The History of The World is a History of The West

There is enormous evidence indicating that the two histories are equivalent in the international relations perspective.

Watson (2009) provided a comprehensive history of the international society and how it evolved. Although he discusses the state systems in the ancient world extensively, he notes that their history was hazy and fragmented. His work concentrated more on the European international society and its influence on the global world order. However, his disproportionate focus on the historical development of the European society indicates that the West dominates the history of the world. Similarly, Dunne and Reus-Smit (2017) noted that although the modern international system originated in Europe, it has been significant Afro-Eurasian influences, which are often downplayed in historical narratives in international relations. Therefore, although the European international system was explained using the English school of thought, its permeation to the rest of the world through globalization makes European history equivalent to world history, particularly when considering the modern international system and relations.

Phillips and Sharman (2020) explains that although the world has evolved through historical events such as the establishments of regional and global international systems, the origins of the concept of sovereign states, which is central to international relations, are often summarized to leave significant details. They noted that sovereign states were preceded by company states, such as the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company, which enjoyed significant state-like authority and autonomy, despite having no territorial jurisdiction. Similarly, Hobson, J. M., & Lawson, G. (2008) in their endeavor to explain that history is in international relations fault the theoretical assumption that the British perspective of international relations is historical while that of American one is ahistorical , thus presenting a transatlantic divide. However, although these articles unearth the inconsistencies, misconceptions, and omissions in the history of international relations, they still use a Western lens as their foundation of international relations history by confining their narratives to the happening is the West to indicate a representation of the world history. 

The History of The World is not a History of The West

Some have argued that defining the history of the world using a Western less is a disservice to the human relations discipline.

International relations have focused primarily on war and peace, and the dynamics in between. However, Buzan and Lawson (2014) argued that this is narrow view that robs the discipline of historical significance, broadness, and depth. They argued that the history international relations is organized around five significant dates between 1500 and 1989, all of which are centered on historical events that occurred in Europe. However, they propose that there was a need to expand the benchmark dates recording the history of international relations to include significant events that occurred outside Europe. The events included the emergence of socialism, fascism, and great powers outside Europe, which influenced international relations significantly (Buzan & Lawson, 2014). Similarly, De Carvalho, Leira, and Hobson (2011) argues that international relations assumed a Eurocentric perspective to promoted and preserves Western civilization, yet it only attends to one side of the narrative. They explain that between the world wars that involved Europe directly, there were significant racial rebellions that occurred in colonies controlled by the European hegemonies. This history of the origins, development, and evolution are often deemphasizes in history to promote the Eurocentric perspective.

Sharman (2018) noted that the narrative of the Europeans conquests in their colonies is marred with Eurocentric bias because it only highlights the military might which the Western powers used to conquer their colonies. However, that history ignores to explain emphatically and consistently that colonization was conducted by adventurous charter enterprises rather than nation-states, and that their tiny militaries encountered fierce opposition and thus, had to adopt local tactics to dominate the natives. Similarly, Keene (2014) and Stroikos (2014) decried the dominance of the Western views in defining civilized nations, which omit the role of non-Western civilizations such as those in China and India, whose histories contributed significantly to the establishment of the hierarchical international order. He noted that although non-Western civilizations have contributed significantly to international relations, their role has been supportive rather than leading because their historical development strived to confirm with Western standards of civilization. 


The West fundamentally controls the narrative about international relations and influences the current world order significantly. The domination by Western ideologies are captured in the history of the West, and translated to become the history of the world, from a modern-day perspective. The motivation to control the historical narrative in international relations is jealously guarded by the Western countries, spearheaded by the United States, as the surviving superpower. This domination has dispelled alternative histories outside the West that could threaten the current world order, in which Western countries are the largest beneficiaries. 


Buzan, B., & Lawson, G. (2014). Rethinking benchmark dates in international relations. European Journal of International Relations20(2), 437-462.

De Carvalho, B., Leira, H., & Hobson, J. M. (2011). The big bangs of IR: The myths that your teachers still tell you about 1648 and 1919. Millennium39(3), 735-758.

Dunne, T., & Reus-Smit, C. (2017). The globalization of international society. Oxford University Press.

Guillaume, Xavier (2021), ‘Historical Periods and the Act of Periodisation’, in Routledge Handbook of Historical International Relations, Routledge Press.

Spalińska, A. (2022). Routledge handbook of historical international relations. Routledge Press

Hobson, J. M., & Lawson, G. (2008). What is history in international relations?. Millennium37(2), 415-435.

Keene, E. (2014). The Standard of ‘civilization’, the expansion thesis and the 19th-century international social space. Millennium42(3), 651-673.

Phillips, A., & Sharman, J. C. (2020). Company-states and the creation of the global international system. European Journal of International Relations26(4), 1249-1272.

Sharman, J. C. (2018). Myths of military revolution: European expansion and Eurocentrism. European Journal of International Relations24(3), 491-513.

Stroikos, D. (2014). Introduction: Rethinking the standard (s) of civilization (s) in international relations. Millennium42(3), 546-556.

Watson, A. (2009). The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis Reissue with a new introduction by Barry Buzan and Richard Little. Routledge.

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