This page lists cultural history research paper topics and ideas and provides links to example papers on history of cultural contacts and relations.
The racial segregation in South Africa known as apartheid, in place for nearly fifty years, faced resistance from the beginning, causing the country to loose its U.N. vote and its Olympics slot. Apartheid finally ended in 1991, and South Africa has been working to repay and repair emotional damages incurred by the white minority’s supremacy over the black majority. See Apartheid Research Paper.
The practice of swapping one good or service directly for another, without the use of money as an exchange medium, is known as barter. Because the relative value of one good against another varies with need, availability, and social context, barter transactions are not inherently simple, but often involve complex social relations. See Barter Research Paper.
Colonialism, which involves the domination and exploitation of a native population, has been spurred by economic need or greed and political rivalries. Most historians contend that its costs— including loss of life through disease, relocations, and slavery; inhibition of local economic growth; psychological damage to colonized people; and cultural domination—outweigh any benefits, such as the development of an infrastructure for postcolonial modernization and democratization. See Colonialism Research Paper.
The early exchanges of life forms between Europe and America, which began in earnest with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, included disease germs, weeds, and vermin as well as medicines, crops, and domesticated animals. The effects were far-reaching for species that had developed in relative isolation on different continents of the Old and New Worlds. See Columbian Exchange Research Paper.
Social units with similar features—such as language, religion, kinship, or subsistence practices—are often associated with particular geographic regions. These cultural areas can vary greatly in size, and often the affinities that bind a cultural group transform over time due to migration, diffusion of ideas and practices, and intermarriage. Despite these difficulties, the concept of a cultural area can be useful in describing certain historic groups. See Cultural Areas Research Paper.
The term culture has been broadly used to denote the identity-shaping beliefs, activities, institutions, and artifacts resulting from human interaction. Cultures are subject to constant change over time from environmental forces, political struggles, and social inequalities. Although human populations may bond through shared cultural features, cultures themselves can resist easy categorization when they exhibit human actions that are contradictory, ambiguous, and disorderly. See Culture Research Paper.
The emergence of many independent states from under colonial rule or domination by European powers between 1945 and 1990 was more significant to a large portion of the world’s population than the Cold War, yet this decolonization has received less attention from historians. The process led to the sovereign independence of many states in spirit, as well as in name. See Decolonization Research Paper.
When peoples of a culture are forced to leave their homeland for political, economic, social, or other reasons, some do not fi t neatly into their new host countries. Many of these groups are classified as diasporas: communities not fully integrated into a settlement. Diasporas play an increasingly important role in politics, conflict, and trade as millions of people are detached from, yet emotionally linked to, distant homelands. See Diasporas Research Paper.
Both controversial and hard to define, ethnicity is a term of vital importance for world history. In its most restricted form it refers to a group’s shared biological origins; in its broader definition it more closely resembles the concept of nationality. In practice, ethnicity is often linked to a specific language or religion. Ethnic prejudices have led to aggression, to feelings of ethnic superiority, and ultimately to genocide. See Ethnicity Research Paper.
Ethnocentrism, the tendency to place one’s own tribe, race, or country at the center of human affairs as superior to others, can be exemplified by the Western colonialism of the past five hundred years. But ethnocentrism is hardly limited to the West; it can be found throughout the world in other cultures’ attitudes toward religious, racial, linguistic, and ethnic groups. See Ethnocentrism Research Paper.
Ethnology is a subtopic of anthropology that studies cultures around the world through comparison and analysis. Also known as cross-cultural research, ethnology developed over the latter twentieth century to focus on universal theories and broad generalizations that emphasize similarity rather than diversity across cultures. See Ethnology Research Paper.
Eurocentrism, simplistically, puts Europe at the “center of the universe.” It interprets the world through Western values but should more accurately be termed Western-centrism since it incorporates Europe as well as the cultures of North America and Australia. Although it has existed in varying degrees for centuries, it was fortified by the physical and economic power of the twentieth century, which increased its presence around the world. See Eurocentrism Research Paper.
Contrary to many popular conceptions, the expansion of European culture actually predates the voyages of Columbus by more than a millennium. From the Greeks, Romans, and Vikings to the nineteenth century, European expansion has typically pursued certain goals: economic prosperity, increased trade, new lands for settlement, and religious converts. See European Expansion Research Paper.
Scientific expeditions are voyages of discovery that are essentially motivated by advancing knowledge and understanding of the unknown through various scientific techniques. These kinds of expeditions have been undertaken for millennia and include explorations and examinations of a wide range of scientific fields and disciplines, such as botany, astronomy, biology, geology, entomology, and oceanography. See Scientific Expeditions Research Paper.
China focused mainly on inward expansion throughout much of its history, and most of its seafaring took place in their coastal waters and the Indian Ocean. The most famous Chinese ocean explorer is Admiral Zheng He, who undertook seven expeditions over three decades during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Unlike many European explorations, Chinese exploration was not motivated by Chinese colonial expansion. See Chinese Exploration Research Paper.
Throughout civilization frontiers have served as boundaries between strong states and stateless societies, or between populous and sparsely populated areas. Frontiers have been crucial for defense, and for cultural exchange and trade. But the development of frontiers has had devastating effects on indigenous populations residing in them and has resulted in ecological degradation. See Frontiers Research Paper.
Frontiers vs. Borders
The terms frontier and border can sometimes be synonymous, but historians make distinctions between them. Frontiers are areas of interpenetration between societies, while borders are established by states to separate their subjects and territories from other political jurisdictions. See Frontiers vs. Borders Research Paper.
Maritime history is the study of the role mariners play in creating and maintaining commercial and cultural relationships between different parts of the world—in peace and in war. Commerce at sea and naval warfare are central to the development, structure, and expansion of local, regional, and international relationships. See Maritime History Research Paper.
Oral history is a field of study concerned with obtaining, interpreting, and preserving historical information from verbal accounts. Eyewitnesses, or at least contemporaries to an event or period of time, can provide historians with important primary source materials, often from several points of view. See Oral History Research Paper.
Historical narratives are commonly populated by the activities of states, intellectuals, and military leaders. Social historians argue that “good” histories must pay attention to ordinary people outside the realm of power; they must explore human activity and experience—such as work and leisure, emotions and the senses, or poverty and oppression. See Social History Research Paper.
Although indigenous is often used to describe humans (or nonhuman life) with origins in a specific place, the term indigenous peoples specifically refers to those who have become minorities in their own lands. Contributing factors include the shift from foraging to agriculture as well as invasion, displacement, and colonization. In the twenty-first century many peoples have “lost” their indigenous distinction by fighting against colonial powers and becoming citizens of independent nation-states. See Indigenous Peoples Research Paper.
Mercantilism describes the economic policies of the major European states from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, in a period when rivalries among new national monarchies were increasing along with Europe’s role in world trade. A variety of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers defined the principles of mercantilist economics. See Mercantilism Research Paper.
Early humans spanned the globe in ways that are still unclear to us, but we do know migration has been a constant feature of human history. Colonization, trade, military action, and slavery became important drivers of migration with the rise of agriculture and settled states. In the last two centuries, long-distance labor migration has grown enormously, giving rise to laws that attempt to regulate human mobility. See Migration Research Paper.
Asian peoples were among those participating in large-scale migrations, often over long distances, between 4000 BCE and 1000 CE. During the past several centuries millions of eastern and southern Asians relocated to become a visible and vital presence in the population of many nations and the world economy. See Asian Migration Research Paper.
Indo-European languages were spoken from the shores of the Atlantic to eastern India and the westernmost province of China even before the first centuries BCE; today more than half the people of the world speak languages that belong to that same family. But scholars have debated the origins and earliest migration patterns of Indo-European languages, and the possibility of whether they derived from a common homeland. See Indo-European Migration Research Paper.
For centuries, believers committed to a particular religion have endeavored to convert those with differing beliefs, and thus have affected great change throughout the world. The three main “missionizing” religions in history have been Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. See Missionaries Research Paper.
If nationalism is defined as an ideology that claims statehood and territorial sovereignty in the name of popular identity, ethnic nationalism is the subset thereof that defines popular identity through a myth of common ancestry. Whether this myth has a basis in fact is largely immaterial, as long as a sense of kinship among the population is manifested and maintained through common culture and tradition. See Ethnic Nationalism Research Paper.
The knowledge required to sail a ship between two known points by the shortest good way, and in the least possible time, is called navigation. Throughout history this science has been passed from generation to generation of seafarers; it includes the knowledge of prevailing winds, winds caused by seasonal changes, sea and tidal currents, water depths, and the capability to estimate the sailing time between various ports. See Navigation Research Paper.
The 1978 publication of Orientalism, a pivotal and controversial study by Edward Said, redefined a term that originally meant “scholarship that pertains to the Orient (or knowledge of Oriental languages and cultures).” Said stressed that the Western perception of the “Orient,” itself an ambiguous term, depended on creating an image of the East as the “other,” and thus facilitated its colonialization and subjugation. See Orientalism Research Paper.
The word pilgrimage is derived from the Latin words per (meaning “through”) and ager (meaning “field” or “land”). People usually think of pilgrimage as involving a journey—made either alone or in a group—to and from a sacred site. Pilgrims often perform rituals not only at the sacred site itself, but also at the beginning and end of the journey. In addition, pilgrims may visit other holy places during the course of the journey. See Pilgrimage Research Paper.
Race and Racism
Racism can be described as an extreme form of ethnocentrism (i.e., seeing one’s language, customs, ways of thinking, and material culture as preferable). But instead of using cultural factors to mark differences that can be overcome if some are willing and able to adopt beliefs and customs of others, racial boundaries depend on perceptions of physical distinctions between human body types, which are seen to be expressions of innate, biological divergence. See Racism Research Paper.
The Silk Roads were an elaborate and ever-changing network of overland trade routes that linked China, India, and western Eurasia for many thousands of years. Their existence ensured that the history of Eurasia had an underlying coherence, despite the significant cultural differences between its regions. See Silk Road Research Paper.
The trading of slaves had its origins when agricultural societies increasingly needed to defend lands and borders; it proliferated as growing empires expanded their own. Transatlantic slave trade, with its infamous Middle Passage, ensnared roughly 11 million people between 1443 and 1870; historians caution that using only slave-ship records to account for such numbers leaves out millions who perished in forced marches to factories on the African coast. See Slave Trade Research Paper.
The quest for greater knowledge and understanding— as well as Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union—fueled the modern space race in both unmanned and manned spacecraft, but humans have acknowledged the powers of the solar system since prehistoric times. Advanced technologies, and an increasing spirit of private enterprise, open possibilities for new adventures and frontiers. See Space Exploration Research Paper.
Conceptions of Time
Appreciating the diversity and evolution of cultural and scientific views of time—linear time and cyclical time—requires a wide-ranging journey through history to consider how diverse cultures conceived of and measured time. The interplay between the practical ability to measure time with clocks and the abstract concept of time itself is major theme of this research paper. See Conceptions of Time Research Paper.
The first tourists traveled ancient lands to festivals and sites of religious or ancestral significance, their movements facilitated by the building of roads and ships. Upper-class men began to tour the world for education and scientific study in the late fifteenth century. Modern tourism, or leisure travel, developed along with more accessible and efficient means of transportation, such as railroads, steamships, automobiles, and airplanes. See Tourism Research Paper.
For centuries travelers around the world have set out on journeys for a number of reasons— the love of adventure, spiritual pilgrimage, or to seek fame and fortune. Travelers recorded accounts of what they saw, heard, and experienced for both current and future wayfarers to consult. Thus, travel guides are valuable sources for studying global history. See Travel Guide Research Paper.
Writing of World History
World history is one of the oldest, most persistent, and most pliable forms of history writing. It can best be characterized by multiplicity: in the use of data from different times and places; in the blending of methods from a broad range of disciplines; in the diverse backgrounds, assumptions, and world orders of authors; and in the mixture of narrative styles and organizational concepts. See World History Research Paper.
See other History Research Paper Topics.