Center for the History of Global Development

Welcome to the Center for the History of Global Development

The Center for the History of Global Development is a research focus established at the College of Liberal Arts at Shanghai University. Through conferences, workshops, publications and discussion panels, the Center seeks to contribute to interdisciplinary scholarly debates on the repercussions of “development” as a phenomenon which has shaped much of recent global history while remaining conceptually vague or contradictory. 

“Development,” in its most basic form, is understood as the idea that socio-economic conditions would and should improve and that specific policies should be employed to bring about such improvements. Beyond this core, development has been a highly contested concept, whose constructed character has repeatedly been emphasized. Critics point to international structures created in the name of “development” which have often reflected power inequalities and served the interests of those that put them in place. They also call attention to the continuing enormous economic inequalities between people in different parts of the world despite - or because of? - decades of “development” efforts allegedly designed to mitigate such disparity. Meanwhile, other scholars identify perceived successes of "development," measured in social indicators such as life expectancy, falling infant mortality, gender equality or literacy, which contradicts a simplistic notion of continued failure. These differences of perspectives are compounded by the fact that interpretations of what exactly constitutes “development” abound. A Western concept of modernization usually entailed a combination of mechanization, urbanization, secularization, a shift towards individualism, a growing provision with material goods and life at an accelerating pace. But the perceived shortcomings of this approach have given rise to a series of alternative concepts, including the basic needs approach, Amartya Sen's view of “development as freedom” or Herman Daly's insistence on “development” as a strictly qualitative notion, to be distinguished from economic growth.

Dealing with
Despite this lack of precision, “development” continues to play an important role in public rhetoric. International organization continue to employ categories such as “developed” or “least developed” countries, and for many people, particularly in low-income countries, “development” remains a powerful and seemingly self-evident goal. Clearly, for all its vagueness, the term has been considered useful in communication both about international policies and about desired or actual changes in a given society. In a larger sense, the idea of ​​some form of socio-economic improvement as a goal of public or private actions seems to have resonated with societies in many parts of the world, though not necessarily with similar meanings or goals. Inevitably, as concepts and policies traveled, they underwent transformations, often in unsuspected or contradictory ways, and perspectives of what constituted “successes” or “failures” often evolved along with changing attitudes in public and in academia. Besides, a full analysis of development is complicated by different, sometimes contradictory repercussions over time and space. For instance, the adoption of fossil fuels, by replacing wood and manual labor, may have contributed to reforestation in some regions, to the end of slavery in others and to the endorsement of ethics of human equality (almost) everywhere. Only decades later did their potentially disastrous role in climate change become visible, whose precise effects are still unclear but will be profound, long-lasting and regionally different.

This Center for the History of Global Development aims at addressing development in a comprehensive, multi-perspective manner. By engaging in projects that address various aspects of development from various angles, it tries to do justice to the ambivalent nature of a phenomenon which has been both so influential and elusive. It also seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of the evolving and sometimes contradictory short- and long-term effects of different development strategies, questioning how the evaluation of outcomes changes with time but also with changing perspectives on who has been affected when and where. Though the focus of the center is firmly historical,

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The CHGD is proud to participate in the UN ACT4SDGs initiative. See here for our contributions on "What's your favorite SDG and why."

Zill-E-Huma, "Globalization with Chinese Characteristics: A Case Study of OBOR and CPEC (2013-2020)"


Zill-E-Huma: Epic Transformation of Pakistan's bigest setback of "Waste" / 


Zarkamol Munisov's paper on Ecopoetics as a Prism of the Anthropocene: The Aral Sea Crisis in Contemporary Russian Poetry at   NARRATING NATURE, of the Asian-Norwegian Network on Environmental Storytelling (ANEST), July 2, 2021


Upcoming Events:

Thursday seminar:


Recent Publications:

Iris Borowy, “Human Waste: Hazardous Waste or Valuable Resource? Shifting Views of Modernity. "In: Iris Borowy (guest ed.), Special Issue: Development in World History - Development as World History, Journal of World History, 32 (3) 2021, 517-545. Https:// / 46077


Peter Wynn Kirby, Fukushima waste water plan won't win public confidence, no matter how hard Japan tries, op-ed. South China Morning Post , April 21, 2021.


Yelif Ulagban, “Belt and Road Initiative: Opportunities and Challenges for Mongolia,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 19: 3 (2021), Article ID 5533,