Introduction: Whose Present? Which History?

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins

There can be little doubt that the history profession is experiencing a turn to the pre- sent. The post-2016 “crisis of democracy” has only dramatized it. Long-standing anx- ieties over presentism have crumbled under the weight of recent events.1 They have proven little match for Brexit, Trump, the rise of strongmen in the world writ large, racial injustice, and the pandemic. The turn to the present, however, is at times marked by undeniable provincialism—one that consistently offers a narrow perspec- tive for understanding new and emerging global realities. Some historians, for instance, have taken on the role of liberal watchmen ready to strike the tocsin against suspected fascism, but they regularly do so by focusing on Europe’s fascist past of the 1930s to explain the contemporary order.2 Or consider the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In the search for solutions, scholars proved quick to make historical comparisons to the great war economies of World Wars I and II, but appeared little bothered by the possibility that taking inspiration from Europe’s age of extremes might “lead us to look for enemies and scapegoats.”3