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Global Population: History, Geopolitics and Life on Earth

Concern about the size of the world’s population did not begin with the “population bomb” in 1968. Global Population traces the idea of a world population problem as it evolved from the 1920s through the 1960s. The growth and distribution of the human population over the planet’s surface came deeply to shape the characterization of “civilizations” with different standards of living. It forged the very ideas of development, demographically defined three worlds, and, for some, an aspirational “one world.” Drawing on international conference transcripts and personal and organizational archives, this book reconstructs the twentieth-century population problem in terms of migration, colonial expansion, globalization, and world food plans. Population was a problem in which international relations and intimate relations were one. Global Population ultimately shows how a geopolitical problem about sovereignty over land morphed into a biopolitical solution, entailing sovereignty over one’s person.

“With this engaging, wide-ranging, and impressively researched book, which tracks the global history of the ‘world population problem’—including fascinating forays into debates on eugenics, birth control, colonization, soil, food, agriculture, and the carrying capacity of the earth—Bashford joins a very select group of historians who have recently taken the familiar narratives of world history in an entirely new direction: toward the historical origins of modern ‘planetary consciousness.’ A timely and brilliant piece of work.” Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago