Cross-cultural dimensions of meaning in the evaluation of events in world history? Perceptions of historical calamities and progress in cross-cultural data

James H. Liu, Victoria University of Wellington
Dario Paez, University of the Basque Country
Katja Hanke, Victoria University of Wellington
Alberto Rosa, Autonomous University of Madrid
Denis J. Hilton, University of Toulouse II
Chris G. Sibley, University of Auckland
Rosa Cabecinhas, University of Minho
Frankilin Zaromb, Washington University
Ilya E. Garber, Saratov State Socio-economic University
Chan-Hoong Leong, National University of Singapore
Gail Moloney, Southern Cross University

Document Type Article


The universality versus culture specificity of quantitative evaluations (negative-positive) of 40 events in world history was addressed using World History Survey data collected from 5,800 university students in 30 countries/societies. Multidimensional scaling using generalized procrustean analysis indicated poor fit of data from the 30 countries to an overall mean configuration, indicating lack of universal agreement as to the associational meaning of events in world history. Hierarchical cluster analysis identified one Western and two non-Western country clusters for which adequate multidimensional fit was obtained after item deletions. A two-dimensional solution for the three country clusters was identified, where the primary dimension was historical calamities versus progress and a weak second dimension was modernity versus resistance to modernity. Factor analysis further reduced the item inventory to identify a single concept with structural equivalence across cultures, Historical Calamities, which included man-made and natural, intentional and unintentional, predominantly violent but also nonviolent calamities. Less robust factors were tentatively named as Historical Progress and Historical Resistance to Oppression. Historical Calamities and Historical Progress were at the individual level both significant and independent predictors of willingness to fight for one’s country in a hierarchical linear model that also identified significant country-level variation in these relationships. Consensus around calamity but disagreement as to what constitutes historical progress is discussed in relation to the political culture of nations and lay perceptions of history as catastrophe.