This chapter traces the origins, meanings and evolution of regions as objects and as a field of study. Even with wide use of the distinction between old and new regionalism, history has received muted attention in the general debate. Most scholars claim that regionalism is a post-Second World War phenomenon, which is to ignore the many varieties of regions and regionalisms apparent in different historical periods. A historical perspective implies that regions need to be closely related to the changing historical and political contexts, especially those concerning political organization and world order and, consequently, that new forms of regions may occur in different times. However, throughout history there have also been important continuities between various types of regionalism. It is therefore plausible to distinguish between the intellectual history of regionalism and the real world history of regionalism. This chapter distinguishes between four phases in the historical development of the field: early regionalism, old regionalism, new regionalism and comparative regionalism, which is the most recent phase.
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