We are still working out how to do global history, especially for premodern periods. How do we achieve the necessary shift in scale without falling back on standard definitions of categories like states, ethnicity, religion, urbanisation, when these are increasingly challenged at the specialist level? This paper draws from my current work on ‘A global history of eastern Eurasia, 600-1350’ to explore how global history can avoid reverting to familiar themes such as power, empires, money, wars and men. Useful techniques include thinking in layers rather than blocks, rejecting ethnocentricity, emphasising exchange over competition, avoiding narrative arcs, and not using words like ‘China’. My intention is to disrupt the reemergence in the new venue of global history of essentially national narratives. Meanwhile, some may worry that developing a ‘global Middle Ages’ risks becoming a neocolonial move: here I will suggest that by globalising our approaches to the premodern we may find alternatives to help us to recover the political initiative in the present day.
Professor Naomi Standen is the first non-Europeanist appointed as a Professor of Medieval History in the UK. Her research started from a fascination with the ground-level functioning of borderlands, especially in the Liao (907-1125), and from there has expanded in both time and space. She works with texts, with archaeologists and with medievalists studying all parts of the globe. Publications include Unbounded loyalty: frontier crossings in Liao China (Hawai’i, 2007), and The Global Middle Ages (ed. with Catherine Holmes, the Past and Present supplement for 2018). She is writing a global history of eastern Eurasia between the 7th and the 14th centuries.
IEM / NOVA FCSH
CHAM / NOVA FCSH
IHC / NOVA FCSH