Beyond the Postcolonial?

In search for a global history before European hegemony?

Global History is often understood as the history of globalization – of interactions, networks and exchanges in a globalizing world. This perspective tends to limit Global History to the modern era, where such interactions became systemic and powerful enough to enact change in the world. Moreover, Global Histories of the modern era are necessarily structured around Europeans and their settler societies. It is to a large extent the story of the West, or the story of how non-Westerners handed the Western challenge.

But is it possible to write a Global History of the pre-modern era, and if so, in what way should it be written? There have been many suggestions; in some versions it becomes a study of forerunners of the globalized world, as the study of ever more tenuous connections spanning the globe, but they often end up simply as a form of trade history or of ephemeral cultural contacts. Other versions attempt to become global by shifting the focus of attention to another civilization than the West, but risk simply substituting another “centrism” (Sinocentrism, Islamocentrism etc.) for the traditional European kind.

At this seminar we set out to explore a set of themes that can provide a unifying framework or backbone for a new global history of the pre-industrial and pre-colonial world. Universalism, empires, state formation, and agrarian dynamics will shape our discussion of potential comparisons and connections before the world fell subject to European hegemony.