Two decades ago, the historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam suggested that what defined early modern Eurasia (roughly mid 15th to mid 18th century) was a colossal change in the scale and nature of the circulation and mobility of elites, texts, ideas, and technologies across political boundaries and cultural zones. By approaching early modern Eurasian history as “connected histories,” Subrahmanyam argued that we would be able to recover the continental and intercontinental connections, junctions, and interactions that are obscured to us by nationalist historiographies and our own academic fixation on area studies. “Connected histories” advocates for the exploration of regional, supra-regional, and global modes of interaction, without offering a totalizing historical narrative.
In this course, we will explore this approach to the history of early modern Eurasia. How would a “connected histories” of Eurasia look like? What can we learn from such a focus on connectivities in Eurasia, rather than a comparative approach to the history of early modern Eurasia, as suggested, for example, in the comprehensive work of Victor Lieberman (Strange Parallels)? And what are the pitfalls and limits of this approach to history? The basis for our investigation will be early modern courts and imperial systems across Asia, with a special focus on Ming and Qing courts (China), the Ottoman (Turkey, Egypt, Syria, North Africa), Safavid (Iran), and the Mughal courts (India).
In the first part of the course we will survey the historical background and discuss the main theoretical approaches to early modern Eurasian history. Next, we will devote each meeting to exploring from a different perspective early modern Eurasian connectivities, including the Chinese and Islamic (Turkic, Persianate, and Arabic) spheres. The main themes that will be discussed include gift exchange and diplomacy; place, space, and borders; imperial ideologies and religions; material culture and artistic interactions; commerce and economical exchanges; text, translation and literature; knowledge production and skill transfers; and representations of the Asian and European other and self.
Course Requirements: The seminar will be based on weekly readings in primary and secondary sources (in English) and discussions in class. Students are required to actively participate in the class discussions and address the readings. Each student will make one to two short oral presentations (based on assigned readings). Other assignments include one book review on a pre-approved book, and a final take-home exam.