Author: Whitney Howarth, World History Center, Northeastern
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 16:48:55 -0500
***Eurocentric vs. Euro-dominant history***
Most scholars purusing World History as a research field will
agree that a Eurocentric model does not successfully present our
global historical reality. Though many world history textbooks still
tend to fall short of the "global" mark, an increasing number of world
history monographs tend to focus on world-systems and cross-cultural
interactions (i.e. Wallerstein and Curtin). Educators, wisely,
often supplement these textbooks with such monographs in hopes of
presenting a fuller narrative of the past, and to formulate a new
historiography which does not perpetuate Eurocentrism. Ideally,
I envision a world historical methodology which embraces connections
and searches for patterns trans-nationally, but find myself often
perplexed by the numbers of contemporary world historical pieces
which tend to promote the "dominance" of Europe (post-1500) as the
Within this category I include books like Walter Rodney's *How Europe Underdeveloped Africa* and Daniel Headrick's *Tools of Empire* -- books which by no means take a Eurocentric stance, but which, nonetheless, do present world history through a Euro-dominant perspective. (Headrick's thesis for example, for those unfamiliar with his work, explains Europe's ability to expand into Africa only after the development of machine guns, quinine and steam boats). Similarly, works such as Alfred Crosby's *Ecological Imperialism* and Willian McNeill's *Plagues and Peoples* attempt to explain Europe's status historically in the world system (in this case biologically, rather than technologically) without attaching a qualitative meaning to that status. It appears then that world history post-1500 is dominated by a model of dominance (!) which I find unsettling at best. Though quite fond of the above mentioned texts and appreciative of their efforts to present a new perspective to "old" subjects, I remain wary of the precedent they may establish.
I hope that scholars who have denounced a Eurocentric approach to world history have not done so merely to adopt a Euro-dominant one. If such is the case, it seems likely that we are merely substituting one myopia for another.
Author: Gloria Emeagwali, Central Connecticut State University Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 13:01:17 -0500
EMEAGWALI@CCSUA.CTSTATEU.edu Whitney, Thanks for the distinction between euro-dominant and eurocentric paradigms although I would like to add one minor additional distinction. The eurocentric paradigm sees Europe as the source of all that is good and positive in the world and the creator of all things bright and beautiful-- in defiance of the historical reality. The Euro-dominant one, however, sheds light on the historical process associated with the growth of dependent relations, underdevelopment and other transformations of that nature. They are really different in terms of the tools of analysis utilised and conceptual package. The eurocentric paradigm is the product of arrogance and supremacist tendencies.
Author: David Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:38:16 -0500
Whitney Howarth's recent post on Euro-dominance vs. Eurocentrism offers a fine distinction between sitting in the proverbial birdcage vs. owning the birdcage. From the vantage point of the bird--in the cage--it is a matter of the dominance represented by the outside powers which manage and otherwise contol its existence; from outside the cage, the issues focus on the needs, worldview, and desires of the birdcage owners. Of course, eventually the birds develop a strategy to gain control over the cage owners, etc.
Therefore, if the world was simply a life of birdcages, we would probably want to study the history of life both in and outside of the birdcage--as well as the interactions between them.
Euro-dominance since 1500 has been an issue and Eurocentrism continues as a problem, but like the birdcages, both are there and deserve study by authors so inclined, it's simply a matter of viewpoint-- from in, or outside of the birdcage that determines the value for world history.
Author: Haines Brown, Central Connecticut State University Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:39:27 -0500
I think you bring up a fundamental issue. In the early modern world, there's no question that Europe was dominant, but saying this actually implies some criterion of judement. Was it dominant in social terms or moral terms? Is the dominance of one region over another an important aspect of world history, or a minor issue?
Therefore, I think to escape a Euro-dominant perspective, I think we need to re-examine our starting assumptions and methodology. Here is the source of one of my problems with world systems, for it tends to downplay production and bring to the fore the commercial relations of societies. If we start by assuming this is most important, then how do we escape a Euro-dominant and then a US-dominant perspective?
Author: Howard Spodek, Temple University Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:40:39 -0500
After about 1800, wasn't Europe, i.e., Britain, France, Netherlands, dominant? (Perhaps from an East Asian perspective 1850 might be a better date.) How do you perceive the role of the imperial powers and those over whom they exercised power? What is your alternative representation?
Author: Bullitt Lowry, University of North Texas Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:42:32 -0500
firstname.lastname@example.org I have never been easy in my own mind about the appropriate
balance in textbooks between Europe and the world. The problem is that methodologically we certainly need to develop an approach that starts from the top down, an approach that includes Europe only as a part of historical hypotheses and systems that are derived from a world point of view.
But . . . the course in World History also is often the only course that students take in the heritage of what for most of them is their own civilization, Western Civilization. Therefore, I find myself stressing developments in the West (e.g., the English Civil War) at the expense of world approaches and world themes.
I know that this problem is an old one, but its being old hasn't led me any nearer to a solution that I feel comfortable with. If I stress world themes, the students lose their own culture; if I stress Western themes, the students lose intellectual focus on what is really going on. Does anyone have any break through thoughts on this oldie but goodie?
Author: H. Parker James, Tufts University Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 19:20:08 -0500
email@example.com Like so many others, I found Whitney Howarth's posting
"Eurocentric vs. Euro-dominant history" to be extremely thought provoking. Western hegemony is deeply embedded in our perceptions of the past, particularly when we deal with modern times. Like it or not, Europe has colonized our minds.
As a result, Eurocentric thinking pops up everywhere, even in the work of non-western authors. One example of this is in K. N. Chaudhuri's splendid book Asia Before Europe. Asia before Europe isn't about Europe, so what is Europe doing in the title? Readerly interpretation reveals a variety of possible meanings. One among them is a close identification of "Europe" with "modern."
That association seems increasingly anachronistic. At the turn of the 21st century, European hegemony is becoming a thing of the past. Eastern Asia and North America play an enormous role in determining the nature of material and technological modernity. Africa and Latin America help shape modernity in art, music and culture. Who dances to European pop music? Who uses European software? Is European modernity an exportable commodity?
Yet Eurocentric thinking survives. Part of the power of Eurocentrism is that it is so deeply seated in the collective unconscious. For historians, notions of Western hegemony alter our perceptions of the past, especially of the modern world. Unconscious assumptions are difficult to transcend. The first step is to acknowledge them.
Author: Gordeon Thomasson, World History Faculty, SUNY - Broome Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 20:46:19 -0500
on 11 December, in a message on this thread cross-posted from World Systems Network, Bruce McFarling said,
"post-1500 Europe was best prepared to dominate societies without the advantage of metal-working skills"
I find myself asking, "which are these?" The sub-Saharan peoples who, based in the Ogho valley on the Senegal River in southern Mauritania operated some 40,000+ iron smelters from the IX-XIV centruies C.E.? The descendants of the Olmecs who, as Dr. Anne Cyphers of UNAM has shown in her recent excavations at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan in Veracruz were accumulating many now recovered metric tons of processed Ilmenite (FeTiO3) and other Ferrous ores from a regional network of mines, workshops, etc. that extended from San Lorenzo far into Chiapas and Oaxaca from 1200-900 B.C.E.?Or the Kpelle of Liberia where I did my fieldwork, who were intentionally alloying an effectively Low Carbon Steel with Manganese and Chromium to produce high strength rust resistant tools (with unmelted grains of Titanium serving, it appears, much like gravel in concrete).
And what of the people Solheim found in North Central Thailand from somewhere between 2500-1500 B.C.E.(I don't know the current dates) who were doing bi-metallic casting (bronze onto iron) of spear points and hafts? Metallurgical "superiority" is a VERY problematic criterion. Do you perhaps mean an edge in "weapons technology"? Or gunpowder? Those are very different factors. I just don't know what it means to discuss societies in the terms suggested, on any continent.
Author: Bill Schell, Murray State University Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 12:41:17 -0500
Editor's note: this posting verges on the intemperate, but it adds a point to the discussion that has not previously been raised, so I send it out in the hope that substance will count as much as style on this issue. PM *************************************** firstname.lastname@example.org
At 11:23 AM 12/23/96 -0500, you wrote:
>From: David Christian, Macquarie University
> email@example.com >
>On the 'European dominance' discussion, 'Europe' is not the only >piece of terminology that should be questioned in this context. Asia >is another, and so, of course, is Africa. Both are 'Eurocentric' >terms, as are many more.
Yes, David, European languages are terribly Eurocentric. Just imagine any people naming things! Why we've even named the Milky Way! I wonder what its called by the Chinese? Should we call it that too? I wonder what the residents of the far star-system call it. Maybe we ought to use that term rather than risk being EARTH-CENTRIC. Debate like this that paralyze the profession rather than advance it. It seems to be more important to name something than conceptualize it. What do Aficans call Africa? Which tribe? What do the Chinese call China? What do the Africans call China? Let's all use those terms. Well, maybe not the Chinese. That might be Sinocentric. I know, let's use Esperanto. Anything but a European term. That would be oppression.
John Betterly condemns "the syntax of western histories [as] mythic, religious and misleading." No other peoples' histories suffer those flaws! I'm sure the official Han and Ming histories are far more accurate and balanced than any that might be found in the WEST (well EAST actually from the USA, but no! wait North if I'm in Africa -opps I mean that big land mass below Eurasia -- well not Asia exactly, that would be the colonial geography! Oh, shucks where the heck are we anyway!) as are the oral histories of African and SE Asian tribes. I'll be religion and myth never rear their ugly heads there. And in Iraq and Iran history is never distorted to some base political-religious end.
Why are we even having this hairshirt discussion? Because, by-inlarge, historians of the western tradition (or not West -- perhaps we can just settle on the term oppressor-historians) are committed to the pursuit of truth (even if we never quite catch it) and to the goal of objectivity so that we impose standards on ourselves that make us sensitive in the extreme to other points of view.
Author: Bill Schell, Murray State University Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 12:43:33 -0500
In my world civ classes, I offer this very broad view -- with no attempt at prose in this version
Eurasian-North African neolithic revolution - villages - local trade - emergence of cities in favored areas = civilization. Simultaneous growth of intercity and long-distance exchange carried on through trade disaporas and subject to the exaction of tribute/protection by nomadic (pastoral nomadic in Eurasia) peoples. Intercultural-techn transfer
City/civ falls to newly united nomadic tribe - sycretism, change, continuity = new civilization organized as empire ruled by city-state. Process repeats - area under control of cities/civ expands - area under control of nomads shrinks punctuated by various "dark ages" of varying severity and duration.
Balance of power shifts decisively to cities/civ with the invention of gunpowder weapons. Two-way cultural exchange/syncretism ceases - nomads are hunted down and eliminated or absorbed into the now dominant culture of their adversaries.
Post-1500 Isolation of Europe from Eurasian world system by Ottoman Turks
forces Europe, weakened by disease and war, to find alternate routes to reintegrate with world system dominated by Ottoman-Chinese - discovery of Americas - introduction of European bio-forms = depopulation -repopultation by europe- remaking of American biosphere and culture - limited syncretism - creation of American pastoral nomads by introduction of horses - elimination of newly created American PNs by Europeans (North America, Argentina, Chile).
Transformation/Europeanization of Americas + geopolical advantage for Europe + transfer of Amerian wealth/mobilization of Eur agricultural wealth @ industrial revolution = emergence of Atlantic capitalist system/dominance ~ acceleration of trend to 1950 then gradual decline increasing with the fall of communism - end of trend unclear.
Have a Happy Holiday.
William Schell, Jr Voice: (502) 762-6572 Dept of History Fax: (502) 762-6587
Murray State University
Murray, KY 42071
Author: Jim Blaut, University of Illinois - Chicago Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 23:06:46 -0500
Re: "Afrasia." A good term. In the same vein, geographers have been using "Eurafrasia" off and on (or very occasionally) for some time. It's better than "Old World," at least.
Author: Beth Collins, St. Teresa's Academy Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 23:09:56 -0500
> From: Ross Dunn, San Diego State University > firstname.lastname@example.org >
> A few years ago I discovered that Toynbee refers to the contiguous dry
> country extending from the Sahara across the Red Sea to the Arabian Desert
> as the "Afrasian steppe." How about "Afrasia" as a name for the > supercontinent of Afro-Eurasia?
Would you consider Afroeurasia an agreeable substitution which would include the Euro and yet be inclusive of the other two major geographic regions? Less "retraining" and confusion, I believe, while satisfying those who wish to reduce the Euro-dominance of naming. Sort of trips off the tongue, too.
Author: Mark Whitaker, University of Wisconsin - Madison Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 23:17:00 -0500
>It is pretty obvious that "Eurasia" is the continent, and that Europe, >India, Arabia, and Indochina stand in the same relation to "Eurasia." So
>"Europe" should be demoted from continent to subcontinent. >
>But what could possibly be the objection to "Africa"? >
I can think of one. It only perpetuates the concept that all African
peoples are alike in terms of development and can be understood thusly
as 'Africans' instead of related to a series of quite different cultures
which have resided in Africa. This is a world of difference in how a
stereotype is constructed: whether it is one of uninteresting dull
homogenity or of creative adapatation to differing circumstances.
Though the stereotype is one of 'backwardness' in 'development' to
Europe, I suppose, there were and are many quite durable cultures
across the African continent, from the rich and loosely organized trading
states of Ghana, Mali, and the Songhai, to the East Coast trading cities,
to Kush, to Ethiopia. The problem I imagine is
that most of the historical profession is looking for clues from other
agricultural/urban cultures, and applying the qualifications to Africa,
where ecologically the circumstances are entirely different and
unprofitable to 'work' urbanization in many areas there. Or they are still
utilizng a rhetorical approach borrowed from the European countries of
'civilizing' under the cloak of imperialism, which only perpetuates
ignorance of these peoples or knowledge of them for their role in
European expansion. Though this may apply for states I imagine like
Ethiopia (or some of the East Coast
peoples), part of the lack of recognition which the many African cultures experience is caused by their preference to decentralize and to avoid concentration of wealth, which of course cuts down two qualifications for being recognized as a durable culture in terms of archeological evidence. It is known that the cultures across the wide expanse known as Africa possessed metallurgy, conducted long distance trade with other cultures, and through lacking a written form of communication, interiorized their legal and artistic traditions into spoken and performance/enactment traditions of their law.
It is interesting to note that I feel that the discovery of early humans in Africa have been placed within the exsiting sterotypes of the peoples there as 'primitive,' whereas if, let us imagine, all early human remains were found in Europe it would be construde a sign of European dominance.
Has anyone read the intersting book _Between Past and Present_ by Neil Asher Silberman? It is subtitled _Archeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East_. His point is that science, far from being neutral in the matter of politics, is, in the scheme of things, can be utilized as a politicalization force for justifying existing stereotypes.
email@example.com Overcoming Eurocentrism: An Illusory Project?
I have been following this thread for the past week or two. While I certainly see re-conceptualization and the revision of categories and language as politically important in terms of shedding new light on old questions and new light on new questions and redressing the fact that the rise of the West was for too long the history of the world, I also think that overcoming eurocentrism is an illusory project. If eurocentrism is defined empirically, and it often is, then it is easy enough to give more air time to non-European or non-North American historical trajectories and reinstate their significance in the overall scheme of world history. However, in my experience uprooting eurocentrism is like peeling a giant onion and every layer that is removed reveals yet another and deeper layer. If the entire modern historical profession was institutionalized and disseminated as essential eurocentric in terms of its basic assumptions and methodologies in tandem with the rise of the modern nation-state system itself, then eliminating or even seriously damaging eurocentrism seems unlikely. What concerns me more is the way in which a preoccupation with eurocentrism can lead to the privileging of non-european elite narratives about history which are linked to neo-traditional power relations. In my view a more pernicious beast than eurocentrism has been the elitist character of most history, national and global. While flagrant eurocentrism may be easy to eliminate the elimination of a deeper eurocentrism seems out of reach insofar as any attempt to erect a counter-historiographical tradition to the eurocentric ones is already contaminated by the eurocentric traditions and its categories and assumptions. For example, there is considerable 'Asiacentred' history which, purports to overcome eurocentrism, but continues to write the history of various nations in Asia or the region as a whole in terms of the success or failure of these nations to arrive at capitalist democratic modernity, while conflating the interests and concerns of national elites with those of the population as a whole. Anyway, enough said, although if I can end with a bit of self promotion: some of these ideas are developed a bit more (alhtough there is nothing 'new' about what I am saying) in a forthcoming review article by me (Mark T. Berger, "Southeast Asian Trajectories: Eurocentrism and the History of the Modern Nation-State" Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, vol. 28, no. 4 1996. I am pretty sure about the publishing details, but it is forthcoming soon at any rate)
Author: John Richards, Duke University
Date: Tue, 31 Dec 1996 11:50:21 -0500
I liked Mark Berger's recent comments on this issue. We must move from Eurocentric history to a truly world history and that is not going to be easy given the antecedents of our historical scholarship. One approach lies in moving back in time and getting a little perspective on the early modern and modern periods. I have been reading Neal Ascherson's new book, *The Black Sea* (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995). In the second chapter Ascherson comments on the construction of a composite barbarian identity by Greek ideologues in contrast to Hellenic civilization:
"Civilization" and "barbarism" were twins gestated and born in the Greek but above all in the Athenian imagination. They in turn gave birth to a ruthless mental dynasty which still holds invisible power over the Western mind. The Roman and Byzantine Empires sanctified their own imperial struggles as the defence of "civilized" order against "barbaric" primitivism. So did the Holy Roman Empire and the colonial expansions of Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, Italy, Germany and Britain. By the middle twentieth century, few European nation-states had not at one time or another figured themselves as "the outpost of Western Christian civilization": France, imperial Germany, the Hapsburg Reich, Poland with its self-image as *predmurze* (bastion), even tsarist Russia. Each of these nation-state myths identified "barbarism" as the condition or ethic of its immediate eastward neighbor:..." (pp.49-50).
Ascherson follows this with a discussion of the Greek depiction of the Scythians based on reports from colonists on the shore of the Black Sea. He later summarizes Edith Hall's *Inventing the Barbarians* (Oxford, 1989) which I have not yet read. And he follows this with a discussion of Soviet archaeology at Olbia and other steppe sites and argues that Herodotus' descriptions of the Scythians have been uncannily confirmed by the material remains reported.
The point is that this civilized-barbaric dichotomy has a long pedigree and has been a dominant motif in European, North American, and Asian historical scholarship. There are a good many other stimulating passages in *The Black Sea* that are valuable for those of us thinking about world history.
Author: Brad De Long, University of California - Berkeley Date: Tue, 31 Dec 1996 11:45:52 -0500
>From: Mark Whitaker, University of Wisconsin - Madison > firstname.lastname@example.org >
>>It is pretty obvious that "Eurasia" is the continent, and that Europe, >>India, Arabia, and Indochina stand in the same relation to "Eurasia." So
>>"Europe" should be demoted from continent to subcontinent. >>
>>But what could possibly be the objection to "Africa"? >>
>I can think of one. It only perpetuates the concept that all African >peoples are alike in terms of development and can be understood thusly as
>'Africans' instead of related to a series of quite different cultures which
>have resided in Africa.
This complaint applies to all names of continents... all names of provinces... all names of cities ("New York City" only perpetuates the concept that Brooklyn and the Bronx are alike)... all names of streets... all names of categories of people ("historian" only perpetuates the concept that all historian-type people re alike and can be understood thusly as 'historians' instead of related to a series of quite different...)...
It also applies to all uses of _language_, which perpetuate the concept that--distinct--individual objects and concepts are alike... so the only way to satisfy this complaint is never to try to communicate with anyone...
Author: Gloria Emeagwali, Central Connecticut State Univ. Date: Wed, 1 Jan 1997 21:30:55 -0500
EMEAGWALI@CCSUA.CTSTATEU.edu It is not accurate to say that Africa lacked a written form of communication. The following scripts are indigenous African scripts. Some of these date back to antiquity: (a) Meroitic (Northeast Africa) (b) Amharic/ Ethiopic (Northeast Africa) (c) Egyptian hieroglyphics (Northeast Africa) (d) Vai (West Africa) (e) Bamum (West Africa) (f) Nsibidi (West Africa) Arabic should also be included as one of the scripts utilised by Africans extensively, not only in the Western Sudanic empires of Mali and Songhai but also in Hausaland, Kanem-Borno and East Africa. There are innumerable manuscripts in Arabic written by Saharan and Upper West Africans. I had the opportunity to have a look at some of these myself some time ago. Some are yet to be translated. Several are in private libraries. The Greeks adopted/adapted the Lebanese script and by doing so established the foundations of the Lebanese/Graeco/Roman script as we know it, apparently. Africans, like their European counterparts also adopted and adapted and added to the pool listed above. Oops! To the above list we may also add Tamasheq of the Amazigh(Berbers).
Author: Arthur Preisinger, Texas Lutheran Univ. Date: Wed, 1 Jan 1997 21:27:41 -0500
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
I propose another debate which also promises to be endless and which
should keep historians' eyes glued to monitors and fingers to
The choice of many writers and editors to substitute B.C.E and C.E. for B.C. and A.D.
Author: Pat Manning, Northeastern University Date: Wed, 1 Jan 1997 21:24:54 -0500
email@example.com After Whitney Howarth's posting suggesting that the
literature on world history has left its earlier focus on Eurocentrism to adopt one emphasizing Euro-dominance, the discussion turned rapidly to the question of who has been dominant in the world for the past few centuries. David Christian has recently assisted the discussion by problematizing "dominance," noting the different sorts of dominance in various areas of human experience. From there the thread has turned to questions of dominance in the naming of continental and sub-continental land masses.
My interest in this discussion is not so much about who dominated whom when, but rather about the dominance of the theme of dominance in world history. Could it be that the work of historians is done once they have determined who dominated at any given time? Or (in a more complex version) are we through once we have traced the trajectories of rise and fall of the various candidates for dominance? And is the world of world historians to be centered around civilizational or macro-regional aggregates such as "Europe" and "Asia"?
Alfred Crosby has emphasized the centrality of the notion of "connection" to the study of world history. Of course all of the participants in the discussions referenced above have emphasized connections in study and teaching of world history. "Connections" have become part of the liturgy of world historians, but I wish we would practice a bit more of what we sing.
As an Africanist studying world history, I'm interested not just in the creation and exercise of dominant power, but in survival and renewal under domination, and in the new situations created by interactions of the strong and weak. Official calculations show African GDPs to be negligible on a world scale, but do Africans really count for nothing in the world of today? Does the planetary system not bear some distinct characteristics as a result of the labors, the ideas and the experience of Africans? The last couple centuries of debate about slavery and freedom, for instance, would seem to me to have transformed life on every continent.
In earlier centuries, the lives of pastoral nomads may have been of some significance even when they were not conquering Mongols or Turks; agriculturists among the Europeans and the Khmers may have played a role in world history even in the days of Harun al-Rashid.
The road to wealth and political dominion is certainly a logical pole of historical discussion. But are we sure that it is more central than the movement of individuals and ideas among regions, more central than the development of new technology, more central than the evolution of social orders and cultural traditions, more central than the attempt to understand and live with the unknown through religion and philosophy? And is the search for "centrality" the way to make sense of world history?
If we think of the world as an interactive system, then dominance, while an issue for discussion, is not at the head of the agenda. Rather than issue conclusions once we have located the strong in the past, perhaps we should be looking for the interplay of various sorts of strength and weakness. To conclude with an imperfect analogy, engineers spend little time studying the strongest link in a chain.
Author: David Christian, Macquarie University Date: Mon, 6 Jan 1997 22:28:13 -0500
A response to Bill Schell:
I think, with respect, that you're seeing political correctness in the debate about terminology ('Anything but a European term. That would be oppression'), and your language and tone suggest to me that you don't like political correctness. I think this is to miss the point of a difficult, but very important discussion for world historians.
What is at stake is this: what conceptual tools do we need to do world history well? The problem is that the conceptual tools that historians are lumbered with in the late 20th century were designed and refined by European historians interested in a very different project: the construction of European national histories. The term 'Asia' (to take just one of many possible examples) carries baggage that was very useful for European historians writing national histories. What it did was to suggest that the most useful way of dividing up the Eurasian land mass was into two large regions, Europe (us), and the rest (Asia). And the term retains a certain usefulness for those interested in exploring the peculiar role played by Europe in the last century or two of world history. But for those interested in constructing the conceptual tools needed for a world history of the long 'duree', this is, frankly, excess baggage, and it is sad that even many non-European historians apparently still find such terminology useful. Was it really true in, say, 1500 or 1,000 CE, that a resident of Kyoto had more in common with a resident of Istanbul than with a resident of Oslo? Is it helpful to assume that they did? Of course not. To do so is parochial and misleading. For the serious world historian it's like using a hammer because you can't find the screwdriver.
Finding the appropriate conceptual tools for world history will be difficult, and will require some delicacy. The project is in its infancy and I have found the debates on the issue in H-WORLD fruitful, though they are just touching the surface of the problem. I don't think it is so useful to throw up one's hands in horror at the difficulty of the project and refuse to accept the very real intellectual and ethical challenges that World History poses.
Author: Brad De Long, University of California - Berkeley Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997 18:35:52 -0500
David Christian wrote:
>But for those interested in constructing the conceptual tools needed
>for a world history of the long 'duree', this is, frankly, excess
>baggage, and it is sad that even many non-European historians
>still find such terminology useful. Was it really true in, say, 1500 >or 1,000 CE, that a resident of Kyoto had more in common with a >resident of Istanbul than with a resident of Oslo? Is it helpful >to assume that they did? Of course not. To do so is parochial and >misleading. For the serious world historian it's like using a hammer >because you can't find the screwdriver.
Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :-)
Author: David Christian, Macquarie University Date: Thu, 9 Jan 1997 10:14:44 -0500
> From: Brad De Long, University of California - Berkeley > firstname.lastname@example.org
> Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :-)
Not so simple. Early in 1996, in Istanbul, I took a ferry trip which, according to the locals, took me from Europe to Asia without taking me outside of Istanbul. I think this makes Istanbul a pretty good symbol of the inadequacies of the term, 'Asia'. If you disagree then you are welcome to substitute Jerusalem, or Mecca or Delhi or wherever you want. The point still stands. The term, 'Asia' implies that everywhere east of the eastern Mediterranean (or whatever borderline you prefer) has some quality in common that distinguishes it from Europe. For many (not all) purposes, that is a misleading assumption.
But let's not get too smart about this. There are important issues at stake.
Author: Bill Schell, Murray State University Date: Thu, 9 Jan 1997 10:11:21 -0500
At 10:28 PM 1/6/97 -0500, H-WORLD wrote: >From: David Christian, Macquarie University > email@example.com >
>A response to Bill Schell:
> What is at stake is this: what conceptual tools do we need to >do world history well? The problem is that the conceptual tools >that historians are lumbered with in the late 20th century were >designed and refined by European historians interested in a very >different project: the construction of European national histories. >The term 'Asia' (to take just one of many possible examples) carries >baggage that was very useful for European historians writing >national histories. What it did was to suggest that the most useful >way of dividing up the Eurasian land mass was into two large regions,
>Europe (us), and the rest (Asia).
Are you seriously suggesting that that the term "Asia" was an invention of European historians? That it was "designed" to construct European national histories? Please! Asia is a concept that has evolved over 2,000 years. The Romans consider the Greeks to be Asian. The Prince of Thebes who expelled the Hyksos said that he he ripped the under-belly of the Asiatics. Your interpretation turns linquistic evolution into a conspiracy to assert European dominance. In this respect your assertions DO embody the worst of the PC movement in that language (recast and desconstructed) replaces reality because it is divorced from historical context.
>it is sad that even many non-European historians apparently >still find such terminology useful. Was it really true in, say, 1500 >or 1,000 CE, that a resident of Kyoto had more in common with a >resident of Istanbul than with a resident of Oslo?
What is sad is that you think merely by changing terminology, you are devoloping a conceptual tool. You look down from Olympian moral heights on those "non-Europeans" whose use of terminology that you have declared problematic and implicity accuse them of false consciousness -- something typical of PC for PC's sake. Do any of our fellow listeros believe that a resident of Kyoto would have less in common with a resident of Istanbul that with a resident of Oslo if we use the term Eurasia? In point of fact, peasants of 1000 CE living in any part of Eurasia would have more in common with each other than they would with their own decendants today. In short, change over time and the growth of the capitalist-industrial world system is a more important conceptual problem than worrying about how we divide and name the world. Use only impersonal numberletter coordinates (but where would the grid start?) or call Europe "Ralph" and Middle Asia "Garden" and East Asia "Dragon" -- it matters not. The "baggage" of history will still be there. Understanding process, structure and interrelationship will still be a personal project for every historian because history is not the past entire but the product of the human mind hopefully in search of THE TRUTH which, although unattainable, is a worthy project akin to attempting to follow the dao or to know the mind of god.
> Finding the appropriate conceptual tools for world history will
>be difficult, and will require some delicacy. The project is in its
>infancy and I have found the debates on the issue in H-WORLD
>though they are just touching the surface of the problem. I don't >think it is so useful to throw up one's hands in horror at the >difficulty of the project and refuse to accept the very real >intellectual and ethical challenges that World History poses.
I'm not throwing up my hands at the difficulty of the project -- rather I believe that debates such as these over terminology for terminology's sake are sterile empty exercises in guilt that advance the project of world history not at all or certainly no more than donning a hair-shirt.
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Thu, 9 Jan 1997 10:05:31 -0500
> > Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :- )
When I last checked, the location of Istanbul--the former Constantinople--and the identity of its citizens was not European. The Eastern Mediterranean--including the Turkish part of that culturally rich world has a history which rests outside of Europe.
Would the French or other European Ambassadors have considered Istanbul part of Europe in the 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries? Currently a member of NATO, the Republic of Turkey--along with Greece--represents the southern flank of Europe, but is either firmly European or are they rooted in more ancient--non-European traditions and identities? Politically influenced variables place, for some, Istanbul in Europe, but cultural-historical factors set it on the crossroads of many worlds.
Author: Jack Wills, University of Southern California Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 11:41:48 -0500
So? What about Andalusia? Portugal? Sicily? Finland? Romania? This is turning into a wonderful lesson in the perils of essentializing any concept, even (or especially) "Europe".
On Thu, 9 Jan 1997, H-WORLD wrote:
> From: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University
> firstname.lastname@example.org >
> > > Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :-)
> When I last checked, the location of Istanbul--the former > Constantinople--and the identity of its citizens was not European. The > Eastern Mediterranean--including the Turkish part of that culturally > rich world has a history which rests outside of Europe. >
> Would the French or other European Ambassadors have considered Istanbul
> part of Europe in the 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries? Currently a > member of NATO, the Republic of Turkey--along with Greecerepresents the
> southern flank of Europe, but is either firmly European or are they > rooted in more ancient--non-European traditions and identities? > Politically influenced variables place, for some, Istanbul in Europe, > but cultural-historical factors set it on the crossroads of many worlds.
Author: Emran Qureshi, Ottawa
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 11:39:23 -0500
In message "Eurocentric vs. Euro-dominant history", H-WORLD wrote:
>From: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University
> email@example.com >
>> > Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :-)
>When I last checked, the location of Istanbul--the former >Constantinople--and the identity of its citizens was not European. The >Eastern Mediterranean--including the Turkish part of that culturally >rich world has a history which rests outside of Europe. >
>Would the French or other European Ambassadors have considered Istanbul
>part of Europe in the 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries? Currently a >member of NATO, the Republic of Turkey--along with Greece-- represents the
>southern flank of Europe, but is either firmly European or are they >rooted in more ancient--non-European traditions and identities? >Politically influenced variables place, for some, Istanbul in Europe, >but cultural-historical factors set it on the crossroads of many worlds.
At times, the study of Western Civ resembles the mythology of the KKK: an 'Aryan' interpretation of history. Witness the debate over whether Turkey should be considered a part of Europe. Europe has and always will define its borders: along religo/cultural lines. Turks are not Europeans, because they aren't Christian. they are Muslim. The 'ideological' construction of Europe has always excluded non Christians. Israel of course, could *never* have been created in Europe. Consider also the debate/discourse over Bosnia: an 'Islamic' state in the 'heart' of Europe.
However, even Western Civ theologians (as it does resemble a religious belief system - not entirely rational) are prone to Political Correctness, notice the tendency to discuss 'Judeo-Christian' civilization. This is a recent phenomenon to recast European civilization in a more tolerant light after The Holocaust. For an example, consider the views of Bernard Lewis, the Princeton specialist on the Armenian genocide, or the more recent commentary of Samuel Huntington on the subject.
Author: Virginia Aksan, McMaster University Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 11:35:39 -0500
To add to the comments about Constantinople/Istanbul:
LIke it or not, Topkapi Saray, the official residence of the sultan, sat in Europe. The present-day capital of Turkey, Ankara, is located in Asia. Take your pick. The Ottomans, by the way, officially called the city either "Constantaniyah" or "Dar al-Saadet", the latter meaning "Gate of Felicity" (or happiness if you like). Babiali, or Sublime Porte, referred to the offices of the Grand Vizier.
The ambassadors of Europe in 16th-18th centuries considered Constantinople a hardship posting - most felt they were crossing into a different culture and milieu - but the Ottomans were an integral presence in Europe until the 1870s.
Author: Jon Thares Davidann, University of Minnesota Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 11:47:53 -0500
Concerning discussions of language and world history and definitions of Europe, Asia etc.:
I have been a member of h-world for a couple of years now and have found the discussions in general to be extremely useful for my teaching and in terms of getting different perspectives on how to look at this extremely complex subject of world history. Quite frankly, I am finding the current language issue to be less useful than some of the other discussions. My concern is that we be able to be self-conscious about the political nature of our thinking about all of these issues and try (and probably fail) to separate out the politics from the the historical issues. I know this is a near impossibility, but this is one of the criticisms that those who oppose world history make about us: we are teaching political correctness or third world history and we have some sort of political axe to grind. The best antidote is to remain as selfconscious as we can possibly be about our work and our place in building a world history sub-discipline.
My own view is that world history at its best provides an alternative view to the Western civ. approach and in that sense we are building something which should not be Euro-centric (Even European historians agree that they've got a problem in terms of how the issue has been traditionally defined. See AHA Persectives from last Spring, I don't remember which issue). The world history perspective in its lack of boundaries is a very useful perspective. Robert Wiebe of the American 1870-1920 period (American periodization is so provincial) now wants to talk about a world system informing American history (His talk at the 1997 AHA conference). This is indeed good news for us world historians. So I think in broad outlines we are moving in the right direction and even when we fail in our attempts to move away from Europe completely (and here language is important and remains Euro-centric), we are offering a new way of looking at the world. Europe, I think, still needs addressing even with a world history perspective, because Europe changed the world as well.
There is of course a whole universe of issues which we do not agree upon and will continue to argue about. But we can agree that the world history perspective offers a new and innovative alternative to the Western civ approach. I just hope that we can be self-conscious and keep the discussion at a very high level, because when we do that we succeed in making an impact, not just in our own circle but also with the provincial Americanists like Robert Wiebe (I can only say this because I am also a provincial Americanist) and the Europeanists.
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Mon, 13 Jan 1997 10:44:02 -0500
> The Ottomans, by the way, officially > called the city either "Constantaniyah" or "Dar al-Saadet", the latter > meaning "Gate of Felicity" (or happiness if you like). Babiali, or > Sublime Porte, referred to the offices of the Grand Vizier.
Actually, the "Gate of Felicity, or Gate of Bliss" was the entrance to the Sultan's area of the palace. And, Constantinople, the Sublime Porte, wasn't officially changed to Istanbul until 1930 during the opening decades of the Republic of Turkey. Do you think the various Sultans thought they lived in Europe? Certainly, Ottoman possessions and presence did stretch into the lands of "Europe," and attempts were made for the Sultan to live in Vienna.....
> The ambassadors of Europe in 16th-18th centuries considered
> Constantinople a hardship posting - most felt they were crossing into
> different culture and milieu - but the Ottomans were an integral > presence in Europe until the 1870s.
Yes, the ambassadors of European monarchs and states did consider the Sublime Porte another world.
I would like to suggest Andrew Wheatcroft's -- it is a well written book on the history and stereotypes of the Ottoman period.
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Mon, 13 Jan 1997 10:34:23 -0500
A reply to:
> From: Emran Qureshi, Ottawa
> firstname.lastname@example.org >
> At times, the study of Western Civ resembles the mythology of the > KKK: an 'Aryan' interpretation of history. Witness the debate over > whether Turkey should be considered a part of Europe.
The insidious influence of racism on social policy in the history of the past two hundred years has resulted in the misery and mass murder of millions. The history of racism and the mythologies which provide ideological foundations for racist organizations and activities should not be confused with historical inquiries on urban, regional, or cultural influences on the formation of an area's identity. Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul....represent a crossroads point for many worlds over many centuries. In the case of Istanbul, I am simply suggesting that multiple variables shape urban, ethnic, and cultural identity. This should probably be highlighted more often to illustrate the central role of "crossroads" points in shaping and providing the framework for the development of civilizations across the globe and thereby exposing the fraud of racist ideas that point to "unique nations and origins." In fact, the study of the multiple influences on cultural identity should serve as a counter-weight to "the mythology of the KKK: an 'Aryan' interpretation of history." Of course, I would not call it an "Aryan interpretation," it is more akin to deception not perception!
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Mon, 13 Jan 1997 10:33:07 -0500
> So? What about Andalusia? Portugal? Sicily? Finland? Romania?
So, what about what?
An important issue in this discourse is that cultural-historical factors form crossroads for many worlds in many places. Places, people, and their times cannot be narrowly defined, but require broader meanings and connections in terms of their definition, development and origins. Thus, to call Istanbul a European city denies the mutiple connections that caused the origins and subsequent history of Byzantium in all its manifestations over a period of 2500 years. I don't believe this is "essentializing," merely offering an historical perception. The only peril is ignoring the multiple historical realities which have shaped world history and the various identies of people in the many regions of the planet. Anyway, as you cross the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, I ask you to stop and reflect on where you were and where you are going. Many say it is the exit from Europe to Asia, which is particularly useful for the tourist industry, while others view it as the crossroads from East to West with an identity all its own. Best wishes.
> From: Jack Wills, University of Southern California > email@example.com >
> So? What about Andalusia? Portugal? Sicily? Finland? Romania?
This is a
> turning into a wonderful lesson in the perils of essentializing any > concept, even (or especially) "Europe".
Author: Brad De Long, University of California - Berkeley Date: Mon, 13 Jan 1997 10:31:32 -0500
David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University wrote: >
>> > Alas! Alas! Istanbul is in _Europe_ (or was when I last checked ) :-)
>When I last checked, the location of Istanbul--the former >Constantinople--and the identity of its citizens was not European.
Where do you think _Europe_ stops? Why?
Author: Carter Findley, Ohio State University Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 08:20:18 -0500
A specialist in Ottoman history, like Virginia Aksan, speaks with some authority on a question like this one. As another such specialist, I would only interject that I would translate *Der Saadet* as "Abode of Felicity."
As to where the Ottoman sultans thought they lived, it was on the European side of the Bosphorus. In Ottoman terms, that is part of *Rum-eli*, the "Land of Rum" [<"Rome"], from the Byzantines' selfdesignation as Rhomaioi. From about the 1380s until 1517, the Ottomans ruled much more territory in Europe than in Asia (meaning Anatolia in that period). The Ottoman Europe was, of course, Southeastern Europe. They were not the only ones who shared this view. Metternich said that "The Orient begins at the Landstrasse." Back to Istanbul: it was on the European side of the Bosphorus, AND a major Ottoman priority, from 1453 on, was to develop it as an ISLAMIC capital, with the palaces, mosques, urban infrastructure, and charitable endowments required for that purpose.
> From: Carter Findley, Ohio State University
> firstname.lastname@example.org >
> A specialist in Ottoman history, like Virginia Aksan, speaks with some
> authority on a question like this one. As another such specialist, I would
> only interject that I would translate *Der Saadet* as "Abode of Felicity."
Yes, I agree, one would have to pass through the Gate of Bliss to reach the Abode of Felicity and viola you were in the innermost area of the Sultan's palace, which was located in the Ottoman Empire.
> Ottoman Europe was, of course, Southeastern Europe. They were
not the only
> ones who shared this view. Metternich said that "The Orient begins at the
Metternich's viewpoint on where "the Orient begins" supports a notion of Europe, particularly of the Habsburg lands, which has little relevance with the location of the Sublime Porte. Naturally, Metternich's relevance may have been even less meaningful had the outcome of the Battle of Mohacs (1526) been repeated at Vienna in 1529. Indeed, the entire notion of Europe, and the current discourse, would have had another dimension had the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire met those of France and the Southern German states of the sixteenth century--the political variables and the cultural context of Central Europe would have been changed, as would the identities of the region over the centuries.
> As to where the Ottoman sultans thought they lived, it was on the
> side of the Bosphorus. In Ottoman terms, that is part of *Rum-eli*, the
> "Land of Rum" [<"Rome"], from the Byzantines' self-designation as Rhomaioi.
I agree, the Land of Rum, the Sultunate of Rum--both the Seljuk and Osman varieties--refer to the "Caesars of Rome," (p.18, Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries). However, the only thing remotely European during the Roman Empire were the Gauls, Lombards, Visigoths, Huns, etc. It is also true that the Sultans of Rum, and their rivals in Constantinople, considered themselves successors to Caesar in one way or another, but to call the "Rhomaioi" Europeans is stretching it a bit too far. The point I'm trying to underscore in all this is that political variables within varying social-cultural frameworks over time tend to determine the identity of an area and of the people in that area.
Those who view the Roman Empire (27BC to 1453) as a European Empire need to agree with your viewpoint that Rumelia, the land of Rum, implies European territory--I do not share that view and find it inaccurate.
Author: Frederick Anscombe, American University in Bulgaria Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 12:52:11 -0500
I found David Kalivas's reply to Carter Findley's posting about the location of the Ottoman Sultans' residence interesting, but also a bit puzzling. Findley is entirely correct in stating that the Sultans lived in Rumeli, the European wing of the Empire (as opposed to Anadolu/Anatolia). In a strictly geographic sense, Kalivas's denial that "Rumelia...implies European territory" is wrong.
If "Europe" is to be defined by a particular social-cultural-political framework that is limited to the western half of the continent--something very much like Samuel Huntington's "Western Civilization"--then the question of "European" elements in the Roman Empire becomes much more interesting. True, the Roman Empire might not fit comfortably into the EU today, but is it accurate to say that "the only thing remotely European during the Roman Empire were the Gauls, Lombards, Visigoths, Huns, etc.?" Were the Germanic tribes more "European" because they influenced the development of rule by warrior-kings and landed, feudal aristocracies? Those social-political principles have taken an awful beating in "Europe" over the past century, while the ties between "Europe" and Rome are still clearly to be seen in such fundamentally important areas as language, law and religion. The Roman Empire might not have been "European", but its familial tie to "Europe" (defined either geographically or culturally) seems closer than that of the Huns. (Incidentally, if the Huns were in some way European, then why exclude the Ottoman Empire from Europe? Huns and Turks came out of the same Asiatic milieu, and Turks today are quite ready to acknowledge an historic tie to the Huns. In fact, I was once treated in Turkey--on the European side of the Bosphorus--by a doctor named Attila. Unfortunately, I did not pick up on this subtle hint that I should seek medical attention elsewhere.)
Author: Peter Gran, Temple University
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 09:28:52 -0500
Editor's Note: this thread has already had a long life, but here a significant contributor to the literature on Eurocentrism joins it for the first time. PM *************************************** V5538E@VM.TEMPLE.edu In my recent book Beyond Eurocentrism: A New View of
Modern World History, I am finding that the idea of Europe versus the rest does not seem to stand for several reasons. I would like to share them with you and see what your reactions may be. First, what we call Europe is so disparate that it is not in any sense a unity, except in the sense of physical proximity. Second, what holds these countries together is what holds all the nation states together in different ways -- the collusion of ruling classes. Ordinary people in Europe or the US have much less access to the White House or White Hall than an affluent African or Asian businessman or politician. Unifying rich and poor Europeans together against the entirety of the Afro-Asian World, simply doesn't hold. Finally, I found by way of an alternative to Europe-and the Rest, that the modern world is in fact composed of four different kinds of hegemonies, examples of which are spread across the world. When I came to this conclusion. Two other points seemed to follow. First, international events seem to reflect the interaction of these hegemonic types. I looked at a few such examples. Second, if one wants to understand a given country, one needs to find countries in which the ruling class adopted the same strategy, so the struggle that ensued in one's country of interest starts to take on specificity.
My questions are several. Are there writers other than myself questioning the dichotomy approach? Is there any one who feels strongly about the importance of pesant movements, squatter movements and the like as counter-hegemonic struggle deserving to be brounght into a world history course on the modern period? My concern is the modern period.
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 08:50:19 -0500
Another Repy to Frederick Anscombe:
The Lands of Rum, former possessions of the Roman--Byzantine Empire, were not limited to so-called European territories, but were marked by the conquests of the Seljuqs as well as the later Osmans. For example, during the 12th century the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire still stretched into the mid-point of Anatolia while also bordering the Seljuq Sultanate of Rum. Thus, the Land of Rum was not simply a geographical term, but one that referred to the former possessions of the Romans (Byzantines) after being conquered by the Seljuqs and Osmans.
For those with web browsers, please review the maps at the following site: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~rs143/sultan.jpg
Author: David M. Kalivas, Northeastern University Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 08:49:05 -0500
Reply to Frederick Anscombe, American University in Bulgaria
> In a strictly geographic sense, Kalivas's denial > that "Rumelia...implies European territory" is wrong.
Rumelia implies territory of the Roman Empire which lies outside (before) the political-historical reality of Europe.
Additionally, the Venetians and other Latins did conquer Constantinople by treachery and deceit during the 4th Crusade (1204), a period from which the Byzantine Empire never fully recovered, losing most of its hinterland, and setting the stage for the Conquest in 1453. The Latins took over the Land of Rum for a while, as did the Turks for a long while, but in both cases they were taking the lands of the Byzantine--Eastern Roman Empire which I am trying not to consider European as we traditionally use the term. The Roman Empire (both Western and Eastern) was part of a Mediterranean World with significant connections to economic and cultural centers in Africa, the Black Sea, and along the routes of the Silk Road into the heartlands of Eurasia. I might add, that when the unified Roman Empire was collapsing, the capital was moved Eastward to Byzantium, closer to the centers of wealth and culture that grounded Greco-Roman society. Surely, the Byzantines (Romans) did not consider themselves Europeans, nor did they consider their territories part of a European Empire. Anyway, as I may be wrong, I'll keep thinking about these matters, but at the moment I contend it is inaccurate to refer to Rumelia and Istanbul as European during the Roman and Ottoman periods.
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