Connected Worlds: New Approaches across Pre-Modern Studies
A multidisciplinary conference at the University of California, Berkeley,
January 24-26, 2013
Call for Papers
There is a growing body of evidence for contact and exchange between early cultures which are typically deemed isolated by geographic, linguistic, cultural, or ethnic barriers. The study of pre-modern cross-cultural or cross-textual encounters has thus emerged as an alternative to traditional comparative analysis. So we propose tracing connections in worlds of all sizes, from the largest Euro-Afro-Asian or pan-American trade routes to the smaller worlds of people and communities everywhere. Junior scholars and graduate students in all pre-modern or pre-industrial fields of study are hereby invited to submit presentation abstracts for “Connected Worlds.” (See below for an explanation of this term.)
Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted electronically as attachments, in .pdf or .doc format, by Sept. 4, 2012, to: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Individual presentations will be fifteen minutes each, and will be organized into panels (with respondents) by area and theme. Presenters should be prepared to pre-circulate their papers. They need not directly address our theoretical framework, although they are encouraged to do so. But above all, presentations should approach their subjects in innovative ways which emphasize connections in or between pre-modern worlds.
Suggested themes include (but are not limited to) the following examples:
– Literary sources and allusions
– Where the world of the human meets the world of the divine
– The diffusion and appropriation of ideas, ideologies, or iconography
– Descriptions and representations of foreign lands
– Regional or local cultures within and between empires
– The Silk Roads
– Travel, trade, and exploration
– East-West connections in the ancient Mediterranean world
In addition to the panels, the conference will begin with a keynote by Professor Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan (Yale) and will feature lectures by four guest speakers, including Asa Simon Mittman (CSU Chico). There will also be a concluding roundtable discussion on the conference theme to be chaired by Professor Erich Gruen (Berkeley).
“Connected Worlds” is sponsored by the Institute of East Asian Studies, with additional support from the Department of Classics, Department of English, Program in Medieval Studies, and the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, at the University of California, Berkeley.
What do we mean by “Connected Worlds”?
Older views of early cultures often hold that they basically corresponded to modern political or social units, especially nation-states, or to the “areas” of area-studies, or to highly generalized civilizations. Hence, for example, early China is treated as geographically coextensive with the area of the modern Chinese state, late-antique and medieval ethnicities justify Europe’s national boundaries today, and ancient Greece and Rome are embraced as the foundational stages of the development of what is called “Western Civilization.” These are modern units of analysis projected backwards onto ancient peoples. But at the same time, it may no longer be productive to work with older generalizing concepts, such as the Christian “nation” or the “empire” of a Rome or China.
Our framework draws from two compelling attempts to turn the social sciences away from the paradigm of the nation-state: Connected Histories, as conceived by Sanjay Subrahmanyam (“Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia,” Modern Asian Studies 31 , pp. 735-762), and World-Systems Analysis, as articulated by Immanuel Wallerstein (see esp. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Duke UP, 2004).
Arguing against comparative studies which take nation-states as essentially independent cultural units, Subrahmanyam emphasizes that the early modern Eurasian landmass was connected, and that Eurasian cultures were “plugged into some network, some process of circulation” (762). With this, he advocates that scholars look for these connections, which will often transcend nations and states, in order to understand how culture, and not just material objects, traversed the continent. But Subrahmanyam is focused on the early modern world, which raises a question for us: would this emphasis on integration work for earlier times? We will attempt to address this issue by focusing not on a single world, the globe, but on multiple worlds.
Our definition of worlds is inspired by world-systems analysis, which advocates that we use world-systems as an alternative unit of analysis to the nation-state. “In ‘world-systems,’ we are dealing with a spatial/temporal zone which cuts across many political and cultural units, one that represents an integrated zone of activity and institutions which obey certain systemic rules,” and these systems are not global in the sense that they encompass the entire planet, but are worlds unto themselves (Wallerstein, 17). Like Subrahmanyam, world-systems scholars tend to focus on more recent times, but we think this approach could be applied to earlier times as well.
In different ways, Connected Histories and World-Systems Analysis are methods that challenge the use of nation-states as a unit of analysis. We think these could be combined, and so we advocate the method of “Connected Worlds.” Our worlds, defined anew for each project, may cut across conventional boundaries. They may be as large as the so-called Silk Road, or as small as a handful of neighboring communities. We seek to reconstruct these worlds beginning with the people, places, texts, materials, practices, and so on, that are the subjects of our studies. And these subjects, in turn, are themselves nodes in many networks. We want to look for those connections, and frame our unit of analysis around them. This is what we mean by connected worlds, in the abstract. To put it another way, if our studies were Venn diagrams, the worlds would be the overlapping circles around our subjects, but they would be drawn not by conventional political or cultural units, nor by modern disciplinary boundaries, but according to the relationships that connect our subjects to the rest of their world.
Convinced that it is possible to reach a fuller understanding of all sorts of connected worlds, we aim to provide a forum where scholars across the humanistic and social science disciplines may present their research and join this discussion.