On Friday 21 September, Prof. Naomi Standen (Professor of Medieval History at the University of Birmingham) presented an Royal Historical Society lecture entitled “Colouring outside the Lines: Eastern Eurasia without Borders”. A podcast of Prof. Standen’s lecture is available here, and her abstract is below.
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.