Introductory and theoretical
*Janet Abu Lughod, Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250-1350, (Oxford, 1989), especially chapter 1, ‘Studying a system in formation’ – touchstone piece
*Roger V. Gould, "Uses of Network Tools in Comparative Historical Research", in: Mahoney, James, Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, 2003,) pp. 241-269.
I.Malkin, C. Constantakopoulou and K. Panagopoulou (eds.), Greek and Roman Networks within the Mediterranean(2009) – introduction on network theory and relevance to ancient Mediterranean may be of some help to us?
S. Khagram and P. Levitt, The transnational studies reader: intersections and innovations (New York and London, 2008) [includes article by Janet Abu Lughod] – points up what interests modernists about networks in global contexts and should make us ask whether we are engaged in the same business.
Wiley Blackwell: A Companion to World History , ed. D. Northrop (2012): articles by McKeown on the units of world history (esp. on perspective and scale pp. 83-6); Pomeranz; Adas
Region by region (one introductory item from each region highlighted)
*Gagan D. S. Sood, ‘Circulation and Exchange in Islamicate Eurasia: A Regional Approach to the Early Modern World’,Past and Present, no. 212 (2011), pp. 113-62 – particularly pertinent to session on networks and borders
Michael Chamberlain, Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1130–1350 (Cambridge University Press, 1994) has set a trend among Mamluk historians for thinking about social (inc. religious) networks (in a relational sense), transmission of knowledge, and power
* Skaff, Jonathan Karam, Sui-Tang China and its Turko-Mongol neighbors: culture, power, and connections, 580-800(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), Ch. 3 (and Ch. 5, Ch. 4, in that order, if interested).
N. di Cosmo, ‘Black Sea Emporia and the Mongol Empire: A Reassessment of the Pax Mongolica’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 53 (2009), 83-106 [appears to fit well with the Newcastle session on networks and borders as well as with our thoughts about ‘empires’ that we explored in the historiography workshop]
Michael Brose, ‘Uighur technologists of literacy and reading in China’, T’oung Pao, 91:4-5 (2005), 396-435.
David Sneath, The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia(Columbia, 2007), Introduction.
James Scott, The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. (Yale University Press, 2009), Chs 6 and 6.5.
* Kenneth R. Hall, ‘Ports-of-Trade, Maritime Diasporas, and Networks of Trade and Cultural Integration in the Bay of Bengal Region of the Indian Ocean: c. 1300-1500’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 53 (2010) 109-145 [Useful introduction to later medieval Indian Ocean]
P.Y. Manguin and A. Mani, eds., Early Interactions between South and Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Exchange (New Delhi, Singapore: Manohar, ISEAS, Nalanda-Sriwijaya series, 2011), especially intro by Manguin, and essay by Daud Ali, which introduces recent debates on the Sanskritization of Southeast Asia, an important case for thinking about ‘networks’
* A. Cohen, “Cultural strategies in the organization of trading diasporas”, in The development of indigenous trade and markets in West Africa, ed. C. Meillassoux, London, 1971, p. 266-281
* Paul Cohen,’Was there an Amerindian Atlantic? Reflections on the limits of a historiographical concept’, History of European Ideas, 34 (2008), 388-410
*Alison Games, ‘Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities’, American Historical Review, 111.3 (June 2006), www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.111.3.722
[and in the same ‘Oceans of History’ issue of AHR see also P. Horden and N. Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and “the New Thalassology” – to go back to Horden and Purcell’s original work on the Mediterranean see, P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea (2000)– (part 2.5 is on connectivity; part 3.9.6 on migration and mobility]
* S. Sindbæk, “The small world of the Vikings: networks in early medieval communication and exchange”, Norwegian Archaeological Review, 40(1) (2007), p. 59-74
J. Callmer, “Three fundamental perspectives for the study of trade and exchange in northern Europe in the second half of the first millennium AD”, in Trade and exchange in prehistory, ed. B. Hårdh, L. Larsson, D. Olausson, and R Petré, Lund, 1988, p. 261-270.
C. Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800, Oxford, 2006. (Part IV: “Networks”).
Dominique Barthelemy - the papers translated as The Serf, the Knight, and the Historian, trans. Graham Robert Edwards (Cornell, 2009) (Chs 1, 3 (and 4?), 7)
Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Cornell, 2004), Ch. 1 on Remembering and Forgetting the Written Law
Laurence Fontaine, ‘Antonio and Shylock: Credit and Trust in France, c. 1680-c. 1780’ The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 39-57: www.jstor.org/stable/3091713
Laurence Fontaine , « La dette comme signe d'appartenance dans l'Europe des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles » , Finance & Bien Commun, 2010/2 No 37-38, p. 28-44.
Thanks to Hilde de Weerdt we have also been pointed in the direction of these exceptionally useful bibliographical routes:-
1) Hilde’s own seminar on networks as part of her Communication and Empire : Chinese Empires in Comparative Perspective project: http://www.chinese-empires.ac.uk/events/workshops/session-3-networks-in-medieval-history/
2) Bibliography: http://www.historicalnetworkresearch.org/index.php/2013-01-07-17-24-12/78-6-network-research-in-medieval-history
3) Blogposts on medieval social networks by Dr Rachel Stone (of KCL):
This workshop, on ‘Networks’, was the third in our series designed to discuss the scope, limits and nature of the global Middle Ages between c. 500 and 1600. Seventeen delegates representing Africa, the Americas, and eastern and western Eurasia gathered in Newcastle for this event; several participants were prevented from attending by last minute problems.
In our previous two workshops, on historiography and periodisation, our principal focus had been on the testing of the parameters for meaningful discussion of a global Middle Ages. We looked on those occasions at the potential of historiographical models borrowed from other periods and from particular regions within our medieval world as well as at the subtleties of periodisation. In this latest workshop, our focus began to sharpen, moving on from general parameter-setting to the examination of a more specific approach which we felt was likely to work well for many of our different regions and for understanding the Middle Ages at a supra-regional level as well. The approach chosen was ‘Networks’.
While appreciating that networks could be conceived of in terms of the movement of goods, peoples and abstractions (ideas, practices et al), we did not want to impose too regimented a reading of ‘network’ on our participants. In the spirit of the preceding workshops we were keen to break down traditional categories in an effort to get at what might be distinctive about a global Middle Ages. As a result we chose not to split our sessions into themes such as ‘trading networks’, ‘political networks’ and ‘intellectual networks’. Instead we started from a general sense that networks were significant because of their cross-cutting nature, whether in time, space or activity; that the same processes which helped to provide structure within a particular society might also be observed in relationships between different groups and/or regions; and that such cross-cutting could lead to a reordering of what we consider to be ‘interior’ and ‘external’, a reordering which might in turn reveal phenomena that were genuinely ‘medieval’ (if we continue to find that term itself appropriate). We tried to open up this cross-cutting dimension to networks by asking participants to think about:
1. Networks and their functions: with a stress on placing different kinds of networks (commercial, familial, patronal, cultural, institutional) alongside each other.
2. Networks and borders: with an emphasis on the interplay of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ networks, and consideration of the extent to which these can be usefully distinguished.
3. Network dynamics: with an emphasis on how networks form and reform over time rather than in relation to space or institutions.
As in the case of previous workshops, participants volunteered potentially useful readings in advance. At the workshop itself each of the themes was opened up by speakers representing different parts of the medieval globe. The remainder of each session was dedicated to round-table discussion.
In addition to our (now customary) plenary roundtable discussions, Professor André Wink (from the University of Wisconsin) offered a highly stimulating presentation of his current project to re-conceptualise the ancient and medieval history of India. Professor Wink was also an invaluable sounding board for our other discussions too. A new dimension to our workshop this time were two sessions devoted to small-group discussion, in which we were able to reflect further on the wider themes which have begun to emerge during our workshops to date. Our workshop concluded with a wrap-up session that was followed by a meeting of the project’s Advisory Committee and Steering Group. At this point we discussed how to develop our website and to disseminate our findings to a wider audience in the period before any formal publication.
Networks and their Functions, Part 1
The session consisted of two complementary presentations by the African archaeologists, Anne Haour and Stephanie Wynne-Jones. Anne Haour began by discussing the importance of using networks in the archaeology of west Africa, discussing some important comparative historiographical contexts. Her main aim in the paper was to explore ways of tracking and conceptualising networks beyond the basic interconnections between objects. She emphasised the importance of looking for networks of practices, technologies and skills in west Africa; to track people rather than just the objects they used. She also gave significant attention to questions of local and regional knowledge in these networks, asking how much understanding there was of other cultures within the network and how cultural filters functioned to allow practices to flow through a network or to block them. She gave examples of how a new technological skill could be available to the craftsmen of one node in a west African network but not be adapted by them because of local traditions and actions. Finally, she gave a good sense of how she understood networks to look in west Africa, as consisting of relatively small numbers of people acting as agents, travelling between a number of nodes or centres. These people were ‘strangers’, in that they were disconnected and disembedded from the local communities through which they passed as they moved through the network.
Stephanie Wynne-Jones’s paper looked at east Africa and in particular the Swahili coast, to offer a picture of networks that worked very well alongside Anne Haour’s insights. She also saw them as characterised by small numbers of agents, travelling along narrow routes between dispersed centres to create a ‘spindly’ network. She emphasised the importance of seeing networks as integrated into local conditions, with imported Chinese pottery and other goods brought to east Africa through the networks of the Indian Ocean subsumed into a local world of prestige through feasting and assorted competitive practices. Her overarching vision for east Africa was one of a classic ‘small world’ network, that linked the Swahili coast to Persia and east Asia via the Indian Ocean through only a few intermediate centres. But she then went on to stress the need to remember that there were other networks that linked the coast to the African interior. These have been traditionally understood in the historiography as being ‘down-the-line’ trading systems, with large numbers of intermediaries each moving goods only a short distance. However, she argued that this did not work for east Africa, where a network model of small numbers of traders, each moving goods significant distances between a few centres, described the situation much better. These hinterland networks were, like those of the coast, also characterised by their integration into local practices, involving prestige consumption. She concluded by reiterating the usefulness of thinking in terms of ‘small world’ for east Africa, with spindly networks driven by local practice.
There was a full discussion of these papers at the session, with a number of key issues raised. There was some doubts aired as to how anonymous and ‘stranger-like’ the human agents in the networks would have been. André Wink suggested that for south Asia traders, merchants and travellers were subjected to severe surveillance and control by state powers and that political boundaries were both important and not so easily transcended as network analysis implied. He and others wondered if it was the specialised local knowledge of network agents rather than their characteristics as ‘strangers’ that was critical in network functions. Following on from this there was discussion of the extent to which the pre-modern world was romanticised in historiography as a less bounded, less scrutinised space than what was perceived as the characteristics of more modern world-systems. A question was raised by John Darwin as to whether these African networks, and indeed all networks, were characterised more by linear development or by periodic disruptions. Stephanie Wynne-Jones thought that the idea of ‘pulses’ of network connectivity that intensified and abated over time was one way to understand this issue. Bob Moore summed up a number of issues by suggesting that some kind of typology of networks was needed, that, if possible, could differentiate the functions of global from local networks, as well as the different types of routes and nodes. But all agreed that the relationship between global network and local conditions was crucial to any historical understanding.
Networks and their Functions, Part 2
The second session on networks and their functions involved presentations by Monica White and Glen Dudbridge. Unfortunately Arietta Papaconstantinou was not able to take part as originally planned. Monica White used her current work on relics in the Orthodox world to offer some reflections on (popular) religious networks which cut across other networks of power. Monica’s focus was less on monasteries per se or on trade in religious accessories and more on those individuals and communities who formed part of a network because of their involvement in a set of devotional practices. The participants in such devotional systems might not necessarily all be in direct contact with each other; such devotional networks could cross-cut traditional religious boundaries. Indeed a modern obsession with religious affiliation (as in the case of Latin versus Orthodox conflict in the schism of 1054) can obscure much stronger degrees of connectedness especially at the level of practice. Relics also had the capacity to create networks which tied people together across space and time, not least because of their capacity to subdivide and the legitimacy of contact relics (oil, water, clothes etc.), all of which could allow the believer to feel in contact with the holy person at the centre of a cult. In a medieval world relics reflected tangled loyalties but also produced networks which transcended boundaries and offered the potential to challenge established authorities. Meanwhile, Glen Dudbridge compared a ninth-century Arab account (Aḥbār aṣ-Ṣīn wa l-Hind), which offers some reasonably first-hand insight from those who travelled to Canton from the Islamic world, and a seventh-century geo-ethnographical account written by Xuanzang, a Chinese traveller to India and Central Asia who wrote at the request of the Tang. Both texts offer insight into the operation of far-flung networks in their own time; but perhaps just as intriguingly both texts had afterlives when they were domesticated within more geographically restricted communities. Later users of the texts were much less interested in the practical information conveyed by the original accounts than in their potential for other purposes, whether for high-level literary entertainment or in more popular rituals (e.g. in funeral processions at which a Xuanzang figure dances). Glen used both the original evidence and the later recyclings to propose a global Middle Ages that makes sense in terms of waves of connectedness followed by periods of greater disconnect. In her elaboration of a medieval world system Janet Abu-Lughod identified one such peak period from the mid-13th to mid-14th centuries. Perhaps an earlier wave, and indeed world system, can be seen building in the seventh century which then crested in the ninth only to fall back again in the next centuries.
The presentations themselves and the discussion which ensued raised some important points. The question of how to conceive of a network in spatial terms was considered: should we think in terms of networks as spiders’ webs or in terms of bicycle wheels with centres and radiating spokes? Should we think in such visual terms at all, or does that ‘mapping’ of a network immediately misrepresent the essentially fluid nature of networks? The question of whether one needs to know one is in a network was raised. Particularly important was John Watts’s suggestion that we needed to think more about the distinctions between a network and a community. For Glen, his 7th-9th century texts were produced by networks; their afterlives by communities. For Monica, a network was both more and less than a community. Conrad Leyser thought they were hard to keep apart: fieldwork on modern contexts suggests that conversion is most likely to occur where loyalties already exist with acceptance of dogma following later; bonds matter more than belief. Simon Yarrow also saw relics as integral to both networks and communities, not least because they are akin to currency or even ‘shares’. John Darwin was interested in knowing more about what determines the decision to become part of a network: given that members must pay a cost, what is the benefit? These lines of thinking suggest that we could look more fully at networks in terms of investment decisions.
Meanwhile, André Wink asked whether we needed the term ‘world system’ to make sense of a global Middle Ages. There was agreement on our need to take care with what can be an easy slogan, but nonetheless general support for its retention. JW thought ‘system’ had a place in our discussion of networks because it allows us to keep an eye on the ‘plumbing’ behind what people think and do when they are part of a network. Scott Ashley thought it was a useful term which allows us to see how different part of the world ‘rub up’ against each other: a return to a line of thinking in previous workshops where participants have been keen to envisage a system in terms of the turning cogs in a machine, all part of a greater whole, even if each cog is not necessarily in direct contact with all the others.
This session seemed to provoke three important questions we need to keep in mind when thinking about networks:
1. How do they work?
2. What is their nature? I.e. relating to questions of type and architecture.
3. Why are they necessary? I.e. what can a network do that other social relationships cannot provide?
Networks and Borders
Jonathan Shepard: Unfortunately Jonathan was unable to join us in person, but sent a summary of his reflections on three circuits running around Europe from c. 950 until c. 1100: with one circuit encompassing the eastern Mediterranean; another running from Scandinavia through eastern Europe and Rus to Byzantium; and a third reaching from the Baltic to the Atlantic. Such circuits were the vectors for the circulation of goods, peoples, texts and stories, including the cults of saints, all of which might travel from afar only to be used in quite localised contexts. Some routes sectionalised over time and were characterised principally by intermediaries; but those who ‘went all the way’ were apparent at least in some periods. JS’s arguments here seemed to resonate very strongly with some of the material presented by others (especially Anne H, Stephanie W-J, Scott A, and Monica W). One of the most interesting dimensions of his argument was the contention that the traders and travellers involved in such circuits developed common points of reference in order to solemnise the agreements which long distance trade (and other exchanges) required. Parallels were drawn with the ‘Islamicate’ circle outlined by G. Sood for early modern Eurasia, and the suggestion was made that a positive sense of commonality transcending political and sectarian boundaries could evolve with such circuits. But that was not all; for the very circulation of alternative cults, rites and devotions integral to these circuits may in turn have created boundaries. At a time when, at least in the medieval West, the search for terminological precision was hotting up, when issues of the locus of authority were a matter for debate, and when the desire for conformity was strengthening, then the freewheeling characteristic of the three circuits may have only hardened a desire on the part of senior clerics to strengthen order. Freedom of movement of persons and ideas was the cause for fear among those boundary maintainers and expungers of pollution who emerged during the eleventh century advocating warfare against the enemies of Christ and the liberation of Jerusalem.
Kent Deng: This presentation focused on the question of continuity or change across the Tang-Song imperial successions. It identified two major discontinuities responsible for a change in the relationship between steppe and sown, the most conspicuous result of which was the dynamic economic growth of the Song period. First, a period of climate change at the beginning of the Song period saw a drop of 2 to 3 degrees and a little ice age resulting in the relocation of cultivation 500 km to the south. The second discontinuity characterizing the start of the Song dynasty was the pacification of administration and the military required to establish Song unification. The founder-general of the Song dynasty left imperial borders too weak to prevent incursions of nomadic tribes from the steppes. The result of these two developments was an expansion of imperial borders to the south, and a command economy imposed upon the Song by nomadic forces (the Jurchen) in charge of a third of the Silk Routes and occupying large expanses of the north of imperial China. Expansion to the south to provinces like Yunnan opened up new economic opportunities, including shipbuilding that enabled trading networks to be opened up to India and the Persian Gulf long before the adventures of the fifteenth century. Land based networks between imperial bureaucracy and the nomads enabled the latter to impose accurate and targeted fiscal demands (often for cash including paper money over other services and goods) upon this economy, sufficient for it to drive further growth. This all ended with the arrival of the Mongols in the thirteenth century.
Caroline Dodds Pennock: This presentation explored the potential of network theory to challenge hegemonic understandings of Atlantic history, which is so often defined using perspectives that look from east to west, that privilege key dates and developments, and that fail to take into consideration the dynamic contribution of Mesoamerican polities not just prior to 1492, but deep into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We have several -historiographically often colour-coded - constructions of Atlantic history, that all in some way or other reproduce modernizing tropes of interaction between western Europe and meso-America. There were American seafaring networks prior to the arrival of Columbus and these are beginning to be taken more seriously, but this presentation also argued for further study of indigenous American dynamism across the 1492 watershed, firstly by following the migration of people and goods and the circulation of ideas from Mesoamerica into Europe between, say, 1400 and 1700, and secondly by decentering the ‘Atlantic’ itself, which so often figures as a major narrative building block of Eurocentric perspectives. What is thus seen as a spider’s web with an Atlantic centre might be viewed alternatively as a matrix whose nodes are all interlinked and themselves constitutive of the whole such that sensitivities at one nodal point set off vibrations across other diverse nodes. The final observation in response to the question ‘is globalization Europeanization?’ – ‘no’ but it is too often thought to be so.
The session began with three presentations, each bearing on the issue of dynamics in a different way:
• Amanda Power discussed the ‘apostolic networks’ of thirteenth-century friars. First of all, these men saw themselves as linked, by analogy, ordination and Christian tradition, to the original apostles, thus forming a kind of diachronic and partly imaginary network. In addition, through their activities in Asia, they created real-life networks of helpers, supporters and believers – networks that frequently became dormant as each friar moved on, but could sometimes be revived when others appeared. The sense of being God’s agents on earth was a powerful force that sustained members of these networks during periods of dormancy and encouraged them to act co-operatively. At the same time, fraternal attempts to enlist support could fail badly on occasion, revealing the presence of other allegiances and interests among those thought to be part of the network.
• Naomi Standen discussed the highly dynamic networks that were typical of northern China in the Tang period (7th-9th Cs). While bureaucratic records emphasise continuity and official authority in this period, a re-reading of the same evidence shows that real power was distributed among an extensive elite whose networks formed and re-formed around whichever leaders seemed most able to provide security in circumstances of persistent military and ecological challenge. The new society that developed south of the Yangzi from the 10th C, however, involved more stable hierarchies, both because the landscape was different (wooded, disconnected settlements), and because of the greater administrative reach of the Song emperors. Naomi drew attention to the importance of Jonathan Skaff’s work in showing the parallels and overlaps between Han Chinese networks and those of other northern peoples in the Tang period. She also stressed that the search for security could be as important a force in political activity as the competition for power.
• Scott Ashley focused on the interaction of extensive and intensive networks in the early middle ages, the former typically engaged in long-distance trade, the latter concerned with the distribution of resources in local communities. In general, the latter tended to be stronger than the former; local networks were typically able, through the power of demand, to set the agenda for the long-distance traders and to extract some of the wealth generated by their trades (through tolls etc). Trading networks, meanwhile, came and went, thickening and fading with varying opportunities and under pressure of competition. Scott asked what it was that encouraged people into one form of network rather than another (why some were more willing to engage with ‘otherness’, risk and distance than others). He also drew attention to the rough equality that existed between the nodal points of medieval networks, as a possible point of contrast with later periods, in which these points were often organised into hierarchies (and some trading networks, such as the Hanse or the East India Company, had the upper hand over localised networks of demand and distribution).
In these ways, the three papers illustrated different contexts for network activity, as well as different kinds of network, each with its own particular dynamics. In particular, it was helpful that the papers considered both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ settings – viz. the role of networks alongside other structures of authority and power within relatively defined political spaces, but also the role of networks in crossing boundaries (of time, as well as space) and linking far-flung places.
There was a lively discussion, from which the following main points emerged:
• A distinction should be drawn between ‘contacts’ and ‘networks’, but intermittent contact might be sufficient to maintain a virtual/imagined/ potential network, particularly if it was supported by a powerful cosmology.
• It is difficult to reconstruct trading networks purely from archaeological evidence: items are found where they stopped moving, but this was not necessarily (or even often) their intended end-point.
• Against the utility of networks – their flexibility and informality, their natural tendency to develop out of inter-personal relations – we need to set the utility of institutions – their reliability, standardisation, implication in formal structures of authority etc.
• The superior power of some later trading networks was not simply a matter of technological advancement or military strength; they could also offer new opportunities to such local interests as were willing to comply with them.
• It would be worth thinking about the written/graphical/mnemonic resources which must have been necessary to sustain networks over time, particularly if these networks were highly extended or intermittent.
• Did networks exist in all forms of society? There was some debate over whether subsistence villages formed part of networks or even included them, and whether bandit organisations should be considered as networks. Were networks merely another Eurocentric way of understanding other parts of the world? Opinions differed.
Professor André Wink: Medieval India
In addition to providing some very useful correctives during our round-table discussions and some lively thoughts about directions for our overall project, Professor Wink spent one session outlining his current work on medieval India. Although his presentation was not designed to speak specifically to our long-term project, some of his thoughts about issues such as periodisation, the relationship between nomad and settled, the evolution of cities, the growth of institutionalised devotion, the development of agriculturally-based states and processes of slow cultural transformation, were very germane to our endeavours to identify and analyse a distinctively medieval global history.
AW’s principal objective was to suggest that medieval India is actually worth studying at all, in contradistinction to those who have argued that it is nothing more than a post-script to a more glorious ancient period. According to AW, the history of a characteristically wise and pacific ancient India has been unduly idealised. Certainly there were distant origins to many Indian phenomena but in many regards India was the product of the Middle Ages rather than of a more ancient history. The Indus valley civilisation was very old, but while there are some signs of agriculture in the rest of ancient India, states with an agricultural base only really began to emerge in the fourth and fifth centuries. The notion of sophisticated and extensive ancient Indian empires is also misplaced. Much of India in the ancient period was tiger-infested jungle. Also overstated has been the extent of Buddhism in the ancient period; Buddhism did not decline in the Middle Ages but grew and was increasingly concentrated in academic institutions. A very unstable environment militated against urban continuity in contrast with the Mediterranean basin. Towards the end of the first millennium, South Asia was still essentially rural and exposed to the nomadic world. India, however, was never conquered by nomads (in contrast to, say, Iran or Anatolia) but instead was conquered by peoples with origins in the nomadic world. As far as cultural change was concerned, ‘conversion’ is not a helpful idea. Instead, we should think about slow cultural transformation. Saints, tombs and relics were integral to the gradual adoption of Islam (parallels here with Peter Brown’s late antiquity in western Eurasia). Sufis moved into the Indus valley after the destruction of the Mongols as community builders. One particular problem which faces the historian of medieval India is a dearth of archaeological research – something which makes a Horden and Purcell-style analysis of India currently impossible.
Small group discussion sessions
As Nile Green, our international expert at the Birmingham workshop had suggested, if we can uncover common dimensions to our overlapping regional worlds, dimensions which still allow for difference in space and time, then a global Middle Ages which is not simply a gateway to early modernity or a coda to antiquity might start to appear. Our objective with the small-group discussions at Newcastle was to identify those conceptual co-ordinates which seem most helpful in defining a distinctively global Middle Ages.
Discussion was generated around the following questions. In the first session we tried to keep the questions fairly simple. The second session tackled more ambitious questions, some of which will require more refining as time goes on.
Session 1: (these questions corresponded closely to the themes of the three workshops)
1. Periodisation: How effective is the concept of the ‘Global Middle Ages’ for describing your own area of expertise?
2. Historiography: What have been the most useful historiographical concepts and models for asking new questions of your period?
3. Networks: How have networks been used in different parts of the world during the ‘global middle ages’?
1. In what ways can the Global Middle Ages (GMA) be distinguished from classical antiquity and (early) modernity?
2. What are the deep-time connections between the GMA and surrounding periods – in what ways are the same things reinvented through time, even if the form of the ‘thing’ changes from period to period? [I.e. we were interested here in looking at how things specific to one time and place may fulfil the same functions as very different things specific to other times/places]
3. What concepts are ‘good to think with’ for the GMA? - this was an opportunity to think further about terms identified in the workshops to date which appear to have most mileage [e.g. power (esp. empire in the broadest terms); transformations; ‘glocal’ (in the sense of the meeting of the international and the local); material culture, Glen's pulsating jellyfish]
4. What alternative structures, frameworks, categories of analysis, etc can we identify that allow us to escape simplistic labels of the place-and-period variety? I.e. we were conscious here of the fact that we are often mired in ways of thinking that don’t help, or actively prevent, us from getting at certain things (and we often don’t know what those things are if the existing framework of analysis is particularly powerful). E.g. the framework called ‘medieval’ pushes us to think in certain ways and prevents us from thinking in others. Discovery of the analytical category of gender opened up a whole (set of) new way(s) of thinking about things that had not been visible before. We thought this could be the time to start thinking about categories and frameworks that may give us new approaches.
From such small-group discussions, ideas for the chapters of a joint publication on the Global Middle Ages began to develop; these ideas were elaborated more in email correspondence following the workshop and will be taken on further as the project enters its later stages.
The session chairs presented summaries of the discussions they had chaired. Before moving on to consider the next workshop theme, participants had the opportunity to offer further thoughts on networks.
Bob Moore started the ball rolling with the question: Has the subject of networks led to any genuinely new thoughts? Responses to this question were generally positive although everyone felt they now wanted to use the term’network’ with more precision than they might have done before. For example, Scott Ashley thought there was room for more precision in the use of terms which are sometimes used synonymously: network; community; connection; contact; communication; world system. Anne Haour, who sees the ‘connections’ dimension to networks as particularly powerful was unconvinced by the more technical network analysis she had read. André Wink remained something of a sceptic seeing such terms as too abstract and lacking in (environmental and geographical) context to be useful, particularly for the writing of world history. This was a position that Glen Dudbridge had some sympathy with, although he felt the texts from his presentation were nonetheless generated by a network behaviour; in this sense ‘network’ may be more useful as a dynamic verb than a noun. John Darwin concluded that it was simultaneously a vacuous and yet immensely useful term in the sense that it can direct us towards personalised contacts. In that spirit Kent Deng also felt that networks fits with current thinking in economics on informal institutions. There was also some discussion about nodes, centres, starting points and the ‘gatekeepers’ who exact a price for entering or moving around a network. Simon Yarrow pointed out that the individual is always the centre of a network in their own mind, so perhaps we need to focus more on the individual experience of networks especially at the level of choice.
At the end of the wrap-up session we discussed what to do next. A number of themes were discussed which we felt might offer ‘something to everyone’ as ‘networks’ appeared to have done. We also wanted something with enough specificity to generate some concrete results but also something which would allow for further thinking about some of the themes, tensions and interesting polarities which have opened up during the course of the network workshops and which were visible in our small-group discussions: e.g. environment; family/gender/kingroups; intensification, particularly urbanisation; specialisation/complication; glocal; ‘cis’; elite/non-elite; clerisy; cosmology and ‘ways of seeing the world’. In this spirit we narrowed the field down to ‘cultures of recording’.