Journal of World History 14.1 (2003) 119-120
[Access article in PDF]
To the Editor:
In his review of Beyond Binary Histories: Reimagining Eurasia to c.1830, Alan LeBaron acknowledged that this collection achieved its stated objective, namely to demonstrate that Eurasian societies in the early modern period experienced a range of "commonalities" that transcended a binary distinction between Europe and Asia. Yet at the same time, most curiously and with no apparent sense of contradiction, he claimed that the collection, which I edited, failed to deliver on "the promise of something different" (JWH13:1, spring 2002, pp. 192-195).
What historiography provided his yardstick? Four grand claims lie at the heart of this publication: (1) Societies in Burma, Siam, Vietnam, France, Russia, and Japan between c. 1400 and 1830 demonstrated remarkably synchronized linear-cum-cyclic movements toward territorial consolidation, administrative centralization, and cultural standardization. (2) In each realm integration drew strength from a fluid synergy involving domestic agricultural and commercial growth, expanding international trade (including New World and Japanese bullion flows), intensifying interstate competition, cumulative institutional expertise, and new cultural models. This is not to deny or minimize elements of European particularism, as the reviewer apparently expected the collection would do. Rather, it is to argue that the historiographic obsession with such elements obscures overarching rhythms that rendered far-flung, ostensibly unrelated states variations on a common developmental pattern; in turn that hitherto unrecognized pattern critically [End Page 119] influenced pre-nineteenth century sensibilities and post-1830 potentialities alike. (3) Each rimland society under review enjoyed relatively good internal communications and substantial protection against alien occupation. (4) Non-rimland polities, including those in island Southeast Asia and South Asia, benefited from many of the same economic and cultural stimuli as rimland areas. Yet in the non-rimland zone difficult communication and transport links joined with external vulnerabilities to produce long-term political trajectories that were more devolutionary than integrative.
The review provides no indication—nor is it the case—that previous scholarship sought to examine political and cultural integration across Eurasia c. 1400 to 1830. Much less has anyone offered either the theoretical or substantive comparisons of Southeast Asia—whose historiography has been completely encapsulated—with Japan, Europe, and South Asia embodied in this collection.
University of Michigan
Editor's Note: Alan LeBaron does not wish to respond.