- Empires and Encounters: 1350–1750 ed. by Wolfgang Reinhard
The 1150–page Empires and Encounters: 1350–1750 is a colossal undertaking. The five historians who contributed to this volume have crafted a comprehensive history of the early modern world in five linked geopolitical macro-regions: Continental Eurasia; The Ottoman Empire and the Islamic World; South Asia and the Indian Ocean; Southeast Asia and Oceania; and Europe and the Atlantic World. In doing so, these chapters present an early modern global history that incorporates a variety of themes and topics of interest to professional historians and general readers alike, including regular attention to environmental history as well as the history of seas and oceans. As its title suggests, the text focuses on both empire building around the early modern world as well as how, when, and why various contacts began to develop between these empires at this time. In this way, whether writing about Tokugawa Japan, Safavid Iran, Habsburg Spain, Mughal India, Aboriginal Australia, Songhai Africa, or Iroquois Canada, this study blends attention to both ‘‘core’’ cultural and political arenas. These fields include political history, social interactions, and religious and cultural life in each region, as well as hybrid and contact zones, migration, and contact between these regions as they developed globally during the early modern period.
The volume’s sheer size presents certain challenges to offering any systematic summary of its contents. An overview of one of its five sections allows for a sense of the book’s topical foci and rhetorical feel. Peter Purdue’s section on Continental Eurasia, for instance — the first section of the volume — considers the rise and fall of the Mongol, Ming, and Qing Empires, the practices of Ming administration and the development of its class of civil servants, Chinese geopolitical expansion into northwestern Eurasia as well as the South Seas, and the exchange of luxury goods in China. Additional chapters in Purdue’s section on Eurasia consider similar topics in the history of Russia, Central Eurasia, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, instructing the reader on the main political forces at work in each region, its principal cultural and social practices, and its developing contacts with other states and regions that surrounded it. While each author has organized his or her section of the volume in slightly different ways, this overarching approach, a focus on central practices as well as peripheral zones and exchanges, characterizes the volume as a whole. While the volume may be read as a narrative history, its real value may be, in the end, as a work of reference. In general, the study of global history can usually be boiled down to two main approaches: a comparison [End Page 423] of different regions or an examination of exchanges between regions. This volume, through its form and content, endeavours to do both.
The book’s strengths lie in two main areas. First, through the direct comparison of these macro-political regions, the volume defines clearly what early modernity meant in a global sense. Meaning, if we posit that the Western construction of the ‘‘early modern’’ historical period had a global meaning — that it entailed a certain set of historical events and practices around the world at this time — this text helps us to understand concretely what they were. Namely, these authors demonstrate how all of these regions, in one way or another, experienced population growth, frontier expansion, an increase in trade (and often global trade), various forms of state formation, the growth of bureaucracies, and the domination of local and subservient populations related to these growing states. Each region experienced these phenomena to varying degrees; for instance, the authors point out that many parts of the world at this time experienced limited or even no forms of statehood and were inhabited by ‘‘stateless’’ populations, especially in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, according to this volume, global early modernism was largely characterized by growing empires penetrating the land and societies around them, expanding their territorial dimensions while experiencing population growth, cultural...