Nussbaum, Felicity, editor. The Global Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
385 pp, $55.00.
observers, terms like global or globalization generally imply the study and analysis of ever expanding
networks of economies and technologies, with particular reference to the twentieth
and twenty-first centuries. World historians, however, problematize these
terms in order to explore the ways such ideas and concepts might be applied
to earlier periods of human history. This is precisely the aim of an innovative
collection of multidisciplinary essays À The Global Eighteenth Century.
The twenty-one essays in The Global Eighteenth Century cluster into three sections À conceptual "mappings," human "crossings" that
explore sex, culture and identity, and conceptual relocation of "islands."
Space precludes consideration of all the essays, so I will "localize" this
review by sampling one essay from each section in order to present the "global" nature of the book.
Benjamin Schmidt's potent essay, "Mapping
an Exotic World: The Global Project of Dutch Geography, circa 1700," intriguingly
examines the ways that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch artists
(re)presented their world. Schmidt's essays asks why the Dutch, acknowledged
cartographers and geographers, engaged projects of (re)presenting their
world at precisely the time that the Dutch reign of seaborne power and commercial
supremacy was in decline. This question, examined through both paintings
and stage productions, yields interesting conclusions. "It [Dutch geography]
cultivated chaos, and it reveled in randomness . . . .it
declined to play to a specific audience or perspective; it did not promote
a particular place or purpose; it targeted no contested region or rival."
(35-36) In short, Schmidt suggests, by the dawn of the eighteenth century
the Dutch had "exoticized" the world and "presented the increasingly contested
globe as a decontextualized, decentered repository of bountiful curiosities
and compelling collectibles." (37)
Linda Colley's insightful investigation into one female tale of capture and
international intrigue, "The Narrative of Elizabeth Marsh: Barbary, Sex, and
Power," captures the complexity of eighteenth-century cross-cultural encounters.
Colley uses Marsh's story to examine the "Orientalist" (142) trajectory of
British stories about Islamic encounters, and to explore the dimensions of
sexual paranoia surrounding European-Muslim contact. Further, Colley's cogent
analysis situates the particularity of British-Moroccan engagement during
the eighteenth century, subtly suggesting that historians further explore
Britain's eighteenth-century Mediterranean excursions and creatively use the
vast literary corpus of eighteenth-century British experiences for historical
Rod Edmond's creative contribution, entitled "Island Transactions: Encounter
and Disease in the South Pacific," uses the travel writings of Samuel Wallis,
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and James Cook to explore the "biomedical"
(252) conceptions of the world that emerged through island travel, in this
case the islands that comprised Oceania. Edmond chronicles the descriptions
of island inhabitants by skin color, physical effects of disease (or imagined
ailments) including disfigurement, and the general biomedical worries that
beset many European island travelers of the eighteenth-century. Edmond ultimately
shows that by the latter years of the eighteenth century "disease had become
a focus of anxiety, reminding those who journeyed of the damage they wrought
and the risks they incurred. Disease, whether real or imagined, was as much
on their minds as more visible forms of exchange; it was the invisibility
of its transmission that proved so disturbing." (262) Edmond's superb study
connects easily with contemporary academic interest in medical history, and
he uses literary and quasi-ethnographic observation to investigate the mental
worlds of fear that afflicted eighteenth-century European travelers.
While a summary of only three essays does not really attest to the analytical
complexity of The Global Eighteenth Century,
it does sample the multidisciplinary flavor of this collection. A number of
specialists, historians, literary critics, and anthropologists, among others,
employ various approaches to (re)imagining moments of contact, encounter,
and cultural creation in the eighteenth-century world. The collective aim
of this volume is not to offer a definitive picture of a globalized eighteenth
century, but to start a conversation that will field new ways of imagining
a "widened" eighteenth century with the theme of "encounter" at the center.
In general, this important historical dynamic creates the possibility of reframing
the past in larger ways; for the essayists in The Global Eighteenth
Century, the theme of encounter allows the (re)construction
of what editor Felicity Nussbaum calls "prehistories of globalization." (6)
This does not mean that current manifestations of globalization (however defined)
reveal the telos of earlier "global" encounters. Rather, "prehistories of
globalization" would create a conceptual space in which to consider the global
realities of specific eighteenth-century locations. Ultimately, the "prehistories
of globalization" offer ways to understand the "glocal," (10) a term that
connects local, regional, and global dynamics.
| This collection not only opens new vistas of scholarship: it also demands
renewed pedagogical vigor. Put another way, the interdisciplinary scholarship
featured here offers ways for educators (both secondary and postsecondary)
to bring life to the past. For example, Schmidt's essay invites students to
situate Dutch art in a particular historical context, noting where and how
"exotic" places of the Dutch empire appear, and identifying, from subjects
and objects in paintings, where the Dutch made colonial contact. Colley's
essay probes students in another direction, as it invites reflection on an
earlier age of Euro-Islamic encounter, and advances understanding of new economies
of trade and new theatres of commerce that emerged in the eighteenth century.
In addition, Colley's work encourages exploration of they ways gender influences
perceptions of the world. Edmond's essay, to offer a final example, fits nicely
with contemporary reflection on the history of disease, and serves as a supplement
to the observations of scholars like Jared Diamond, whose well-known Guns,
Germs, and Steel highlights the role of geography in world history.
| Though in some places difficult to penetrate, and, unfortunately, devoid
of any sustained engagement with the larger contours of the religious history
of the times, The Global Eighteenth Century
ambitiously and successfully recasts the 1700s in global terms, and offers
fresh analysis of a century that has received a seemingly exhaustive amount
of scholarly investigation. In the end, The Global Eighteenth Century
accomplishes its goals: "to foster intellectual
debate among students and scholars who may not ordinarily encounter each other's
ideas as we continue to forge a broader, sharper, and more collaborative understanding
of the eighteenth century." (18)
Phillip Luke Sinitiere
Second Baptist School (Houston)
University of Houston