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H-World Editors Introduction: Eurasia in World History

David M. Kalivas,
Middlesex Community College

Eric L. Martin,
Lewis-Clark State College


Figure 1
    Figure 1


     This issue of World History Connected offers a feature section focused on the role of Eurasia in world history organized by the editors at H-World. These essays will provide the structure for H-World's mid-winter author's forum, which is scheduled for February 11–22. A few words about our forums and then we'll introduce the topic under consideration in this section.

     For three of the last four years the editorial team at H-World has commissioned a series of essays designed to provoke discussion on various aspects of world history. Our first forum, in February 2004, centered on Patrick Manning's book Navigating World History and the task of doing research in world history. Initial commentary was provided by Adam McKeown, Ricardo Duchesne, and Stephen Rapp. In February 2005, we selected the topic of Big History and David Christian's Maps of Time with invited discussion by Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Heather Streets, and Patrick Manning. Unfortunately our 2006 forum had to be cancelled due to scheduling conflicts and over-commitment, but last year it returned to focus on Candice Goucher and Linda Walton's World History Video series Bridging World History with review essays by Kevin Reilly and David Fahey. In each case, all authors and commentators remained involved in the wider discussion once it was opened to all subscribers, which provided a good opportunity for the community of world historians to interact with one another. The content of each of these forums is available in the H-World discussion logs, located at

     For this year's forum we have chosen not to focus on a particular work, but rather have asked three authors to develop essays on the role of Eurasia in world history designed to foster further discussion. The H-World editorial team would like to thank David Christian (San Diego State University), Peter Perdue (Yale University), and Timothy May (North Georgia State College and University) for their participation in this year's forum. Before moving directly to the essays, readers may be interested in why we selected Eurasia's role in world History as this year's discussion topic.

     The field of world history offers a valuable way of thinking about the history of human society, not as an isolated phenomenon happening only in one region, but as phenomena occurring in a multiplicity of regions and locales, that when taken as a whole provide a global view of the past. Understanding interactions and connections between and within societies across regions around the world at given points in time is central to the task of world history. With this in mind, the topic of Eurasia in World History is worthy of our consideration. Eurasia is an important region where both human beings and the natural environment have time and again demonstrated the permeable nature, if not utter uselessness, of political and cultural borders. Indeed, physical geography, migration, conquest, and trade have set patterns of human behavior in motion and civilizations have formed as a result of long-term interactions across the continental expanse of Eurasia.

     The use of the term Eurasia is now very familiar, but for many years historians did not refer to Eurasia; instead, our gaze was on Europe and Asia as two distinct regions with very few connections between them. Such a historical view had more to do with choice than geography. A physical map of Eurasia aptly demonstrates pathways for interactions and connections within a single continent. These pathways simultaneously encompass several zones of interaction that have connected Eurasia to Africa and the Indian Ocean World for most of human history. The Eurasian landmass provides excellent opportunities for those who research and teach world history to incorporate the more regional experiences emphasized by an area studies approach into the wider patterns of cross-border interactions that define the human experience. Eurasia has been the scene for movements of peoples, cultures, and languages since the earliest migrations of human ancestors during the Paleolithic right through to the present era and as such represent fertile ground for teaching and research within a world historical lens.

     A viable example for contextualizing regional human experiences into broader contexts can be found in Fernand Braudel's work on The Mediterranean, which brought us the longue durée that has become standard vocabulary in the historian's lexicon. Braudel's example of wider contextualization of regions is an important lens for world historians. Additionally, we would be remiss to omit Owen Lattimore's perception of frontier areas (borderlands) as creative, dynamic zones of interaction that create linkages between and within regions across Eurasia. When taken together, Braudel and Lattimore offer us a view of Eurasia that is not divided into isolated European and Asian segments, and challenge us to reflect on looking at Eurasian-wide models of historical development. Those who teach and research world history, at whatever level, would do well to engage a view that asks questions about how societies, for example in East Asia, Europe, or South Asia were shaped as a result of interactions and connections with their frontiers. In this sense, courses in world history should look to broader contexts of how societies, and the environment, let alone particular regimes or dynasties, emerged and were part of wider historical currents.

     For instance, emphasis on the inner workings of a single dynasty, such as the Ming, provides a view on Chinese history, but does not convey a context for understanding the broader Eurasian historical forces that shaped the Ming's policies during the 14th–17th centuries. A world historical lens would need to include a broader Eurasian context for the Ming and not only focus on the inner-workings of a single dynasty. A major challenge for those who teach or research world history is to develop historical approaches that complement the specific details provided in traditional area studies views, while focusing on larger patterns of historical development with alternative sets of details. With this in mind, the following three articles seek to impress upon us the need to think about the broader brushstrokes, that when taken together provide a view of the whole canvas. The three essays by Professors David Christian, Peter Perdue, and Timothy May offer such a view of thinking about the context of Eurasia in World History.

     David Christian's essay Afroeurasia in Geological Time argues that by utilizing the largest historical lens possible—a geological timescale, or Big History—Afroeurasia emerges as an entity of its own, rather than one of the many stages upon which the human drama has unfolded. Like human history, Afroeurasian history could have turned out differently. Utilizing a geological counter-factual exercise to illustrate his point, Christian asks two questions. First, what might world history have looked like if it had developed within a Pangean zone of interaction? And second, what might world history have looked like if it had developed in a world of absolute separate geologic zones of interaction? In the process of answering these questions, Christian demonstrates several distinctive historical features of an Afroeurasia zone of interaction and encourages world historians to more seriously consider the interplay between geography, ecology, and human creativity.

     Peter Purdue's essay Eurasia in World History: Reflections on Time and Space, asks how world historians should define appropriate historical boundaries of time and space now that the field has disposed of notions of nation and empire as permanent or timeless. Purdue proposes two alternatives to the question of space. First, regional units defined by population, commercial activity, and cultural exchange. And second, networks/webs defined as the long-term exchange of language, materials, and symbols. As to the question of time, rather than proposing an alternative periodization scheme, he redefines categories for the most common periodization already in use. Purdue's essay is focused on making world historians more aware of the categories of historical analysis we use and how we define them through the Eurasian example.

     Timothy May's essay, The Mongol Empire in World History, provides a brief history of the Mongol Empire followed by an examination of the Mongol legacy to political and human geography, commerce and intellectual achievements, and religion. May's inclusion of a 1970's "You-Tube" video of the German disco group "Dschingis Khan," is worth following for a lighter 'reflection' on popular cultural manifestations of the Mongol legacy within Eurasian and World History.

     Focusing on Eurasia in World History with these three authors as our guides should raise questions and comments for a lively discussion on the H-World Forum, February 11–22. Each of the authors will be available to elaborate on what they have presented and participate in a healthy exchange of ideas with H-World subscribers. Naturally, everyone is welcome to participate in the H-World Forum. If you are not currently subscribed you can do so by going to and clicking on the Subscribe option. Thank you for your participation—we look forward to the discussion on H-World.

Biographical Note: David M. Kalivas and Eric L. Martin are Co-Editors of H-World. David is Professor of History at Middlesex Community College, Massachusetts, and Eric is Associate Professor of History at Lewis-Clark State College, Idaho.


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