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The Question of Historical Perspective in World Historical Analysis


The little dog of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. On nations, globalization and periodization in the history curriculum1

Harry Jansen


     One of the main goals in history education should be that our students acquire insights into the great peregrination of mankind through history. A story about that peregrination can only be intelligible when it is divided into manageable and coherent units of time. Therefore a history curriculum cannot function without some kind of periodization. Most European countries employ a tripartite mode of time: ancient, medieval and modern. This particular time partitioning is extremely Eurocentric and fits badly in a curriculum that wishes to focus on world history.

     In the Netherlands two alternatives for this traditional type of periodization are developed, though both completely disregard global history. In primary education there is the so-called Dutch canon that has no periodization and deals with Dutch history only. It consists of fifty 'windows' each relating to one particular topic, with for instance one about Erasmus, the humanist and one about William of Orange, the founding father of the Netherlands.2 In secondary education history teaching mostly focuses on Western European populations. Their peregrination through time is subdivided in ten periods, from the time of hunters and peasants (before 3000 B.C.) to the time of television and computers (from 1950 onwards). Both curricula have, just like the tripartite approach, no relationship to world history whatsoever.

     Although periodization is but one of the criteria for curriculum building it is an important criterion. Therefore, I want to develop a curriculum based on an alternative periodization that fits a global approach in history teaching. However, in addition other criteria or benchmarks need to be developed if we want to implement world history in the curriculum. My proposal is to formulate three types of benchmarks and a periodization of five eras. Benchmarks and periodizations are rather abstract concepts and history education is most of all concerned with telling concrete stories and providing illustrative images. That is the reason why I want to make room in my proposal for images and stories like the one of the little dog of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, mentioned in the title above. Moreover benchmarks regarding global history and periodization on the one hand and images and stories on the other are interrelated. Criteria for the choice of stories and images need to correspond with criteria for periodization and vice versa. I will present some illuminating examples of stories and images for the period I have named 'the transition from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic'.

     The development of these criteria requires detailed historical knowledge for choosing adequate stories and images on one side and periods on the other. The question is whether teachers and curriculum builders have sufficient knowledge of global history to make such complicated choices. Most teachers have been educated in national and European history only which means that they have to improve their knowledge of global history. Thus changes of the curriculum in primary and secondary education also imply changes in teachers' training programs.

     The type of global history I focus on is a history of the world from a European point of view. Historical examples of global developments will be slightly different for European and American students. I also realize that students in China or India do not recognize themselves completely in the story of the peregrination of mankind across the globe as it will be told in the European classroom. Clearly, every continent has its own global history to tell. My paper wants to show the way in which European history teachers might construct a global history curriculum and how that might be a reference for teachers in other continents. Perhaps in one or two centuries (we need to take time!) these different continental histories will converge. Priority has to be given to those stories that may illustrate the main events in the history of mankind during its wanderings across the surface of the globe. Needless to say, subjects and periodization need to be developed and elaborated in a mutually interrelated fashion.

     In what follows I shall first discuss the three types of benchmarks. I then present the narrative of the little dog of the Fondaco and other significant stories and images. After briefly returning to the issue of benchmarks I will present a periodization of five eras, each consisting of four subjects. In the final part of the paper I will comment upon my choice for this periodization and subjects, and I will also make some conclusive remarks about the ten-era approach and its auctor intellectualis.

I. Three types of benchmarks

A good history curriculum has to comply with three different types of benchmarks:

  1. Benchmarks to augment students' interest in history
  2. Benchmarks regarding history as a discipline
  3. Benchmarks regarding the society we live in today.3

1. The benchmarks regarding students' interest in history consists of criteria which are related to the core business of history teaching: imagination. Historical imagination and the interest in history can best be attained by convincing young people that the past is not yet over and that history is not about dredging up long-forgotten matters. This regards the idea that the past is extending into the present which implies that in education the past has to be made present in the present. Therefore we need to provide images of that past.4 Young people must be made aware of the presence of the past by showing pictures and telling imaginative stories. Especially small stories are suited best to the purpose of extending the past into the present. By small stories I mean stories about ordinary human beings and ordinary events that can open up windows onto the bigger parts of history. This implies that we need to chose those small stories carefully.5

2. Benchmarks concerning history as a discipline.

The first criterion concerning history as a discipline is that history needs to be taught 'holistically'. This means that in history teaching we must focus on single historical problems at a time for which we should provide plural explanations. This paper will present an example of such an approach by looking at the transition from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic civilization. Historical problems require 'plural explanations', meaning that explanations may be derived from three different explanatory fields at the same time. The first field consists of political and institutional history in which the primary focus centres on the history of states, international relations, national assemblies, town councils etcetera. The second field consists of environmental, social and economic history which revolves around the history of the rich and the poor, the movers and stayers, around city and country dwellers, but also around technological developments, agriculture, commerce and industry and the growing scarcity of those resources. The third field of explanations focuses on cultural, intellectual and mental history. Here we find the history of writers, painters, scientists, philosophers, but also of popular culture.6

     Why should history be plural in its explanations? Reduction of historical phenomena to one simple cause or motive is most of the time the deathblow to historical thinking. It leads to theories of conspiracy and to discrimination. Young people need to learn that in history as well as in life most events have more than one single cause. Plural also means that explanations may come from different fields: from politics, from economy, from culture or mentality.7

     As a second criterion concerning history as a discipline I would like to advance the notion that history is the discipline of time, in the same way as geography is the discipline of space. According to the philosopher Edmund Husserl temporality consists of retention, attention and protention. Put in simpler terms this means that time is all about remembrance of the past, attention to the present and expectancy of the future. Dennis Shemilt has made a very important remark about how Husserl's point of view on temporality can be transferred to history teaching: 'Images of the past are most meaningful to students when they extend from the distant past (what was) into the present (what is) and contemplate possible futures (what may be).'8 This will be an important principle for my periodization of world history.

3. Benchmarks regarding the society we live in

     From a societal point of view the history curriculum has to deal with current problems in the world. I think there are three important areas of contemporary problems that students today have to explore: Europeanization, globalization and nationalism. The process of European integration which began in 1951 with the European Coal and Steal Community had its real start with the treaty of Rome in 1957. France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg were seeking cooperation on political grounds but mainly with economic targets. Therefore the treaty of Rome asked for European cooperation on political grounds (never again war in Europe) but based solely on socio-economical and cultural targets. Thus the cooperation took on a mainly economic form: free movement of commodities, persons and ideas. The most visible effect of this principle is the treaty of Maastricht (1991) by which a large number of European countries accepted the Euro as their common currency. This event, in all its present day consequences, stipulates the importance of economic history for Europe. I believe most teachers pay a lot of attention to political and cultural history whilst neglecting the economic side of history. For that reason I shall focus on economic problems here.9 Yet I will not forget the political and cultural aspects.

     The second area of contemporary problems that we should bring to our students' attention concerns the issue of globalization. Globalization involves not only global migration of people in search of safety or fortune, but globalization also involves the world-wide web and other world-wide systems of communication as well as the emergence of ecological problems such as global warming. Last but not least, globalization involves global economic developments with its immanent economic crises that can no longer be stopped at our national borders.

     Globalization relates primarily to the rise of global networks of communication and as such it is also a historical issue. Although today global distances have become very short indeed, they still need to be bridged. Even in a world connected by the internet, seas and oceans still form the boundaries around different civilizations. Goods, people and even ideas have to cross all these wide seas and oceans. So it is now10 and so it was in the past.11 This means that seas and oceans are centres of civilizations because these seas and oceans are not only borders but also lines of connections between civilizations. Moreover, seas and oceans are also historical topics themselves as important ecological phenomena.

     Centres of civilization may change in two ways, by internal shifts within a single civilization and by transitions between different civilizations. An internal shift took place from the nineteenth century, when the British Empire was the dominant power in the world, to the twentieth century when the United States rose to world power. This internal shift took place within what I would call the Atlantic civilization. It was a shift which played an important role in the life of our parents and grandparents. Our generation, I think, is experiencing not a shift, but a transition between civilizations, by which I mean a 'shift' from one sea or ocean to another. Is not the turn of the twentieth century to the twenty-first century a transition from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific? Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore and Vancouver are nowadays as important as, or even more important than New York, London and Rotterdam. From a societal point of view the history curriculum should pay ample attention to these shifts and transitions across the globe.12

     The central theme in my paper however is not the current shift from an Atlantic civilization to an Asian one, but the shift that took place in the Middle Ages and in Early Modern Times, the transition from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic civilization. Before making my point, I would like to say something about nationalism which is the third field of contemporary problems.

     The focus on shifts and transitions of civilizations in world history does not leave the national state as a unit without any importance. After all, we all live in such a nation-state and participate in its institutions. Therefore states remain important, also for countries that have people of different origins within their borders. States can stimulate participation in the public affairs of that country and with national public affairs it is the same as with a well-known football club. Great soccer players want to play with a club that has a successful history, although money is not unimportant. Therefore Dutch soccer talent is playing in clubs like Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona, Liverpool, AC and Inter Milan. It is no different with countries. When countries have a successful past it is attractive to participate in its institutions. Therefore, it is desirable to have a history curriculum that contains a 'thin' form of nationalism.

     But national and global situations are interrelated and so are their histories. National history and global history may then be connected in the history curriculum by asking yourself and your students: what did your country contribute to European history or to world history. This is the most important message of my paper. Why is a history of national contributions so important? Not because of national singularity or national uniqueness, but because it makes manifest trends that we can see in other countries too. Constructing a history curriculum in this manner we may demonstrate to our students what is going on in the history of the world. An example may illustrate what I mean by this. The subtitle of my paper refers to the transition from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic civilization. In that transition the Netherlands played an important role. However, in my story of this transition I may leave out the part played by Spain and Portugal even though their role in this shift may have been greater than the one played by the Dutch. The part played by the Netherlands then only exemplifies a trend, and that trend is the transition from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. This is an example of global history with a thin flavour of nationalism. Teachers of other countries must in their own curricula find similar thin forms of nationalism. Forms of nationalism that may favour the acquisition of insights into European and global history. In addition I might add that 'small' national stories provide us with the most explicit and scrutinized examples in history that illuminate the global wanderings of mankind. For it is above all our own national histories that we have the most detailed knowledge of, but that fact should not allow us to refrain from teaching other, more global stories about the past.

II. The little dog of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi and other 'small' stories

Figure 1
  Figure 1: Anonymous photographer.  

     My story about the transition of civilization from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic starts in Venice in the year 1483. At the Canal Grande near the Rialto Bridge a little dog is making a stroll. Our little dog yaps furiously to every Italian he meets. When he sees a German, a Dutchman or a person from Scandinavia he yaps friendly and wants to be petted. Why is the dog doing this? Before providing you with an answer I want to add that the dog's behaviour marks a crucial moment in a period of transition in the history of Europe.13

Figure 2
  Figure 2: Jan van Eyck, The marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami .

     However, before we can answer this question we have to briefly consider another "small" but important event in European history: the marriage of the rich banker Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami. We know of this wedding because the Flemish master Jan van Eyck painted it in 1434 in Bruges. Van Eyck's painting refers to the same transition as the yapping dog in Venice. The names of the couple indicate that two Italian families are acquainted with a Flemish painter in a Flemish city. We know for sure that Van Eyck was the painter for he was present at this event. He wrote it down himself on the painting above the mirror: "Johannes de eyck fuit hic" ("Johannes van Eyck was here'). Van Eyck was a friend of the Florentine banker's family of the Arnolfini, which is the reason why he painted it.

Figure 3
  Figure 3: A Greek tritreme

     Why do the dog near the Rialto Bridge and the Arnolfini wedding specify an important transition in European history? An answer to this question leads us to a third event: the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. This is a battle between the Turks on one side and the pope, Venice and Spain on the other. It is a well-known battle for two reasons. First of all, pictures of that battle show that naval technology from 500 b.C. until the sixteenth century hardly changed. The triremes of Athens, and the Roman, Byzantine and Venetian galleons are all quite similar to the sixteenth-century Turkish ships, at least from a technical point of view. We can see that when we compare a picture of the Athenian trireme (above left) with a picture of a Roman galleon found in a villa in Pompeii (below the trireme on the left side), beside which we see a reconstruction of that Roman galleon. We can also compare the trireme with a mosaic of a Byzantine galleon in the Aya Sophia mosque in Istanbul (above on the right side). All ships show many similarities with the ships involved in the Lepanto battle (below on the extreme right) They all are fighting ships under sail and under oar. Naval techniques hardly changed in the twenty-one centuries that separate Athens 500 b.C. from 1600 of the common era.

     There is a second reason why the battle of Lepanto is important. The multiple shifts in the Mediterranean area, first from Athens to Rome and then to Constantinopel/Istanbul and later on to the Italian big four,14 were taking place within one and the same Mediterranean civilization. Lepanto marks the end of this line of shifts. From then on the North Sea and the Baltic became more important centres in European civilization than the Mediterranean sea. The French historian Fernand Braudel elaborated this point in his famous: La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II. His book was published in French but has been translated in a score of other languages. Whether Braudel is right is of lesser importance than the fact that gradually the centre of European civilization did indeed turn towards the North-Western parts of Europe.

Figure 4
  Figure 4: Fresco of a Roman Galley in a villa in Pompeii 1st century B.C.

     This turn already began around 1250. From that time onwards two other seas besides the Mediterranean were on the rise: the North Sea and the Baltic. Merchants from Bruges, London, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bergen in Norway, Visby in Sweden and Novgorod in Russia were all members of the Hanseatic League. Bruges owes its importance in the fifteenth century to the transition in civilization from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the Baltic. Now it becomes clear why a Florentine banker's family had an office in that city. Florence was at that time what Wall Street is today, whilst Bruges was one of the main commercial cities in Northern Europe. Now we also understand why the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck painted the Florentine citizens, Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami at the occasion of their wedding.

     Since the middle of the thirteenth century merchants from the North and those of the Mediterranean met each other in Bruges as well as in Venice, especially at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Now it also becomes clear why our little dog yaps furiously at Italians and yaps friendly at Northern Europeans. His owner is a German merchant who is staying at the Venetian Fondaco around 1480. Fondaco comes from the Arab and Turkish word "Funduq," meaning a place to exchange goods, and Tedeschi is the Italian word for Germans. The Fondaco is a warehouse of Northern European goods. The fact that the Venetians were trading northern products in the Mediterranean shows that not only in the Mediterranean area, but also in Northern Europe commodities of high quality were produced and traded. The ships with which the riches of Northern and Western Europe were collected and transported, differed in fundamental ways from the Mediterranean galleons. These Northern ships had much more place for cargo because oarsmen were of very little use in seafaring across the Atlantic. I would like to mention the 'kogge', the flute and a boat that the Dutch called the VOC ship. This is the ship the famous Dutch East India Company used for their trade with South East Asia and Japan.

     One might say that until 1571 the North Sea and the Baltic on one side and the Mediterranean on the other were two rather separate but equal commercial regions. After 1571 Europe gravitated to the North-West and especially to Amsterdam as the new centre for world trade.

     What had happened? In the fifteenth century the Dutch gained free passage through the Sont, the strait between Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Amsterdam was able to push other Baltic cities aside and Dutch merchants were able to surpass their German and Scandinavian colleagues. The so-called Dutch 'moedernegotie' (mother commerce) was born.

     In the seventeenth century Dutch merchants also superseded the Venetian merchants in the Levant. How could that occur? The answer to this question may be found in the friendly relationship between the Dutch and the Turks. We know from the battle of Lepanto that Turkey and Spain were enemies. The Dutch and the Spaniards were enemies as well and were involved in a war that ultimately lasted for eighty years. Thus Turkey and the Dutch Republic had the same enemy. The seventeenth-century Dutch saying "Liver Turcx dan paus," meaning 'We prefer the Turks above the Roman Catholics," refers to this early connection between the Dutch and the Turks.15 Obviously, the Roman Catholics in this saying are a reference to the Spaniards with whom the Dutch were fighting out a conflict over the issue of religious freedom.

Figure 5
  Figure 5: Reconstruction of a Roman Galley

     As you can see in the picture above the Dutch even struck a medal with that saying on it. In most Roman Catholic countries the pope had so much authority that there was no freedom of religion. Turkey as an Islamic country did have religious freedom which is the reason why many Protestants in Europe preferred the Turks above the Roman Catholics. In 1612, in the middle of the Eighty-Years War between the Dutch and the Spaniards, Turkey was the first country to recognize the Dutch Republic as an independent state.16

     The Dutch had, apart from religion, a second reason for their battle cry "Liver Turcx dan paus." Dutch trade in the eastern part of the Mediterranean was increasing considerably and the Dutch were aiming to push away the Venetians. Thus good relations with the Turks could help. The main duty of the Dutch ambassador in Istanbul, who came to be the most important ambassador of the Dutch Republic, was to procure free access for Dutch merchants to the most important harbors in the Sultan's empire. Thus the battle cry of the Dutch "Liver Turcx dan paus, "did not only have religious but also economic connotations. Pictures of Dutch ships flying the Turkish flag next to the Dutch colours confirm the friendship between the Dutch and the Turks.

     After conquering the Levant trading routes, the Dutch created their economic system of the staple market. They shipped timber, fur, wheat and barley from the Baltic, and salt, wine

Figure 6
  Figure 6: A 13th century Byzantine war galley

and spices from the Mediterranean and stored all that in their Amsterdam warehouses. From there, French, Venetian, and most of all Dutch merchants transported the timber, fur, cloth, dairy products etcetera to the Mediterranean, whilst English, German, Scandinavian and again Dutch merchants transported cloth, herring, salt and spices to the Baltic. From the Baltic they brought products to the Mediterranean, and from the Mediterranean they shipped products to the Baltic. In this way the Dutch created the foundations of their Golden Age.

Figure 7
  Figure 7: Battle of Lepanto 1571
Scanned from Histoire de la Marine, de la voile à l'atome, Philippe Masson Charles Lavauzelle editor, ISBN 2702503349

Figure 8
  Figure 8: Kogge or Cog ship

Figure 9
  Figure 9: A Dutch flute

     The economic flourishing of the Dutch Republic is reflected in the old Amsterdam city centre. After a big fire the Amsterdam town council replaced its old, shabby and worn out town hall by a more modern one which today is still situated in the centre of Amsterdam. It demonstrates Amsterdam's development from a small market town to an early modern metropolis. Note also that in front of the town hall, a weigh-house was situated. Here the commodities from the Baltic and the Mediterranean were weighed and inspected for sufficient quality. Prices were fixed and acknowledged all over Europe. Note also the foreigners that were present almost everywhere in the city of Amsterdam. These foreigners, often dressed in Russian and Turkish clothes, are the representatives of both ends of the main commercial axis of the Amsterdam staple market: Russia on the eastside of the Baltic and Turkey on the eastside of the Mediterranean. (The picture on the left shows a Russian merchant on the backside and a Turkish merchant in the face.)

Figure 11
  Figure 10: A Dutch crescent-shaped Geuzen medal "Liver Turcx dan Paus"

Figure 12
  Figure 11: Turkish flags and Dutch colours on a Dutch ship, painted by Arie Zuidhoek

     These strangers can also be seen on the Amsterdam stock exchange (in the image of the Amsterdam stock exchange foreign merchants from abroad are pictured behind the pillar on the right). Amsterdam was not only a staple market, but the town also functioned as the economic information center of the whole of Europe. Especially the Amsterdam stock exchange and the Amsterdam exchange bank were the strongholds of that information.

Figure 13 & 14
  Figures 12 and 13: The Old and the New Town Hall of Amsterdam 16th and 17th century

Figure 15
  Figure 14: Russian and Turkish merchants in 17th century Amsterdam  

Figure 16
  Figure 15: The Amsterdam Stock Exchange 17th century


III. Return to benchmarks

     We started off with three types of benchmarks, benchmarks to augment student interests in history, benchmarks regarding history as a discipline, and benchmarks regarding contemporary society. The stories about the little dog at the Fondaco, the marriage of the Florentine couple in Bruges, the images of ships and the medal saying "we prefer the Turks above the pope" etcetera were intended to recount micro histories that may illuminate larger developments in European and global history. They are so to say the tiny built-in windows of my curriculum. Built-in is an important concept here. These windows serve to illuminate the developments of the periodization of the history curriculum I want to present here.

     Regarding the second type of benchmarks I should stress that in my story about the shift to the Atlantic I did not only pay attention to economic history, but also to political, technical and cultural aspects such as power, war, ships and paintings. It is important to chose a point of view that makes it possible to integrate political, institutional, environmental, social-economic, cultural and mental spheres of life.

     The third type of benchmark touches upon three fields of contemporary social and political issues: Europeanization, globalization and nationalism. Concerning Europeanization, we might think that European economic integration started in 1957 with the treaty of Rome, its commercial foundations were already laid out around 1483 with the little dog of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Regarding globalization, it should be noted that the transition from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic civilization, as it has been recounted above, forms only one part of the bigger story about the peregrination of mankind. On nationalism, it is important to stress that my story about Dutch history did not concern this nation's internal development but rather its contribution to European and world history.

     Let me elaborate a little on this issue of a thin form of nationalism. Firstly, I can imagine that my paper makes the impression of taking a rather Dutch nationalistic perspective on European history. I must admit that I am dealing with, what the Germans would call, Sternstunde in Dutch history. These 'finest hours' can be found in the history of every nation, country, culture or state in Europe. These stories about a nation's finest hours should however not be used for national glorification but to explore the ways in which that country contributed to European history or even to the history of the world.

Secondly, I would like to issue a warning. False heroism should be avoided. This can be tested by asking yourself: Is my nation the only hero or did other nations or other countries help in that contribution? In my small piece on Dutch history other states and peoples were enclosed. It is not difficult to see for example the significance of Turkey and the Turks in the development of the Netherlands as a nation. Turkey may also have played a role in the histories of other European countries, but in different ways. In Dutch history Turkey's role is still a 'white' page, for other countries it sometimes means a 'black' page in their history books.

     Thirdly, thin nationalism should not be taken to mean that you may leave out the black pages in your country's 'contributions' to global and European history. For Dutch history we might have a brief look at the following example. The Dutch are so proud of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company, that their former prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, once exclaimed in the Dutch house of representatives: "we are in need of a new VOC mentality." He conveniently forgot that many Dutch citizens with origins in the former colonies of Indonesia, Surinam and the Dutch Antilles, with or without good reason, can only associate the Dutch East India Company with colonial repression and slave trade.17 Hence they justifiably expressed their protest against the Dutch PM's statement. So nationalism is allowed, but do not leave out the dark sides of your national history.

     Fourthly, the benchmarks I have summed up above may help to build a history curriculum in every country that is both national and European as well as global. The combination of a national and a European approach of global history is important because of the fact that Europe is not (yet) a country but a continent. From this point of view a curriculum that only deals with the internal developments of a country is detrimental to European history as well to global history. Moreover the attention paid to internal national developments in many curricula is founded on a nineteenth-century nationalistic view of history education.18 In that way historians are supporting a perspective on their country's history that today is voiced by nationalistic and populistic politicians. For every history curriculum the crucial question should be whether it enables a view of the history of one's country from the outside. Historians should therefore minimize the history of internal developments and maximize the stories of the positive and negative contributions of their country to the history of Europe and the world.19

IV. Periodization

     What are the consequences for the history curriculum of the benchmarks I have presented above? In other words what kind of periodization should be applied in the history curriculum in primary and secondary education? Here I want to present a preliminary design for a history curriculum that is both Western and Eastern European and that allows many opportunities to link European history to world history.20 This curriculum should consist of 5 periods:

1. From the Middle East to the Mediterranean:[Prehistory and Antiquity] 10.000 B.C.– 500 B.C.

2. The Mediterranean civilization: [Antiquity and early Middle Ages] 500 B.C.– 1250 C.E.

3. From Mediterranean to the Atlantic: [Middle Ages and Early Modern Times] 1250–1650

This is the period I have been commenting on.

4. The Atlantic civilization: [Early Modern Times and Modern Times] 1650–1950

5. From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific: Modern Times 1950–

     In three of the above periods, period 1, 3 and 5, transitions are the central issue and in the other two periods shifts play a dominant role. When we speak of transitions we are referring to changes that are of global importance, whilst shifts are meant to refer to changes that, although important, are not global in nature.

Figure 17
  Figure 16: Eight Worldsystems 1250–1350  

     I have based my five-period partition on Janet Abu-Lughod's book entitled Before European Hegemony. One of the maps in her book, looking like the map above, may help to explain the background of my periodization.21 This map shows the location of the first world-civilization centre in system 2. While leaving out for the moment the first period 'From the Middle East to the Mediterranean', system 2 refers to the second period in my concept, the period of the Mediterranean civilization. The first system (1) shows the period I have been discussing above and which I have called "from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic." Abu-Lughod's map also demonstrates how my story about the transition from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic civilization is connected to histories of other parts of the world. Obviously, those other parts have to build their own curriculum, but it would be nice if they also applied an approach similar to the one developed by Abu-Lughod. There are actually many ways in which European history may be linked to the histories of African and Asian peoples. For instance world system 3, the Egyptian and Saudi-Arabian region may be used to link the history of the eastern part of the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

Figure 18
  Figure 17: Cover of Kaplanís Monsoon, translated in Dutch
Source: R.D. Kaplan, Moesson. De Indische Oceaan en de toekomstige wereldmachten (2011 Het Spectrum: Houten, Antwerpen)

     Here we come to another reason to pay close attention to Abu Lughod's book. The cover of Robert Kaplan's Monsoon shows a map of the Indian Ocean and the surrounding countries.22 That is the region Abu-Lughod's map with systems 6, 7 and 8 refers to. In the preface of his book Kaplan writes: '…It is my contention that the Greater Indian Ocean, stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa past the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian Subcontinent, all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one. Hopefully, the twenty-first century will not be as violent as the twentieth, but, to a similar degree, it could have a recognizable geography. In this rimland of Eurasia – the maritime oikoumene of the medieval Muslim world that was never far from China's gaze – we can locate the tense dialogue between Western and Islamic civilizations, the ganglia of global energy routes, and the quiet, seemingly inexorable rise of India and China over land and sea. For the sum-total effect of U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan has been to fast-forward the arrival of the Asian Century, not only in the economic terms that we all know about, but in military terms as well'. Thus Abu-Lughod's systems 6 to 8 show the world before, and Kaplan's Monsoon the world after European global hegemony.

I am aware that each of the five periods needs further elaboration. Each period consists of 4 subjects. I give here the five periods once more, this time with an indication of what might be taught in each period.

Figure 19
  Figure 18: Khorsabad 8th century B.C.

Figure 20
  Figure 19: Athens 4th century B.C.

From the Middle East to the Mediterranean

This period consists of four subjects:

1. From hunters and food finders to peasants and city dwellers [100.000–2.500 b.C.] In prehistory two global revolutions took place, an agrarian revolution and an urban revolution. The agrarian revolution transformed hunters and food finders into peasants, and even into farmers. The difference between farmers and peasants is that the former are producing not only for private consumption but also for a market. The existence of a market implies division of labour and division of labour gives rise to the emergence of villages, towns and even cities.

2. From city dweller to citizen [2.500– 500 b.C]. This subject shows differences in civic participation, which can be illustrated by comparing Asian and European cities. In the Middle East we have known cities such as Ur in Chaldea, Khorsabad in Assyria, Babylon in Mesopotamia and Jericho in Palestine, which were all ruled by kings, war lords or aristocratic families. Participation in urban affairs by the town's inhabitants existed only in Greek and Roman cities which had popular assemblies to control government. A comparison of maps of Khorsabad and Athens, as shown below, may illustrate the difference between a closed, authoritarian city inhabited by city-dwellers and an open city populated by participating citizens.

3. One God in three books [1000b. C.– 700 C.E.] Next to the polytheism as the dominant religion in Mesopotamia and Egypt special attention has to be paid to three forms of monotheism: Jewish religion, Christendom and Islam.

4. Athens, a democracy?[500–200 B.C] This subject relates to historical developments in commerce, naval technology, warfare, philosophy and art, and the central question here is whether Athens can be seen as a modern democracy. It also illustrates the transition to the Mediterranean civilization. The story of Europa on the bull is the mythical representation of this transition.

Figure 21
  Figure 20. Gustave Moreau, Europa on the bull

The Mediterranean civilization

     Above I have sketched the main topics of this period by mentioning Rome, Constantinople/Istanbul and the Italian big four. Of course they are in need of further elaboration.

1. Rome's mare nostrum[200 B.C–500 C.E.]. This subject concerns the rise and decline of the Roman empire and its enemies, the clash between polytheism and monotheism, relations between Jews and Christians, and the development of Roman law.

2. Three worlds around the Inner Sea23[500–1250]. This subject includes the history of Latin and Orthodox Christendom, and of Islam (Aya Sophia) and the Crusades.

     For young people the difference between Latin and Orthodox forms of Christianity may be illustrated by the three Rumanian female skaters shown in the picture below. The skater in the middle crosses herself open-handed, which is the Catholic way, the woman on the right makes an Orthodox cross with two fingers opposing the thumb.

Figure 22
  Figure 21: Rumanian female speedskaters crossing themselves  

3. The emergence of feudal societies in Western and Eastern Europe[500–1250]. In Russia and Poland we see strong and long-lasting forms of feudalism whereas in Western Europe a more moderate form existed which began to dissolve already after the Middle Ages to come to definite close with the French Revolution. In South Eastern Europe feudalism did not exist. In western countries some historical issues have often been forgotten, such as the history of Orthodox Christianity and the difference between western and eastern feudalism. The differences between these two feudal societies are at the roots of the fundamentally different development of Western and Eastern Europe.

4. The Italian big four: Genoa, Milan, Venice and Florence[1000–1250]. This is the subject of the three C's.: Commerce, Capitalism and Connections. Long before the rise of commercial relations between northern Italy and Western European regions, Genoa and Venice maintained regular seafaring with Constantinople and Egypt. The latter commercial network in its turn connected the Mediterranean civilization to civilizations around the Indian Ocean. This demonstrates yet another link between European history and world history.

From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic

This period consists of four subjects:

1. From Genoa to Seville and Lisbon[1250–1500]. This subject concerns the topics of the history of the Great Discoveries and the subsequent colonization of non-western parts of the world. This movement westwards forms a complement to the northbound move, as I have recounted above, from Venice to Bruges and Amsterdam. Columbus discovered America on behalf of the Spanish throne but he himself came from Genoa.

2. From Venice to Bruges [1250–1500]. As we already know this subject is all about commerce, naval technology and the history of the Hanseatic League. Teachers in Eastern European countries may for instance wish to add to this the role of the Mongol empire and the great epic about Genghis Khan. The connections between Venice, Eastern Europe and even further east as far as China may be constructed by focussing on the journeys by Marco Polo. For further details I would like to refer the reader back to the third world system as it was elaborated by Abu Lughod.

3. Renaissance, Reformation, state formation and religious wars [1400–1600]. From the perspective of my five period design the Renaissance appears as the last great flicker of life of the old Mediterranean civilization but also as the great testator to the new Atlantic one. With the Italian Renaissance states as a paradigm the rest of Europe learned to form their own states. The Reformation can be seen as the first religion or, if you want, the first ideology of this new Atlantic civilization. I would like to recall that Protestantism played an important role in the histories of the Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States (WASP).

4. Dutch Republic[1600–1800]. This will typically be a subject in a Dutch history curriculum. Topics might be: freedom of religion, painting, scientific revolution and Radical Enlightenment.24

The Atlantic civilization

1. Four enemies [1600–1800]. The Netherlands versus England, versus Spain and versus Portugal. Wars in Asia and America. Similarities and differences in colonization. The Netherlands received support from the English in their wars against Spain and Portugal, but they also fought each other. Perhaps this may seem to touch on these nations' histories only, but do not underestimate the relevance of this item for countries outside Europe. See for instance the notorious war museum in Tokyo. At the entrance there is a big map with the conquest of Asian territory by western powers. For the Japanese European colonial aggression acts as a kind of justification for their participation in World War II.

2. Britain versus France[1750–1900]. This subject involves topics such as a constitutional versus an absolute monarchy, Enlightenment and French Revolution. A large part of the history of the early Atlantic civilization can be viewed in terms of the opposition between Britain and France. This topic concerns the rise of 'isms' regarding the French Revolution: liberalism, conservatism, radicalism, feminism.

3. Industrial Revolution [1750–1950]. This subject leads to topics such as child labour and another set of 'isms': socialism, capitalism, racism, nazism and fascism, but also to the imperialistic contests between the French and British Empires and the race for raw materials and market areas. However, within this subject you can also discuss issues from the history of the United States, for instance the modernization of communication and economic crises. The last issue reminds us of the first global economic crisis that started with the crash at the Wall Street stock exchange in New York in 1929.

4. Atlantic v. Continental Europe[1900–2000]. Here we might include as main topics World War I and II, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the reconciliation between the former enemies within Europe. The history of the twentieth century may be seen as a continuous struggle between the Atlantic part especially the United States, Britain and France, against the continental powers such as Germany and Russia.

     Although some topics in this period may seem more Western than global, from a European point of view this period is an important transition in mankind's wandering across the globe. Without this period we do not understand the final one.

From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific

     Although the Atlantic powers triumphed in the Second World War, the Atlantic civilization lost her predominant place in world history. Japan rose to an economic world power and so did China after Deng Chao Ping.

1. Japan versus China[1850–] It is important to pay special attention to the comparison of the Meji Revolution (1868) versus the Communist Revolution (1949). The Meji Revolution can be seen as a revolution of the lower aristocracy (samurai), the Communist Revolution is typically a peasant revolution. Further topics here are World War II in the Pacific, atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bourgeois versus communist capitalism, (Neo)Confusianism, Shintoism and Buddhism. It is important to see how in the Far East two different religions such as Shintoism and Buddhism get on very well together, without war or strife.

2. (De)colonization of India and Indonesia[1800–] In the nineteenth century colonialism underwent an important reform. The Indian companies that had ruled British India and the Dutch East Indies were replaced by colonial governments. In both cases the system was based on the principle of indirect rule: the top of the colonial government was British and Dutch but lower governmental organizations were indigenous. However, British and Dutch indirect rule also differed: the British admitted mainly non-aristocratic and more indigenous elites to their lower, governmental organizations whereas the Dutch relied on the existing feudal elites. In both colonies opposition existed between Hinduism and Islam but in India this played a much more important role than in Indonesia. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam reached the Indonesian archipelago by boat, which we know, amongst other sources, from the Borubudur, the great Buddhist temple in the midst of Java. One of the bas-reliefs of this temple shows pictures of a boat crossing the Indian Ocean, thereby stressing anew the importance of ships and seas for the history of mankind.

Figure 22
  Figure 22: Borobudur ship relief

3. Other countries around the Indian Ocean. [1950–] The main topics of this subject are: Islamic states versus Israel, rich versus poor Islamic states, Oil in Iraq, Afghanistan and Al Qaida, the struggle for democracy against authoritarian regimes, the Indian Ocean as an economic and cultural communication area. These topics may be dealt with in the way Robert Kaplan does in his book Monsoon, and as it has been done in La maladie de l'Islam by Abdelwahab Meddeb.25

4. Decolonization and migration. Dutch multicultural society. [1950–]

     Other unsolved problems connected to the inheritance of western decolonization concern the substantial streams of migrants and the rise of multicultural societies in the west, but so do poverty and oppressive regimes in Islamic states. The differences of opinion between Israel and the Islamic states have consequences for migration and multicultural societies.

V. Concluding remarks

     The ten-era periodization, which I have discussed in my introduction, was designed amongst others by the Dutch didactician Arie Wilschut. In his 'Canonical standards or orientational frames of reference?' he takes a firm stand against the Dutch national canon and against canonical thinking in general. He wants students not to think in national prides and prejudices but to think in time. I fully agree with this. His periodization is less nationalistic than the canon and is intended to be more European and global. This intention is worthy of praise, however Wilschut also admitted that he had more or less failed in his objectives. He acknowledged that his approach is 'too Western, too European, too much of a "closed" narrative to be able to really function as a scaffold'. I agree with his self-criticism, indeed his ten-era concept is too Western, however I do not agree with his excuse for this. A European history that is Western in focus, he states, is "inevitable." He argues that, "If we come up with something completely strange and abstract, the associative support of learning to think in historical time might be lost."26 He therefore prefers La Villette – a village near Paris and an item in the ten-era curriculum – as information item above topics outside Europe. I think that La Villette is for most Dutch students as strange as Singapore. The opposite is also true, for Dutch students Kabul or Cairo are as nearby as London or Rotterdam. This is not about strangeness but about the necessity to tell concrete and illustrative stories about events that illuminate big pictures and big stories of the past. Wilschut's excuse is also at odds with the argumentation offered by Jerome Bruner which is approvingly cited by Wilschut in the introduction of his article: "any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development."27

     The temporal construction is also manifest in my five-era construction. Coming from the Middle East and the Mediterranean we are going via the Atlantic to a future that will be most probably in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. A journey through time is at the same time a peregrination across the globe. This corresponds with the ideas of Aristotle, Kant and even Augustine with his distentio animi. They all are aware that the experience of time cannot exist without the experience of space.28

     Wilschut is also wrong concerning the 'closed' character of his concept. In fact Dutch history teachers as well as the Dutch Institute for Test Constructing (Cito) are complaining about the "openness" of Wilschut's era system. According to many history teachers the ten-era system does not provide any content that can be tested. In terms of historical content history teachers in the Netherlands favour the canon. In my five-era approach there are lots of possibilities to provide historical content that can properly be tested, so that we can do without the canon.

     There is another advantage of my five-era periodization over Wilschut's ten-era approach. The number of parts in which the past can be divided seems unlimited. But the American historian Phillippe Carrard in his Poetics of the new history29 has made an important point by stating that given the nature of human cognition seven periods are the upper limit for comprehension. A partition in ten era's is too much, most certainly when it comes to children or young people. That is all the more true when the main aim in teaching global history is to enhance historical imagination and interest for other people and other cultures.

     In a final remark I want to stress that students need to articulate, as Shemilt states, '"little picture" materials into coherent and usable "big pictures."30 Therefore all subjects of my five eras need to be taught with the help of small events illustrating big developments. So for every subject and for every topic of the five era system you need to find examples like the little dog of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

Dr. Harry Jansen was till his retirement associate professor in Philosophy of history at Radboud University Nijmegen. He wrote The construction of an urban past. Narrative and system in urban history (Oxford 2001) and Triptiek van de tijd. Geschiedenis in drievoud (Nijmegen 2010). Regarding this book, only published in Dutch, he wrote: 'Is there a future for history? On the need for a philosophy of history and historiography' that will be published in Low Countries Historical Review (forthcoming). He can be reached at


1 This paper is a revised version of a lecture held at the 17th EUROCLIO Conference titled A Bridge too far? which took place from 22–28 March 2010, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The conference discussed the Dutch canon and the proposed alternative: a ten era curriculum. I want to thank Angelique Janssens for the English revision of this paper.

2 William III, the stadholder-king is not an item in the Dutch canon. It illustrates the non-global and internal character of the Dutch canon. See for instance Amy Chua, Day of Empire. How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall (New York:Doubleday, 2007). She allows much more room in her global history for William III than for William I.

3 The foundation of these three types of benchmarks can be found in my book Triptiek van de tijd. Geschiedenis in drievoud (Triptych of time. History in three ways) (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2010).

4 In history teaching in the Netherlands too much time is devoted to making exercises, exercises concerning historical concepts and exercises with regard to periodization for instance. This may be important too, but I prefer to spend more time on story telling. Moreover, I prefer to tell small stories.

5 See D. Shemilt, "Drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful," in: L. Symcox and A. Wilschut, National History Standards. The problem of the canon and the future of teaching history (Charlotte, North Carolina, 2009), 141–209, esp. 179–189.

6 Shemilt, "Drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful," 161. Shemilt distinguishes four different explanatory fields instead of the three used by me. Nevertheless, his framework is less different from mine than one would say at first sight.

7 Criminal behaviour for instance is most of the time an economic, as well as a mental problem. Economic because of unemployment, mental because of neglect in childhood for instance.

8 Shemilt, "Drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful," 174.

9 See for the importance of economic history now and in the future: W. H. Sewell jr., "A Strange Career: The Historical Study of Economic Life," History and Theory 49, 4 (2010), 146–166.

10 'Ninety percent of all global commerce travels by sea, half of which flows through the Indian Ocean. Here, too, passes 70 percent of the world's petroleum products. These routes will only become more crucial and more congested, as world energy consumption is predicted to rise 50 percent by 2030'. See: R. Kaplan, Monsoon. The Indian Ocean and the future of American power (New York: Random House, 2010)

11 See also: D. Abulafia, "Mediterranean history as global history," History and Theory 50, 2 (2011), 220–228.

12 I fully agree with Joke de Leeuw-Roord in 'Yearning for yesterday' when she takes a stand against politicians and intellectuals in Europe, who 'instead of trying to come to terms with the needs of young people to cope with the globalising society (…) are afraid of losing control and want to increase the national approach, using the old arguments'. See J. De Leeuw-Roord, "Yearning for Yesterday," in: Symcox and Wilschut, National History Standards, 73–94, esp. 86–87.

13 This story was told by Felix Faber (originally called Schmied/Schmid), member of the Dominican order, born 1441 in Zürich, died 1502 in Ulm. He travelled to France and Rome and twice to Jerusalem, in 1480 and 1483. About the second pilgrimage to Jerusalem he wrote Evagatorium in which he recounts the story about the little dog. See: Gerhard E. Sollbach, In Gottes Namen fahren wir (Essen: Phaidon ,1990). I am grateful for this note to Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Erdmann, Vorsitzende der Internationalen Gesellschaft für Geschichtsdidaktik in Germany.

14 The 'Italian big four' is an expression referring to the cities of Genoa, Milan, Florence and Venice which I borrowed from J. L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250–1350 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1989).

15 It was the battle cry of the so-called 'watergeuzen', or 'water beggars' in English, which is the name of a group of Dutch rebels against the Spanish rulers.

16 I can add to this that the Dutch government in 2004 as president of the European Union in return proposed to start negotiations with Turkey to admit that country to the European Union

17 Slave trade was most of the time the occupation of the Dutch West India Company.

18 J. Van der Leeuw-Roord, "Yearning for Yesterday," in Symcox and Wilschut, National history Standards, 73–94, esp.: 87.

19 A Dutch textbook on social and economic history is based on such an external approach: K. Davids en M. 't Hart (eds.), De wereld en Nederland. Een sociale en economische geschiedenis van de laatste duizend jaar (Amsterdam: Boom, 2011) [The World and the Netherlands. A Social and Economic History of the Last Thousand Years]

20 The ten era periodization aims mainly on Dutch and West European contents.

21 Abu-Lughod, Before European hegemony 34.

22 See note 10 of this paper.

23 I borrowed this title from Peter Rietbergen, Europe. A cultural history (London, New York: Routledge, 1998).

24 See for this last topic J. Israel, The Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

25 A. Meddeb, La maladie de l'Islam (Paris: Seuil, 2002).

26 Arie Wilschut, 'Canonical standards or orientational frames of reference?' in: Symcox and Wilschut, National History Standards, 117–139, esp. 135.

27 Wilschut, "Canonical standards or orientational frames of reference?," 119.

28 That is one of the issues I elaborated on in my book Triptiek van de tijd.

29 Ph. Carrard, Poetics of the New History. French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univresity Press, 1992).

30 See Shemilt, "Drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful," 179.


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