Asia Before Europe; & The Political Economy Of Merchant Empires
- Asia Before Europe: Economy And Civilisation Of The Indian Ocean From The Rise Of Islam To 1750
K.N. Chaudhuri - Cambridge University Press, 1990 - xviiii+477 pp. - £55 hardback, £15.95 paperback
- The Political Economy Of Merchant Empires: State Power And World Trade 1350-1750
Edited by James D. Tracy - Cambridge University Press, 1991 - vii + 504 pp. - £35
At first sight these books may seem to have little in common. Europe is, as its title suggests, largely excluded from K.N. Chaudhuri's ambitious and highly innovative attempt to write the history of Asia. By contrast, James D. Tracy and his colleagues offer a collection of essays ostensibly focused on the expansion of Europe. Both books are, however, significant contributions to a body of historical writing that has grown appreciably in recent years: attempts to write the history of the pre-modern world.
For earlier generations of scholars such an enterprise would either have seemed not to be worth undertaking at all or to present insuperable difficulties. Europe for them had at least by the Middle Ages developed a historical trajectory that was unique. Other continents were seen as largely unaffected by perceptible processes of historical change, leaving a history in which the ebb and flow of religions, waves of conquest and the rise and fall of dynasties produced a pattern that had no meaning that could be readily elucidated. Such arcane matters, if they needed to be studied at all, were best left to specialists. Only when they were subjected to the expansion of Europe were non-European peoples brought into the full light of history. What are deemed to be Euro-centric approaches or ones that involve consigning other parts of the world to the separate spheres of the 'orientalists' have, however, become more than a little unfashionable in recent years. Yet in spite of good intentions, the problems of writing the history of the pre-modern world remain intractable ones.
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