General History XIX: Imperial and Global History, 1750-1914 (previously General History XVIII)
This course has replaced the previous General paper ‘Europe and the Wider World 1815-1914’. Its purpose is to offer a more distinctively ‘global’ approach to the world history of this period. What this means in practice is: an emphasis upon the significance of mobility and exchange – in goods, ideas and people – across Eurasia, the Americas, and Africa; upon supra-regional phenomena, including religions, patterns of consumption, environmental stresses and the differential impact of scientific and technical knowledge; and on the reciprocal influences exerted on each other by European, Asian, African and other societies. Asia and Africa may have been influenced by Europe, but the reverse was equally true.
1750 is an arbitrary starting point, but it marks, perhaps, the beginnings of a decisive shift in the relative position of the strongest European states and societies on the one hand and those of other parts of Eurasia on the other, and the onset of what some historians have called ‘the great divergence’ between the East and the West which, in wealth and power, has lasted into our own times. Part of the aim of the course is to consider some of the reasons for this, but also the factors behind the remarkable resilience of many Asian societies, Islamic and other. Inevitably, the assertion of European imperial power is an important part of the story. But there were other empires in Eurasia (the Ottoman, Qajar and Qing) with a strong instinct for survival and considerable success in keeping the Europeans at bay. What allowed them to do so? This period is also one in which an astonishing range of new communities was formed in response to unprecedented levels of migration by Asians and Africans as well as Europeans; to the revolution in communications which allows a sense of community to extend over thousands of miles; to the economic changes associated with industrialisation and the creation of labour-hungry plantation and mining economies; and to the shifts in status and culture that encouraged new solidarities around gender or race, as well as reinforcing old ones based on religion.
The course will be taught through lectures and tutorials. The main lecture course will be in Michaelmas term and will consist of 16 lectures, designed to allow for a period of questions and discussion within the hour. In their tutorial programme, students will be required to write on a set of ‘thematic’ topics, as well as choosing from a list of ‘world regions’ in which to specialise. These include East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Black Atlantic, and the ‘neo-Europes’ of Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Here the emphasis will be less on the ‘internal’ histories of these regions, as on their connections with each other and with Europe.
Tutorial provision will be mainly available in the Michaelmas term, to coincide with the lecture course. Those interested in taking this paper are encouraged to think in advance about which region may be of particular interest to them.