Taking China out of Premodern Global History

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Conveners: School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford China Centre

Speaker: Naomi Standen

‘China’ is a problematical concept for the premodern period because the name unavoidably invokes the fixity of a modern nation-state that maps poorly onto the various and ever changing political formations of earlier centuries. World history has compounded this teleological usage by largely succumbing to seductively competitive comparisons between ‘China’ and ‘Western Europe’. Global history, however, may offer solutions for how to address the premodern era without reliance on anachronistic national frames. The concept of technologies, broadly understood, invites us to trace appropriations of practices and ideas regardless of political or ‘ethnic’ boundaries, which in turn necessitates reconfiguration of the region under consideration, in this case as Eastern Eurasia. This lecture takes the technologies of writing and scripts, and of examinations and education in the Korean peninsula, as cases through which to reframe our understanding of premodern Eastern Eurasia with interactions and relationships at the core of a non-sinocentric analysis. The goal is to give fuller recognition to the agency of a range of people in the region, which will allow us to better capture the fluidity in which they lived and the dynamics of what they created. 

Naomi Standen is a Senior Research Fellow in History at Jesus College, Oxford. She works with texts, with archaeologists and with medievalists studying all parts of the globe. Her current projects embrace historical analysis to accompany archaeological fieldwork on urban sites in Inner Mongolia, and a research network on ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’.