Friday, March 20, 2009

Surveys of the Fields

As a graduate student, I sure could have used some good field surveys to match my prelim exams. As a scholar, I could still use them. So I thought to start some blog conversations about literature and states of respective fields.

But before I do that, I want to solicit responses to my slate of fields below. Did I miss anything? Are some of my choices inconsistent with others? I offer national histories only for the largest countries or regions, or for those of particular historical importance (like Spain). For pre-modern periods, some of my choices reflect source availability or the lack thereof. Many fields obviously overlap others.

In neglecting certain narrower yet very rich fields, I am focusing now and first on starting field conversations broad enough for plausible prospects of a critical mass of discussants on an English-language blog (if we were to work very hard to get historians involved in starting a conversation in a given field).

What do you think of this list? (Soon I'll choose a field or fields and ask you about those per se, but for now, just the taxonomy suggested below.)

My draft fields list:
*additions, changes, & updates since the initial post.

Comparative & World Systems
World History: Prehistory to 1492. Since 1492. Since 1945.
Economic, Financial, & Labor History: Prehistory to 1492. 1492-1815. Since 1815. Since 1929.
Science and Technology: Prehistory to 1500. Since 1500. Since 1945.
International History: 1494-1815. Since 1815. Since 1945.
European Imperialism. Fifteenth Century to 1763. Since 1763.
Judaism: Pre-modern. Modern.
Christianity: Ancient and Medieval. Since 1517.
Islam (all periods).
Military: Ancient and Medieval. 1494-1789. Since 1789. Since 1945.
Environmental. To 1500. 1500-1800. Since 1800.
Social (including Women’s and Men’s). To 1500. 1500-1800. Since 1800.
Legal. To 1500. 1500-1789. Since 1789.
Business. To 1500. 1500-1800. Since 1800.

United States: Colonial to 1765. 1765-1815. 1815-1877. 1877-1945. 1945-present.
U.S. Intellectual (all periods).
*U.S. South (all periods).

Canada (all periods).

Latin America & Caribbean: Precolumbian and Colonial. Since 1798.
Mexico: Precolumbian to 1810. Since 1810.
Spanish Latin America (besides Mexico): Since 1810.
Brazil: Precolumbian to 1810: Since 1821.
Caribbean (all periods).

Europe: Medieval to 1500. 1500-1789. Since 1789. Since 1945.
European Intellectual History: Medieval & Renaissance. Renaissance to 1789. Since 1789.
Greece: Ancient. Byzantine. Since 1821 (or 1453).
Rome / Italy: Ancient. 1494-1796. Since 1796.
Spain: Medieval. Early Modern. Since 1808.
France: Early Modern. Since 1789.
England / Britain: Early Modern. Since 1688.
Germany: Early modern to 1740. Since 1740.
Russia: Medieval. 1598-1881. Since 1881.

Near & Middle East
Ottoman Empire / Turkey. Beginnings-1453. 1453-1922. Since 1922.
Egypt: Ancient. Modern.
Arabia (one field).
Persia: Ancient and Medieval. Early Modern. Modern.

Central Asia (all periods).

India: Ancient and Medieval. 1526-1858. Since 1858.

East Asia
Buddhism (all periods).
*China: Prehistoric-220. 220-1368. 1368-1911. Since 1911.
*Japan: Ancient and Medieval. 1550-1853. Since 1853.
Southeast Asia (all periods).
East Indies (all periods).

Oceania (all periods).

Australia and New Zealand (all periods).

Northern Africa: Ancient-1830. Since 1830.
Western Africa: Prehistoric to 1500. 1500-1880. Western and Central Africa since 1880.
Southern Africa (all periods).
Eastern Africa (all periods).


Anonymous said...

Well, in my area -- Asia, especially Japan -- it looks like the traditional epochs, but I'm not sure the historiography really supports those break points anymore.

In Japanese historiography, the roots of the "Tokugawa settlement" and early modern society have been pushed back into the Sengoku (Warring States), sometimes as far back as 15th century, and very little Meiji scholarship -- outside of political science -- doesn't acknowledge the fundamental continuities across the 19th century. If I had to put dates on a three-field split for Japan, I'd probably use 1550 (high Sengoku, before the unification begins) and 1890 (the Meiji Constitution). (if you want to do a modern/premodern thing, a lot of "Modern" textbooks start in 1800, so you could use that, but I prefer 1700.)

On China, I'm not as familiar with the historiography, but my impression is that there is a lot more scholarship crossing the Ming-Qing boundary than there used to be, and that the Tang isn't really separable from the Warring States/Five Dynasties/Northern Wei period. I'd probably break between Tang and Song, or possibly after Song. That latter might work, because then you can take the Yuan-Ming-Qing as a unit, which actually works pretty well. (If you're thinking that the Qing is the Early Modern in China, because it's chronologically contiguous with the Early Modern in Europe, you have to give that up. this discussion is as good a starting place as any....)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jonathan. For Japan, I actually considered 1853, and was ignorant of 1890's significance. For the transition to Japanese modernity, I favor 1853 over 1890. Is that reasonable? If I make only one break between 1550 and the present, how would you rank 1800 vs. 1853 vs. 1890? (1700 is only 33% of the way from 1550 to the present. And the fields should correspondent in part to plausible sequenced undergrad courses.)

For China, if I include Song in the ancient / classical field, do I stop in 1129 when the Jin push the Song across the Yangtze, or do I take the classical China field to 1215, when the Mongols take Yanjing?

That leaves me with only three Chinese fields, which seems paltry. If I put Song in a field before Yuan, is there enough from China's prehistory to the Song to break that into two fields, and if so, where should I draw the temporal line?


Anonymous said...

Good questions, definitely. A lot of Japanese histories and courses do break at 1853 still, though the old Toynbeesque stimulus-response model which informed it is pretty much defunct. There's a lot to be said for that, though, since the period of relative isolation is certainly qualitatively different from the globally engaged era. My main complaint about that is the teleology: it makes modernity seem too inevitable, natural. I think the early Meiji -- which is a period of experimentation, struggle and drama -- makes more sense if you observe the Tokugawa-Meiji transition from the Tokugawa side rather than as the whiggish prelude to Imperialism, etc. (To be completely clear, I'm not accusing you of whiggishness, teleological thinking, etc.; it's the historiography shaped by these break-points, much of which is still, unfortunately, embedded into the master narratives of Japanese history.)

Constitutionalism changes things. Not right away, always, but there are also good economic and social/cultural reasons to see the late Meiji as much more a part of the 20th century than the 19th. It makes international comparison more interesting, tends to reduce the Japanese exceptionalism in the narrative.

1800 (or 1700) is a good transition point really only if you're doing a 2-part sequence; if you have the freedom to do three parts, either of the later breaks make more sense. My three-part sequence is heavily influenced by the UC-Berkeley department's division, which I replicated for a time (I've given it up because I don't have a large enough student population to fill my Japan/China courses if I subdivide them too much) and by my own training which took the 19th century as a unit more often than not.

For a four-part China sequence, I think I'd do a really Early field (up to the fall of the Han), an "Open Empire" field (Three Kingdoms to Mongol; see Valerie Hansen's excellent textbook), an Early Modern (Ming-Qing) and a 20th century field.

Alternately, since I'm pushing the third field back to the Ming, you could start the fourth field with the Opium Wars -- I have more or less the same historiographical qualms about that that I do about the 1853 break in Japan, but there are a lot of courses and texts which do just that, still. (I can't recommend highly enough Paul Cohen's Discovering History in China for a good argument against the Opium War break point, among other historiographical insights; many of the theories he engages were very active in the Japanese historiography as well.)

Jeffrey Vanke said...

I'm going with most of your suggestions, and thanks again. For dividing Japan into two fields since 1550, I don't want to go later than 1867, so I went back to 1853. (To be reposted soon.)

By contrast, China has many dramatic points, 1800-1920. It also had more gradual exposure and qualitative change from European contacts than did Japan. So I've kept 1911 rather than 1840 or 1851 or 1900. Each country on its own terms, rather than intellectual consistency with Japan's 1853.

Anonymous said...

That is eminently sensible!

Quick outside-my-field question: where's the premodern/modern break in Jewish history? Is it Napoleon's liberation of the Jews? The emergence of Reform? The emergence of Zionism? Seems like it would be somewhere in the 19th century....

Anonymous said...

Not to harp on the China stuff, but I would probably split off your earliest one at 23 AD (Wang Mang) That's your Classical China. Then I guess the middle empire is to the end of the Tang, Late Empire to 1800, and then modern after that.

Anonymous said...

Dresner: Jewish history will probably split at some degree of emancipation, probably earlier rather than later. Some of these precise temporal divisions I can hold back until I move into those specific fields.

Baumler: Thanks, and will consider. I'm only in a mediating position on most of these fields, so the more I can triangulate from different viewpoints, the better.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to an assignment in early grade school, wherein I accidentally chose to write a little report on Frederick the Great, I became a historian. So I very much sympathize breaking German history around the year 1740. However, to understand Frederick and Prussia (and thus Germany), I have found it necessary to move the clock back 100 years.

I recommend starting with the 1640 accession of Friedrich Wilhelm I. von Brandenburg (1620-1688), the Kurfürst von Brandenburg und Herzog von Preußen. He inherited a most difficult situation, and it is very easy to imagine a lesser ruler being overcome by any number of the challenges he faced. His military and diplomatic skills, combined with his internal reforms and improvements, allowed Prussia to not only survive the Thirty Years War, but made it a minor (and growing) power in European affairs. He was known as der Große Kurfürst for good reason.

What he did, and how he did it, was key in laying the groundwork for der alte Fritz.

Prussian/German history is more than wars and internal reforms though. By starting with 1640, you get the emergence of German Baroque in literature (Gryphius, Grimmelshausen, Caspar), and the even more stunning emergence of Baroque music (Praetorius, Schütz, Scheidt, and of course -- Bach!), plus the awesome beauty of Baroque art and architecture.

OK, I'll leave it at that. Good luck with your endeavors!

Anonymous said...

I hope very much that this blog will promote conversation about Latin American history in general, and perhaps even improve development of the field. Whenever I search library card catalogues by subject I come up with vast bibliographies on Europe and Asia, and little on Latin America or even Spain, for that matter. And much of that bibliography has to do with contemporary political hot-button moments, such as 20th-century revolutions. But even on that topic, coverage is very uneven: Compare the bibliography on Cuba with that on Peru, for example.

Also distressing is the emphasis on Mexico -- understandable, of course, especially given today's headlines -- to the neglect of the rest of Spanish America. Would it be possible to construct one of your fields not just on Mexican colonial history (leaving "the rest" quite grab-baggy) but on a comparative focus on the two great viceroyalties, Mexico AND Peru, as a single field? Their colonial histories are by no means identical. Then, to balance things, how about pairing that field on "Viceregal Rule in Colonial Mexico and Peru" (i.e. focusing on the sub-metropolises of the Spanish empire and the power that accumulated in their capital cities and among their elites, to the detriment of everyone/everyplace else) with one on the history of the peripheries -- spaces that became Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, etc., and their struggles to break free from Mexico City and Lima, which might be thought of as sub-imperial powers. It seems to me that organizing our thinking about large-scale histories around something like "powerspace" might be useful, even at a time when the study of the history of governance is, to say the least, unfashionable. This might help us integrate the work of people like Charles Walker and Sarah Chamberlain, for example, and people working on gender studies, into the broad picture of how much power exists in a given system (Hannah Arendt's question), how it is exercised, by whom, and to what purpose and effect -- a concept that applies to every segment and every level of society. This perspective could also help us analyze everything from the cause of state failure to the corruption of justice systems to the persistence of poverty. We should perhaps start from the assumption that everyone, everywhere, at all times wishes to maximize his/her own welfare, regardless of the generous-sounding rhetoric she/he employs to justify his/her power. In other words, I would like to see Latin American history move on from a bipolar focus on wicked rich white male elites vs. virtuous poverty-stricken unwhite sometimes female subalterns to analysis of power systems (translation: governance) across the entire spectrum of society.