Beyond Binary Histories

Re-imagining Eurasia to c. 1830
Victor Lieberman, Editor
An engaging collection that probes at the existence of an early modern Eurasia


Seeking to transcend the hoary insistence on East-West dichotomies, this collection looks for transformations in cultural and political organization across Eurasia that were both more general and more psychologically significant to pre-1830 actors themselves than the problem that has obsessed twentieth-century comparativists, namely, the origins of a unique European industrialism. Specifically, it contains nine coordinated essays which explore the proposition that the integration of isolated units to form more cohesive systems in France, Russia, and other European countries ca 1000-1830 corresponds in important respects to integrative processes in parts of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Japan.

The collaborators of this project show, in varying degrees, that political centralization in these areas reflected and inspired the creation of vernacular literatures at the expense of more universal languages. They illustrate that societies in widely separated areas, with no obvious links, became more literate, mobile, specialized, and commercial at roughly the same time. And they point out that administrative development in many of these same areas showed curiously synchronized cycles. Finally, having defined Eurasian parallels and sketched their limits, they push on to explore the underlying dynamics of these discoveries, scrutinizing the role of guns, global climate, markets, new information networks, institutional pressures, and sixteenth-century messianism.

Insofar as similarities between some European and Asian areas exceeded those between different sectors of Asia, this collection invites historians to reject continental perspectives in favor of more thematic, contextually-specific categories. But at the same time, it raises the possibility of a broad "early modern" period for Eurasia at large.

The contributors are Mary Elizabeth Berry (University of California, Berkeley), Peter Carey (University of Oxford), James B. Collins (Georgetown University), Valerie Kivelson (University of Michigan), R. I. Moore (University of Newcastle upon Tyne), Sanjay Subrahmanyam (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris), John K. Whitemore (University of Michigan), and David K. Wyatt (Cornell University).

Praise / Awards

  • "The essays in this volume serve to refine our thinking of what properly constitutes "early modern," as well as how best to theorize connections between the world's subregions."
    —Richard Eaton, Journal of Early Modern History
  • "Lieberman should be praised for his attempt to pry Southeast Asian historical studies out of their exceptionalist and parochialist tendencies. By comparing Southeast Asian societies with those of other Eurasian states he is attempting not only to get World historians to consider Southeast Asia, but also to alert Southeast Asianists to trends and theories prevalent in current historiography pertinent to their region. That he also welcomes discussion and criticism of his work is also refreshing. Instead of hiding behind his attempts at creating a more acceptable approach to the early modern era, he seems to relish the criticism for what it is, an attempt to refine the theory and promote interaction across national and regional historiographical boundaries."
    —Timothy P. Barnard, National University of Singapore, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Volume 31: No. 1 (2000)

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 336pp.
  • 2 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1999
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08633-7

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  • $38.95 U.S.