A Global and Connected History of Eastern Christianity

There has never before been such an expansive approach to the study of Eastern Christianity, one that places so many languages, sources, and historiographies into a single framework. As such, the methodology of this project will be innovative at several levels. Firstly, it will bring together a wide range of European- and Middle Eastern-language sources into a single analytical framework, that is, Arabic, Syriac, Karshuni, Armenian, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Latin, and English. With a few notable exceptions, it is rare for scholars of Eastern Christianity to use sources from both Europe and the Ottoman Empire in a systematic way.  Through the combined talents of the research team, the project will be able to work systematically through any sources it encounters in any of the relevant languages.

Secondly, we will read these sources in an innovative way, and one that reflects the recent theoretical contributions of ‘connected history’ or ‘histoire croisée’. In practice, this means that we will not simply extract evidence or ‘facts’ from our sources; rather, we will also look for particular ways in which individuals, texts, and contexts overlapped and interacted with each other. This way of working is crucial to understanding the layers of connections that linked Eastern Christians to each other: they read each other’s writings, they knew of one another from their former lives in the Ottoman Empire, and they even travelled together and encountered each other in the new societies in which they lived. The opportunities they found, the strategies they used, and the stories they told: all of these things built on one another, from one generation to the next. And so the methodology of ‘connected history’ is crucial to understanding Eastern Christians as a chain of linked individuals who shared a common aspiration to create new lives for themselves abroad, even if their motivations for doing so differed in fascinating ways.

Connecting Scales of Analysis: Microhistory and Global History

 That Eastern Christianity should become relevant to the study of the early modern period more generally remains the central goal of this project.  But underlying the project is also a set of deeper questions related to the practice and future of early modern global history, itself a subject of current and controversial debate.  As a field, ‘global history’ is now at more risk than ever of becoming a catch-all phrase for several highly divergent types of history, ranging from micro histories of objects to so-called ‘big’ or ‘deep’ history written at the level of planetary change.  The intellectual incoherence of the field has been a subject of great concern for practitioners and critics alike, and these debates revolve around significant differences in opinion over the appropriate methods, sources, and goals of global history.  The project responds, therefore, directly to one of the most pressing conceptual challenges facing global history today, that is, how is it possible to link the study of the micro-scale level of everyday life to the macro-narratives of global change. At the heart of this project, therefore, is an attempt to contribute to a more rigorous form of global history, and one which preserves philology and source criticism at the heart of its methodology.

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