Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Global Eighteenth Century

Book Cover

Book Title

The Global Eighteenth Century. Baltimore, MD.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003


Nussbaum, Felicity A. (ed.)


The essays of the book are meant to instill a more defined method of investigative inquiry in evaluating the 'long' and 'widened' eighteenth century. Hence, the chapters in this book resituate eighteenth-century studies within a spatially and conceptually expanded paradigm, though inevitably Europe remains central to such discussions. The idea was not to subscribe to the Euro-centered form of global consciousness, but to contest this sort of global consciousness.

Nussbaum meant the book to act as an introduction to the concept of a global eighteenth century, thus these essays are often trans-disciplinary in origin. While these essays are Eurocentric, several authors attempts to problematize the Euro-centrism present. They confront the ways that European knowledge is itself a situated knowledge, neither universal nor objective, and the ways in which indigenous system of belief are more inherently inadequate or naive.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The first set of essays on "Mappings" explore both the speculative and actual graphic representations of the eighteenth-century-world. Essays such as those of Laura Brown's, in which she scrutinizes the poetry of empire in the eighteenth century, reveals the compelling moral system that were seen to have authorized the extension of a national destiny across the globe. Hence, essays in Part One re-interprets the gap between the real and imagined geography to think anew about the relations of regions to the globe.

In Part Two, aptly named as "Crossings", essays seek to discover how sexual and cultural intermixtures or the regulations prohibiting them had had lasting effects on constructions of race, nation and identity when these notions were in the process of creation. In this way, social problems become a subject of focus to examine the impact on the formation of cultural and ethnic identity.

In the final collection of essays titled "Islands", Nussbaum argues that islands were not only seen as peripheral locations for colonization and settlement, but that they have also acted in the eighteenth century as economic and cultural bridges to the continent. In this way, they were places for crossings and departures, trading and exploitation, contagion and healing; where populations developed local expertise rooted in specific histories independent of colonizers who wished to extract indigenous knowledge.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The author argues that the belief that colonialism engenders modernity has complicated immensely any claim that indigenous, non-European modernization can be authentic, autonomous or radically unique. Nussbaum also asserts that we should not assume a simple equation between modernity and colonialism because modernity in non-Europeans countries may occur in different configurations across the globe and at distinctly different historical moments.

To the period's well-known diasporas of the black Atlantic (Caribbean, British, African and American), one ought to add the histories of empires other than European - Ottoman, Mughal and Qing. She construes that the particular category of pace or place should be extended beyond the boundaries of a 'nation', in order to subject the study of a 'modernized' global eighteenth century to new scrutiny. Other temporal linkages among the subaltern and the enslaved might be drawn if the intellectual forays of historians are no longer limited by nationalist histories, literatures and their narrow-minded interests.

This volume includes theoretically informed approaches but locates its object of interest in the past as they are understood in the present moment. It extends insights of other approaches in several ways: the book looks beyond the European empire and it explores other perspectives to question the validity of metropole-periphery studies. In addition, it also assumes that European knowledge are often nation-based and specific to its local origins. Finally, it employs thoroughly trans-disciplinary methods of inquiry, calling into question the terms by which disciplines, founded at a time coincident with European modernity, define their objects of study.

Annotated by Michelle Djong