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News from the Global History and Culture Centre

Publication: Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia

Book description

This anthology explores the role that art and material goods played in diplomatic relations and political exchanges between Asia, Africa, and Europe in the early modern world. The authors challenge the idea that there was a European primacy in the practice of gift giving through a wide panoramic review of imperial encounters between Europeans (including the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English) and Asian empires (including Ottoman, Persian, Mughal, Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Japanese cases). They examine how those exchanges influenced the global production and circulation of art and material culture, and explore the types of gifts exchanged, the chosen materials, and the manner of their presentation. Global Gifts establishes new parameters for the study of the material and aesthetic culture of Eurasian relations before 1800, exploring the meaning of artistic objects in global diplomacy and the existence of economic and aesthetic values mutually intelligible across cultural boundaries.


‘Combining the thriving field of material culture with the intriguing paths of new diplomatic history, this book explores in novel ways the gift-exchange processes between individuals, courts and empires in the early modern era. Global Gifts is an unusually cohesive collective endeavor that truly enriches our understanding of the diverse nexus between Europe and Asia in the period.'

Jorge Flores - European University Institute, Florence

‘This rich collection demonstrates the power of ‘things' to shape cross-cultural relations in formal diplomacy. Gifts of art and material culture were fulcrums around which negotiations were staged in early modern Eurasia. Pushing interpretive boundaries, these trans-cultural histories illuminate the thorny mechanics of gifting, the meanings of gifts and the diplomatic aims these served.'

Beverly Lemire - University of Alberta

‘Asking what made a good gift in the early modern past, Global Gifts explores the intersection of diplomatic history and material culture studies. Textured and deeply researched, this volume traces the itineraries of exotica across a tangle of cultural and geographic boundaries. Whether one is Thailand or Portugal, India, or Italy, this book will prompt new thinking about issues that were crucial in the past yet have resonance in our own time – labor and luxury, politics and trade, generosity and thwarted desire.'

Dana Leibsohn - Smith College, Massachusetts

Mon 07 May 2018, 12:13 | Tags: Publication

Visiting PhD Student from Fudan


We are delighted to welcome Sooyoung An, who is visiting us from Fudan (Shanghai). She will be with us for the next 8 weeks. Here is a brief description, provided by Sooyoung herself:

I am currently a PhD student at Fudan University, Shanghai, supervised by Shaoxin Dong. I came to Warwick to spend a visiting period, and Anne Gerritsen is my adviser while my stay here. My research concerns cultural, intellectual and commercial aspects of the circulation of herbal medicine within, and between, East Asia and Europe. My PhD thesis, by taking a comparative perspective as well as attending to the transmission of knowledge, focuses specifically on the history of Ginseng – in a “connect” world of the long 18th century. It intends to illuminate how the regional and global transmission of knowledge, transfer of material and commerce of the item contributed to shape the trajectories of knowledge in each region: developing a distinctive system of “Bencao” knowledge in East Asia while, in Europe and America, drug knowledge evolved mostly in such formats of expansive intellectual pursuits as natural history, materia medica or Sinology.

Research interest:

Ginseng; Bencao knowledge; Materia Medica; herbal medicine; history of natural history in 18th century Europe; therapeutic commodities; East Asia regional network; early modern history; Chinese consumption culture

Sat 28 April 2018, 12:49

The Power of Ancestors

The Power of Ancestors: Tombs and Death Practices in Late Qing China’s Foreign Relations, 1845–1914

Past & Present, Volume 239, Issue 1, 1 May 2018, Pages 113–142

See also Song-chuan's blogpost here, about the background to writing this piece.

Thu 26 April 2018, 21:25

Decolonization and the Arid World

Robert Fletcher's latest publication: 'Decolonization and the Arid World', in The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire, edited by Martin Thomas and Andrew Thompson.

Decolonization transformed political geographies; in many ways, it made the world in which we live. But the constraints and possibilities of physical geography were not as readily disregarded. This chapter considers the comparable and connected histories of the world’s desert environments in the era of decolonization. It explains how decolonization and the Cold War took a distinct path in the arid world, asks whether we’ve given enough weight to the place of arid regions in these wider histories and reflects on how, in many ways, these regions still resist being folded into the national stories of imperialism’s successor states.

Wed 25 April 2018, 20:26 | Tags: Publication

The myth of the market: The fall and rise of the Indian economy

Public Lecture: Professor Bishnupriya Gupta

In 1947 India was one of the poorest countries in the world. Did colonial rule lower living standards? Evidence on wages and estimates of per capita GDP from 1600 show that living standards declined absolutely and relatively before colonization and continued to stagnate under British rule. The decline coincided with increased integration with international markets and expansion of the transport network. The high point of prosperity before modern economic growth was in 1600 during the reign of Emperor Akbar and before the rising trade in textiles. Indian growth reversal began in independent India with the policies of regulation of trade and industry. The changing fortunes of the Indian economy had depended on the fortunes of agriculture and public investment in agricultural infrastructure and technology.

The lecture is open to all staff, students and the general public.

CAGE Working Paper 355

Tue 13 February 2018, 11:10 | Tags: public lecture

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