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HI2B2 - Go-Betweens: Crossing Borders in the Early Modern World

Tutor: Dr Guido van Meersbergen
Office: FAB3.73
Office hours: Tuesday 11-12 (in person) and Wednesday 11-12 (online). book a meetingLink opens in a new window

Seminar Time and Place: This module does not run in 2023-24

Module Description

This second-year 15-CATS option investigates global interactions in the early modern world (1400-1800) through the figure of the go-between. Each of the men and women discussed in weekly two-hour seminars – diplomats and traders, mestizos and missionaries, converts, slaves, and captives – offer a window onto a world in which societies and life trajectories were increasingly shaped by trans-regional connections, and where all kinds of borders were regularly being crossed. By following individuals as they met and mingled across the globe, you will deepen your understanding of the role of human agency in the macro-processes of religious change, commercial expansion, imperial conquest, and economic integration that marked the early modern period.

Examining African, Asian and Native American actors and sources alongside European ones, this module encourages you to develop a non-Eurocentric perspective that pairs a global outlook with close attention to practices of mediation on the ground. The module draws on insights from global history, cultural history, micro history, economic history, and literary criticism to interrogate the making and unmaking of political, social, racial, and sexual boundaries. We will explore questions such as: what does it mean to speak of “cultures” that “encounter” one another? How does one define a “go-between” who “mediates” in a “middle ground”? And in what ways are current views of the early modern past shaped by our globalised present?

Note: This 15-CATS module consists of seminars only. In addition to weekly 2-hour sessions, there will also be a single 2-hour workshop session in week 8. No special requirements apply for this module but an interest in early modern global history is recommended.

Aims and Assessment
Seminar Programme
Links and Sources
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Student Feedback

“I particularly enjoyed this module's non-Eurocentric perspective on travellers. This module has ignited a passion for early modern history.”

"Early modern history is not something that I usually find interesting, but the tutor's passion and approach has made this one of my most enjoyable and challenging modules. I really appreciate the focus on highlighting marginalised stories, particularly non-Western and female stories."


"...someone who articulates relationships between disparate worlds or cultures by being able to translate between them."

- Schaffer, Roberts and Raj, The Brokered World (2009). Working definition of a 'go-between'.

 Cortez and La Malinche