Naomi Standen | Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
We are still working out how to do global history, especially for pre-modern periods. How do we achieve the necessary shift in scale without falling back on standard definitions of categories like states, ethnicity, religion, urbanisation, when these are increasingly challenged at the specialist level? This article sets out an approach that could help pre-modern historians ‘going global’ to challenge claims that ‘there is no alternative’ to modern frameworks such as neoliberal economics, and especially the nation-state. Useful alternative techniques include thinking in layers rather than blocks, not seeking narrative arcs, and not using words like ‘China’. These methods are illustrated with analysis of three Liao dynasty (907–1125) cities and three comparators from neighbouring states to the north, south and east of the Liao. The intention is to disrupt the re-emergence in the new venue of global history of essentially national narratives, using the opportunities presented by pre-modern worlds before nation-states to free us from teleological concepts. This article argues that there is indeed an alternative to the putative precursors of modern nation-states, and offers a framework for doing without them.