By Alfred J. Andrea
Paper given at North Georgia College on March 21, 2012
Introduction: Allow me to begin with a brief autobiographical note. I was trained 50 years ago as a specialist in medieval European history, with a particular focus on papal-Byzantine relations and the crusades, but over the past 30 years I have become increasingly involved in a new field of historical studies known as world history. Although various ancient Greek, European, and Islamic historians wrote universal histories during Antiquity and in the centuries that immediately followed, world history has only been widely recognized within the historical profession as a distinctive area of analysis and teaching for about the last 35 years.
As many of you know, practitioners of this New World History study the major patterns of human history in ways that transcend single cultures, single nations, single civilizations, and even single regions of the globe. That said, it is important to realize that each and every instance of world history studies is not necessarily global in perspective and scope. Otherwise, those of us who work in world history prior to 1492 would be left out in the cold. In order to qualify as world history, however, a study must somehow connect disparate cultures.
Let me give you an example from pre-modern history. One of the areas in which I work is the transmission of peoples and ideas, especially religious ideas, across Eurasia’s Silk Road in the period from roughly 100 BCE to about 1350 CE. One factor that makes this a world historical topic is the fact that religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam traveled thousands of miles from their homelands to be received by and accommodated to the cultures of many different peoples. The transmission of Buddhism out of India, for example, had profound effects on the various cultures of Central and East Asia.