Articles, Chapters, and Talks
Vasant J. Sheth Memorial Lecture
England’s efforts to colonize North America and India were born from the same impulse and at the same time. As early as the 1580s, the great apostle of English colonization Richard Hakluyt, Sr., thought of them in tandem, while the East India Company and the Virginia Company (whose employees established the first permanent English settlement in North America) were founded only six years apart, in 1600 and 1606, respectively.
Considered in imperial perspective, then, India and the United States have been linked for more than four hundred years, though for almost the first two centuries only indirectly. Ships of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could certainly sail between North America and the subcontinent, and the will was there. Direct trade between the two regions was prevented not by technology or indifference, but by policy.More
In The Routledge Research Companion to Marine and Maritime Worlds, 1400–1800: Oceans in Global History and Culture, edited by Claire Jowitt, Steve Mentz, and Craig Lambert. London: Routledge, 2020.
Among the most complex issues of early modern history is the nature of the European breakout onto the world ocean and the so-called ‘age of discovery’. Assessments of what happened and why, what is meant by words like ‘discovery’, and even what the era’s chronological limits are, change from generation to generation and place to place, and depend in part on who is considering the matter and in what context. A modern dictionary defines ‘discover’ as ‘to notice or learn, especially by making an effort’. Yet the seventeenth-century jurist Hugo Grotius maintained that discovery involved ‘actual seizure […] Thus the philologists treat the expressions “to discover” and “to take possession of” as synonymous’. A further difficulty arises from the entanglement of the motives behind the voyages of discovery, what was actually discovered, and what resulted from Europeans’ encounters with the rest of the world.More
Engelsberg Ideas, June 30, 2020
Historians are masters of teasing momentous events from apparently insignificant details. The most obvious such effort is Ray Huang’s 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline, which considered a number of little examined incidents and trends that took place in or began in 1587 and that, in hindsight, anticipated the collapse of the Ming Dynasty two or three generations later. In choosing what to expand upon in his study, Huang, writing in 1981, had the benefit of nearly four centuries of research, debate, and interpretation. We can be sure that his choices would have been wildly different had he been writing in 1587.More
Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences. 12 (2019): 457–72.
To take the pulse of history, touch a river. For land-bound species dependent on water for mere survival, they are indispensable. But humans’ relationship to rivers is far more complex than that of any other life form. Streams may entice us with their apparent serenity or vibrant turbulence. Rivers may offer easy communication along their length even as they block our advance across them. They may destroy our property in full flood but leave us begging for their return in times of low water or drought. They may seem susceptible to our engineering, but ultimately rivers will always have their way, and we must bow to them.More