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Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SoSGlobal (Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World)

Période du rapport: 2020-01-01 au 2020-08-31

Stories of Survival is a five-year research project (2015-20) directed by Dr John-Paul Ghobrial, and based at the University of Oxford. The project investigates the history of Eastern Christianity from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. From Lebanese immigrants in Argentina to Iraqi refugees in Sweden, Eastern Christians can be found today scattered across the entire world. Too often, however, this global migration has been seen purely as a modern development, one arising from contemporary political and confessional events in the Middle East, while in fact this phenomenon had its roots in the early modern period. From the sixteenth century onwards, Christians from the Ottoman Empire set out for distant worlds and foreign lands, travelling as far as Europe, India, Russia, and even the Americas and leaving traces of themselves in countless European and Middle Eastern archives, chanceries, and libraries. This transnational project gathers all of these disparate sources into a single analytical frame to uncover, for the first time, the global and connected histories of Eastern Christianity in the early modern world.

The questions driving the research range include issues related to communal identity, memory and belonging in Eastern Christianity, modes of exchange and communication between Eastern Christian communities and their counterparts in the West, and central questions about the place of Eastern Christianity in the early modern world. Underlying the project is also a set of deeper questions related to the practice and future of early modern global history, itself a subject of current and controversial debate. The project responds directly to one of the most pressing conceptual challenges facing global history today: that is, how is it possible to link the study of the micro-scale level of everyday life to the macro-narratives of global change. At the heart of this project, therefore, is an attempt to contribute to a more rigorous form of global history, and one which preserves philology and source criticism at the heart of its methodology.
Firstly, the project set out to reconstitute a ‘lost archive’ of Eastern Christianity, and it analysed for the first time a vast corpus of recently discovered sources. Using new digital resources in conjunction with published catalogues of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, the team charted the literary production of Eastern Christianity in Arabic, Syriac, and Karshuni from 1500 to 1750. Over the five years of the project, nearly a dozen members of a team comprising both Research Associates and Research Assistants completed records for over 3,000 manuscripts in. The launch of the Stories of Survival online database is scheduled for January 2021.

The second objective of the project was to write a ‘connected history’ of early modern Eastern Christianity in a global framework, one that links individuals, texts, and contexts within a transnational framework stretching across Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, India, and the Americas. The combined efforts of the research team has resulted in no fewer than 16 publications related directly to the three research questions (e.g. 1 book, 15 articles). Stretching across archives and sources in Arabic, Syriac, Karshuni, Latin, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and English, the publications offer for the first time a truly global vision of the horizons of Eastern Christianity in the early modern period.

Third, the project has contributed a sophisticated methodology to the study of early modern global history, particularly in its refinement of current approaches of ‘global microhistory’. Of particular importance is the project’s output on Global History and Microhistory, published in 2019 as a supplement volume for the journal Past and Present. The entire volume is available online in open access form, and it has become the ‘go-to’ volume for a wide range of international scholars looking for new models of combining microhistory and global history.

Finally, the project has opened new avenues for further research into the study of Eastern Christianity, mobility and early modern globalization. By recovering lost sources and discovering new ones, the project expanded the horizons of Eastern Christian Studies, enabling it to extend into new studies of religious, cultural, and literary history. The global context of the project will also provide a foundation for scholars to develop more focused, national histories of Eastern Christianity in close consultation with local, provincial, and national archives. Finally, the project’s focus on the Eastern Christian diaspora will enable scholars to engage in a more explicitly comparative study, for example, by comparing Eastern Christians to better documented communities such as Jews, Greeks, and Muslims in the early modern world. In this way, the project will also contribute to the growing and dynamic literature on the study of early modern toleration, difference, and mobility.
There has rarely been been such an expansive approach to the study of Eastern Christianity, one that places so many languages, sources, and historiographies into a single framework. Through the combined talents of the research team, the project was able to work systematically through any sources it encountered in any of the relevant languages. These sources were studied in a way that reflects the recent theoretical contributions of ‘connected history’ or ‘histoire croisée’. In practice, this meant that the project was effective at understanding the particular ways in which individuals, texts, and contexts overlapped and interacted with each other.

This project began with the assumption that the history of Eastern Christianity must be studied in the context of wider European and global developments in the early modern period. As such, the team targeted its findings in publications that reached three main audiences: specialists in Eastern Christianity, scholars in Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies, and ‘mainstream’ history journals aimed at wider circles of early modern historians. In addition, the team disseminated its findings at several international conferences and smaller workshops. In this way, the Stories of Survival project placed Eastern Christianity at the forefront of European, Islamic, and global history in the early modern period.

That Eastern Christianity should become relevant to the study of the early modern period more generally remains the central goal of this project. But underlying the project is also a set of deeper questions related to the practice and future of early modern global history, itself a subject of current and controversial debate. The intellectual incoherence of the field has been a subject of great concern for practitioners and critics alike, and these debates revolve around significant differences in opinion over the appropriate methods, sources, and goals of global history. The project responded, therefore, to one of the most pressing conceptual challenges facing global history today, that is, how is it possible to link the study of the micro-scale level of everyday life to the macro-narratives of global change. The project successfully contributed a more rigorous form of global history, one which preserves philology and source criticism at the heart of its methodology.
Stories of Survival manuscript and database video