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IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 1318: Visions of Community, I: Adventures in Comparison

Wednesday 4 July 2018, 16.30-18.00

Sponsor:Sonderforschungsbereich Project 'Visions of Community', Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Universität Wien / FWF Project F42
Organisers:Rutger Kramer, Institut für Mittelalterforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien
Walter Pohl, Institut für Mittelalterforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien
Moderator/Chair:Chris Wickham, Faculty of History, University of Oxford
Paper 1318-aVisions of Community: An Adventure in Comparison
(Language: English)
Walter Pohl, Institut für Mittelalterforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien
Index terms: Anthropology, Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Islamic and Arabic Studies, Religious Life
Paper 1318-bTrying to Define the Global Middle Ages: Collaborative Methods from an AHRC Network
(Language: English)
Naomi Standen, Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages (CeSMA), University of Birmingham
Index terms: Anthropology, Archaeology - General, Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Islamic and Arabic Studies
Paper 1318-cComparing Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom
(Language: English)
Ana Rodríguez, Departamento de Historia Medieval, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Madrid
Index terms: Administration, Historiography - Modern Scholarship, Islamic and Arabic Studies, Law

In this session, the speakers of three large-scale comparative projects will reflect on the lessons they have learned when confronted with the methodological challenges of engaging with global or comparative history. Walter Pohl will introduce 'Visions of Community' (2011-2019), a project that grappled with the question how the construction of communities would be influenced by the impetus from universal religions in Europe, Arabia, and Tibet in the years from 400-1600. During this project, researchers engaged in an ongoing comparative dialogue with and through the available sources. Rather than comparing religious orthodoxies or grand narratives, the group let the source material itself set the comparative agenda - which has brought its own set of challenges. Next, Naomi Standen will present the AHRC project 'Defining the Global Middle Ages' (2009-2017), a network that has brought together over thirty historians and archaeologists in a series of workshops to seek new ways by which to define the 'Middle Ages' that do not simply compare Eurasian polities but also embrace African and American examples. Widening their scope in this way required the development of intensely collaborative methods as a way to apply regional expertise to global themes. Finally, Ana Rodriguez will explain how the PIMIC Project (2013-2016) attempted to explain the diverging or converging paths to institutionalisation taken within Western and Eastern Christendom and the Islamic world. PIMIC stressed that, although the entire Mediterranean shared a classical legacy, institutions acquired distinctive configurations in different regions and periods. Thus, the focus on multiple areas was essential to avoid misleading and simplistic binary oppositions (East/West; Christendom/Islam).

Comparative approaches stood at the heart of these projects: methodological challenges arising from disciplinary practices or cultural backgrounds have been an intrinsic part of the experience. It has been a learning experience that has greatly benefited those involved - and by sharing these experiences, future researchers may gain a fresh appreciation of the pitfalls and possibilities of comparative, global history.