September, 2017 The months do seem to slip away between work and fun. Several new publications have come out or soon will. A couple of new articles have come out. The first is “In the Aura of the King: Trans-Asian, Trans-Regional, and Deccani Royal Symbolism” in South Asian Studies, Special Issue : Reuse of the Past: Producing the Deccan, 1300 – 1700 (ed. Ajay K. Rao) Vol. 32, Number 1 (May, 2016) 42-53. The second is “Babur: Salt, Social Closeness and Friendship” in Studies in History (Special Issue on Friendship, eds. Emma Flatt and Daud Ali) Vol. 33, No. 1, (January, 2017) 82-97.
Oxford University Press/ Delhi is moving quickly toward production of my comparative routes book entitled There and Back: Routes in the Making of the Modern World. It explores the similarities of structure and procees within types of routes, regaerdless of geographic location, predominant language, ethnicity or religion of those on the route. Thus, pilgrimage routes tend to a common structure (both of process and mentality) regardless of whether the pilgrimage was Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Muslim. I esplore four types of routes - trade, pilgrimage, river, and imperial extraction. Examples come from a variety of places, such as Asia, Africa, South America, as well as North Anmerica and Europe.
I'm finally allowed to talk about the new World History teaching text that I have written for Oxford University Press/ New York. These two volumes have been my main focus for the last two years. The book is radically different from any currently in use (which have been termed "twenty-pound doorstops"). The book, entitled A History of the World in Seven Themes, is thematic, short and narrative. It focuses on themes, such as gender training, food, technology, loyalty, as universal problems for every social group, regardless of historical period, ecology, or culture. Each chapter explores one theme, with the same themes highlighted in both the earlier period (the first volume) and the later period (the second volume). Each chapter uses a memoir of an actual historical person who had trouble with the theme and wrote about what he or she did. These narratives anchor the broad ranging chapters, which generally dip deep into the past and come forward to the present. I have completed the text and it is out for review and beta-testing. Another exciting feature of the new book is that I will develop a societal simulation game to accompany each chapter. On a teacher and student website there will, of course, be lesson plans, focused bibliography, additional maps, and video and audio clips. OUP is hoping to complete the project towards the end of next year.
And a few teasers. I am in discussion with OUP/Delhi to produce a compilation volume of my articles on pre-colonial Maharashtra. It would include some of tthe older pieces but would consist mainly of more recent articles. And my friends and I had such fun doing the translation of my Cambridge book that we are well into translating When Asia was the World into Marathi and several publishers have expressed interest.
January 10, 2017. The Asiatic Society of Mumbai. I delivered the annual Dr. Mani Kamekar Endowment Lecture entitled " Unani Medicine in India: Early Families, Colonial Contestation and Modern Practice". The hall was full, the audience attentive and the discussion lively. Many Western-trained doctors were in atttendance and raised questitions about the consistency of herbal-based medicines, the standards of research and the need for more peer-reviewed journals.
August 4-12, 2016. Shivaji University, Kolhapur. I delivered eight connected lectures on topics not covered in the college and post graduate Maharashtra history syllabus. The topics included systems of loyalty in a trans-Asian perspective, the movement of food plants into and out of the Deccan, the human side of trade along India's west coast , Indian medicine in the eighteenth century Deccan and the importance of a gendered analysis for understanding Deccan history. These lectures were sponsored by the new GOI initiative entitled GIAN (Global Initiative on Academic Network). The lectures had a live audience and a distant audience. The intent is to turn the video recordings into a MOC.
August, 2016. I am pleased to announce that I have been invested as a Honorary Life Fellow of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. The award was given for my books and articles on the history of Marathas and Maharashtra. As my certificate says:
During his visits to various Indian archives, especially the Pune Peshwa
Daftar, Dr. Stewart Gordon has conducted detailed research on eighteenth
century Maharashtra through the Ruhmals (Letter Scrolls) of the Peshwa
period inscribed in Modi script , a vital source of primary information on
The Society dates back to 1803 and is one of the premier research organizations in India. It is particularly strong in numismatics.
At the ceremony, held in the high-ceilinged lecture hall, I also received a gold medallion on a red sash and a large lamb's wool shawl. After the induction ceremony the director, members and I had a wonderful, wide-ranging discussion of aspects of history, both in Maharashtra and far beyond.
I am pleased to announce the publication of a small paperback for the teaching about slavery outside the Atlantic world.(Hackett, 2016 ISBN 9781624664748) The book consists of a general introduction, four case studies with primary documents and illustrations and conclusions. It is intended for undergrads and advanced high school students.
Why History Matters
As far back as we can see in human existence people have been telling stories about the past. How else can we interpret Neolithic cave paintings? Drawings of the hunt recorded the number of animals and the number of hunters. Looking at the drawing later - even generations later – could trigger stories of that day’s triumphs and heroes. Who knows, perhaps there were “keepers of the stories”, the first historians.
History matters primarily because it is one of the bedrock, irreducible ways of understanding the world. There are comprehensible causes to things that happen and people – through diligent study and attention – can connect causes and effects. History is not uncovering documents, amassing or memorizing facts. It is the struggle to ask a question that matters of material from the past.
And what makes a question about the past matter?
First, such a question can make us both humble and hopeful. For example, if the question is “How long do empires generally last?’ And the answer is “Two to three generations”. We might, from this pattern, be more humble about wanting to form an empire. And we might be hopeful because many groups somehow survive imperial adventures.
Second, the right question makes us aware of our responsibilities to the future. Just as choices made in the past affect us now, choices we make now will impact generations to come.
Third, a good question makes us aware of the commonality of human experience, as well as differences between ourselves and groups from the past. At best, seeing others struggle with problems, whether they succeeded or failed, promotes empathy and understanding.
Finally, there is the sheer delight of discovering and sharing a pattern to some set of events that seemed unorganized and meaningless.
All of us are historians.We all tell stories of the past. The struggle and the joy is the search for questions that matter.
Dr. Stewart Gordon
Stewart Gordon is an Independent Research Scholar connected to the South Asia Center of the University of Michigan. That said, he is anything but a stuffy academic. He has rambled by bus across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He has struggled up Inca paths in Peru and boated up the Mekong and the Mississippi. Gordon has photographed antiquities in Cambodia and Paleolithic cave paintings in India and has served as a consultant for the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Walt Disney Company and the American Queen steamboat. He writes regularly for Aramco World magazine. Gordon has received many awards including Woodrow Wilson and Fulbright fellowships and an Earhart Foundation writing grant. His last book, “When Asia was the World”, became a bestseller and has been translated into seven languages. The National Endowment for the Humanities placed the book in more than 1000 libraries across the United States. Gordon is also a professional restorer of fine antique furniture and has owned shops in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles and London. He currently lives in Ann Arbor and has recently built a full-sized, fully equipped horse drawn gypsy wagon (vardo), You can follow Gordon’s talks, workshops, new publications and photos of his travels at stewartgordonhistorian.com
Dr. Gordon's Vita
Photos: (Left to Right) @ the Taj Mahal, Jaipur Fort, India, Machu Pichu, Hai Phong Bay, Vietnam.