February, 2020. The months have rather slipped by, with focus on three big projects. The first is my World History teaching text for Oxford University Press. I had no idea just how hard it would be to produce a radically different text based on narratives of actual people and themes that were universal. The two-volume effort is short (half the length of ordinary World History textbooks) and written in coversational style and a single voice (mine). The book has gone through five drafts in more than three years with substantial changes in each draft. I've actually written 19 chapters to yield 14 useable ones. . 2019 was wrestling with transitions, flow, clarity and making sure that the chapters guided students into far away regions and long ago periods without losing them. The book is in the final stage of editing. Selection of illustrations and creation of maps is next. Realistically, we are still a year away from a launched and available book. The second big project was designing and constructing a new study for Sara, convertible to guest accomodations. The two of us (with help from family members) did the demolition of the old structure and then built the floors, walls, roof, set the windows and doors, planned the electricity layout, wired the boxes and switches and main panel, installed the lights. I dug the 30' trenches for water, gas, electricty, and septic. All we subcontracted was the plumbing, the commercial shallow-pitch roof, and the drywall. It's within a month of finishing the whole project. I'll get some photos in the next week or two. The third project is going back for an extended stay in India. Sara's a Fulbright application about the future of libraries in India was funded and we moved last fall to Kolhapur in Maharashtra for nine months. We've been traveling a good bit as she does her interviews. We've been in Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, and Delhi. Several more cities tto go. I've done several keynote addresses and a workshop for Shivaji University here in Kolhapur.
Two smaller projects have also made good progress. The first is a translation of my book, The Marathas, into Marathi, which came out in late 2017 from Diamond Press, received good reviews in the Marathi press, and is selling quite well. It's now on the recommended list for History MA students in Maharashtra. A second of my books, When Asia was the World, has also been translated into Marathi and will come out in a couple of months. The translations are by Ravi Kulkarni, who lives in Pune, with discussion by Shirish Chikte. Both of them are old friends and we have worked on the translation together on Skype.
Actually, there is another major project, which came out of speaking at the huge Jaipur Literary Festival last year. It's a collaboration with a very well known author. That's about all I can say about the project but it is moving right along and will be published next year.
December, 2018. My new book "There and Back: Twelve of the Great Routes of Human History" is out and available from Oxford University Press . The chapers are stuctured like my last couple of books. We explore a route through the memoir or letters of someone who actually traveled the route. Routes are grouped by type and function rather than - as is usually done - by the cities or empires they connect. I found that pilgrimage routes work the same way regardless of the religion to which they are sacred. The Hajj is a lot like the pilgrimage to Compostella in western Spain. The Nile, the Rhine, and the Mississippi function quite similarly even though they are distant from each other geographically. Rivers carry goods from the heartland to a port at the mouth. They were fought over as boundaries and are the stuff of myth and legend. The book finds that the mental side of routes - hopes, fears, expectations, myths - were every bit as important to their definition as were physical features or yearly ecoogical patterns. In the next couple of days I'll post chapters on this website.
Another academic article is out. It's entitled "Moral Hinterlands of South Asian Port Cities" and is in the spring, 2018 issue of Asian Review of World Histories.
Abstract: This paper explores relations between Western Indian cities and the supply areas connected to them. It begins with a discussion of the term “hinterland,” frequently used to describe these relations. As we shall see, the term greatly simplifies a complex set of relationships between cities, smaller towns, and rural villages. We will consider three case studies of money advanced against future assets. The first concerns the relation of thirteenth-century Jewish traders to their indigenous spice suppliers on the Malabar Coast; the second, the relation of eighteenth-century East India Company traders to cloth producers; and the third, the relation of Pune investors to taxation areas against which they loaned money to the Maratha government. In a time of slow communications and transportation the central problem was “trust at a distance”; the operative relationships were as much emotional and moral as economic. Finally, I will suggest a new way to conceptualize cities and their hinterlands.
Work continues on my World History teaching text for Oxford University Press. I've responded to a clutch of peer reviews and made several changes. I'm not sure of the next phase, maybe more peer reviews. I hope that the text, societal simulation games, and teaching support materials all see the light of day next year.
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 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 was 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). He regualrly produces folk art moving sculpture for two galleries, Tamarack (Omeena, MI) and Caza Sikes (Cincinnati, OH).
Dr. Gordon's Vita
Photos: (Left to Right) @ the Taj Mahal, Jaipur Fort, India, Machu Pichu, Hai Phong Bay, Vietnam.