Edmund Burke III


I am leery of approaches that seek to identify “contributions” to global modernity, however denotated. For me, humanity is one, and the interconnecting societies of Afroeurasia have continually interacted, sharing, perfecting and forgetting innovations over the centuries while also dealing with a continually changing global environmental and climatic conditions. Among these conditions , unprecedented human population increase from 1400 CE, massive deforestation and the Little Ice Age, rank near the top of the list. Key developments to which I would point include the conquest of the world’s seas and oceans in the period 1400-1800, the full development of the potential of the fiscal/military revolution, and the linking of the world’s regions by sea for the first time. Major consequences include the development of a world economy and a global division of labor as well as the changing location of the Middle East in the topology of global exchange from the Mediterranean/Indian Ocean worlds to the Atlantic. Far-reaching political and technological changes, connected to Europe’s privileged access to coal and colonies did the rest.


A central theme in my approach has been consistently to locate the Middle East and the so-called West in their larger changing world historical contexts: ecological, political, economic and cultural. Since this is but a brief note, I would refer readers to the World History for Us All website, which I helped to create, for more on the vision of world history I have articulated here.



I am a bit leery of the concept of global modernity, even if (or because) it is currently fashionable. The concept itself is insufficiently grounded in the history of all of humanity, with the result that it tends to be modernocentric. Thus it holds to a version of the “European miracle” approach, even if it is for some scholars, a dystopic one. Although I would agree that all humans are “modern” I would see this as deriving primarily from the fact that humanity as a whole is no longer governed by the Malthusian scissors of the solar energy regime. Currently humans live under the fossil fuel energetic regime. As a result the pre-existing solar energy regime limits on growth are no longer in place. This, more than the Enlightenment, modern science or other cultural determinants have enabled our species to flourish (some groups and individuals more than others, depending upon geographical and class locations).


As a world historian who is also a historian of the modern Middle East, I confront the Golden Age paradigm (and its reciprocal, the Rise of the West paradigm) continually. Only by continually applying a world historical perspective (that is by inserting the history of both the lands of Islam and the so-called West in all of human history) can we correct for the in-built biases these paradigms convey.


I have taught Islamic civilization to California undergraduate History majors for 40 years. I have used the Marshall Hodgson’s 3 volume Venture of Islam, lately supplemented with Ira Lapidus’ History of Islamic Societies. Like Hodgson, I am also a world historian. Once I encountered Hodgson’s opus, I realized instinctively the correctness of his approach: any history worthy of the name must give equal wait to all periods of Islamic history, and must also consistently seek to locate it in the larger Eurasian contexts of which it was a part. Hodgson’s 100 page methodological introduction to Vol. 1 of The Venture remains essential reading.

I would add that we need to be aware of the connections between the Golden Age paradigm and the “Rise of the West” paradigm, according to which the course of Western history can be seen as a continually upward sloping line linking the Greeks the Renaissance and Modern Times. For Hodgson, this line is an optical elusion. The way forward, he suggests, lies in inserting both the history of the West and of the lands of Islam in their world historical contexts.

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