Nelly Hanna

Hanna, Nelly, “Literacy and the ‘Great Divide” in the Islamic World, 1300-1800,” Journal of Global History, 2007, vol. 2 p. 175-194. (Download pdf here)

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I would think that a lot of work could be done on the economic dimensions. Throughout the period 1300-1800, for instance, textile production in the different parts of the Ottoman world, was a major economic asset. Textiles were exported to many directions (including Asia, the Americas). The know-how (especially in the 18th century) of these textiles was transferred to European workshops. Much more research could be done along this line in order to consider east west technology transfers. Some studies are also considering a multi-focal approach in relation to the emergence of capitalism namely that it may have had many forms, that these forms emerged in different parts of the world. This is another avenue open for more research.

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One way to do this might be to consider some of the global trends of the period 1300-1800 and to find where the Islamic world falls in. This would encourage a comparative approach. Peter Gran’s recent book, The Rise of the Rich offers one alternative to the rise of the West.

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One way to do this might be to consider some of the global trends of the period 1300-1800 and to find where the Islamic world falls in. This would encourage a comparative approach. Peter Gran’s recent book, The Rise of the Rich offers one alternative to the rise of the West.

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My work has challenged this paradigm in the following ways. Generally speaking, I have tried to look for 17th and 18th century sources for developments in the 19th century. Thus not all modern developments were attributable to European influence. On the contrary I find that many important developments had their sources before European penetration.

In my forthcoming publication Artisan Entrepreneurs (Syracuse UP), for instance, I show how in the 17th and especially in the 18th centuries, some guilds (especially those producing export goods) were influenced by international trade conditions and adapted their structures in important ways to meet new challenges. My book, In Praise of Books (Syracuse UP, 2003), focuses on a group of persons, educated but functioning outside the religious establishment, and setting up new norms for writing, some of which were picked up in the 19th century. Finally, my Making Big Money in 1600 (Syracuse UP, 1998) which follows the life of a prominent merchant shows there was a dynamic economy, it had its structures, and it worked.

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It has created its method of periodization with 1800 as a cutting line, a before and an after, contact with the west. The centuries prior to 1800 were associated with decline while the period starting with 1800 was associated with an awakening due to contact with the west. The ‘before’ has sometimes been studied in ahistorical ways. This approach was also usually lacking in the economic aspects of history, and with a heavy concentration on cultural and religious aspects. It has also meant that all the sources for modernity were from the west. As a result for a long time earlier centuries were under studied.



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