Proposal preview

The First Global Age: Asian Perspectives, 1500-1800

The three centuries of what has variously been termed the ‘early modern period’, the ‘age of exploration’ or the ‘first global age’ have been the focus of a great many studies over the past several decades. The tendency has been to study the age from the European perspective, so that the focus is on how the Portuguese, followed by the North European countries, found their way across the oceans to Asia, and then affirmed their technological and maritime superiority to assert their sovereignty over first the seas, and then the land. The Asian trading world was seen as a self-contained one into which Europeans entered in the sixteenth century, initially as fairly marginal players. Asia was seen as frozen and immutable, a canvas into which Europeans brought in the ideas of mobility and change and transformed it forever.
However, it is also necessary to look at the same Age from a more Asian perspective, something that has only just begun. Frank (1992) pointed to the technological, demographic and economic superiority of Asia, and India and China in particular at the beginning of this period, and as is well known, the challenges and acceptance of the world systems theory has also led to a great deal of research on the world system and its various dimensions.
How the Europeans reacted to Asia and the networks of Asia has been fairly extensively researched, but other than Conti’s oft-quoted remark about the ‘Franks’ being considered to see with only one eye, little attention has been paid to the Asian side. Did the Asian merchants actually lay the groundwork for the establishment of colonialism, as some have argued, or did they see their avenues closing in the course of the 18th century? What were the different reactions in different parts of the continent? How, in fact, did the continent itself acquire an identity equating it with the ‘east’, which was then further divided into ‘middle’ and ‘far’ east, but ‘south’ and ‘central’ Asia? Asian borders were porous, and networks of family and business overlapped and crossed many frontiers. What were the boundaries of that world in the first global age, and how did they become fixed, or defined differently? In other words, what changes happened in that space over the time defined as the ‘first global age’, and how did they affect identity, economy and society? These are some of the questions that we propose to raise through this panel.
The focus of this panel is to examine different aspects of the first age of globalization through and on Asia. Papers will cover the following main themes:
Networks of connections – Africa and Europe, Africa and India, India and East Asia, Asia and Europe
Peoples – Traders, Kings, Companies (Hadrami, Karimi, Armenian, Chulia, Malabari, Gujarati, Javanese, Japanese, Chinese, Malay)
Places – the three overlapping arches of the Indian Ocean and the Asia Pacific worlds – Africa, India, China, Japan; the hinterlands and the hinterland politics in all these, and the response/s to the beginnings of world commerce and globalisation.
Ports – Asian dominated and European controlled; differences in urban demography and layout.
Shipping – Asian, African, European.
Technology and technology transfers.


  • Radhika Seshan, Department of History, Pune University,, India
  • Ruby Maloni, University of Mumbai,, India

Session members

  • Ishrat Alam, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University,
  • Ryuto Shimada, University of Tokyo,
  • Sayako Kanda, Keio University, Tokyo,
  • SeongHo Jun, The Academy of Korean Studies,
  • Sundar Vadlamudi, American University of Sharjah,
  • Michihiro Ogawa, Kanazawa University,
  • Ana S Ribeiro, CIDEHUS - Évora University,
  • Neelambari Jagtap, Shivaji University Kolhapur,
  • Ilicia Jo Sprey, Ivy Tech Community College Indiana,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Kenneth R Hall, Ball State University,
  • Amelia Polonia, FLUP, University of Porto,