Program Description

Dear Colleagues,

 We are very pleased to invite you to participate as an NEH Summer Scholar in a four-week Institute on “Empires and Interactions across the Early Modern World, 1400-1800” at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, from June 3 to June 28, 2013. The Institute offers twenty-five NEH Summer Scholars the opportunity to immerse themselves in the extraordinary age of empire building and the interactions these empires fostered around the world.

The emergence of powerful empires across Eurasia set in motion processes of exchange that reached across all continents except Antarctica, inaugurating a new era in world history characterized by cross-cultural contact among peoples from around the globe. Not only did a handful of European nations carve out maritime outposts and colonies, but a number of Asian states also established hegemony over vast tracts of land. All this empire-building led to the expansion of long-distance commerce, the worldwide spread of disease, animals, and plants, the globalization of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and new episodes of intellectual exchange. Participants will interact with leading scholars in these fields, engage in analysis of theoretical approaches and primary documents, visit special collections and museums from the period, conduct independent research, and develop curricula and materials for classroom use.

Historians employing the methods of comparative world history have recently demonstrated the significance of large-scale interactions between societies in driving historical change even in pre-modern times. This innovative interdisciplinary approach has formed one of the most important advances in historical scholarship in the last twenty years. Drawing from this scholarship, “Empires and Interactions” puts forth encounters between societies as a framework for understanding the period as a whole and then uses organizing themes to illustrate its application in concrete historical developments: long-distance trade, biological exchange, missionary endeavor, and intellectual interchange.

The Institute addresses a primary difficulty in acquiring teaching expertise in courses with a substantial global dimension, namely gaining an initial facility with new methods, problems, debates, and sources. The discipline of world history has emerged fairly recently; thus many college and university teachers who must master a world history curriculum often find themselves in need of additional training in methodological issues that have defined the field. “Empires and Interactions” aims to help fill this need and do so by modeling the collaborative nature of world historical scholarship. The academic specialties of the project co-directors, Ahmet Karamustafa and Charles Parker, cover Asia and Europe, respectively. Shared expertise provides a broad base of knowledge and balanced representation for sessions involving discussion and dialogue. Your fellow NEH Summer Scholars will come from different fields, possess distinct interests, and offer their own insights, all of which will enrich the experience for everyone. Furthermore, the nine guest historians making presentations and leading discussions are all widely acclaimed scholars and form a central component of the Institute.


Structure of the Institute

In addition to presentations and discussions, we will also set aside at least one morning each week for an informal conversation among participants and co-directors to synthesize material in the previous sessions and to discuss course projects. Participants will also have several days to conduct independent research over the course of the Institute. In the final week, we will restrict the presentations to two lectures in order to give participants additional time to work on their projects (see the Detailed Schedule on this website for more information).

The morning sessions of the Institute will begin at 9:00 and end at 12:30; the afternoon sessions will run from 2:00 to 4:00. We will encourage everyone to make use of time after the afternoon session or evenings to work on their projects and to read around issues of interest that pertain to the Institute. Pius XII Memorial Library at Saint Louis University has a robust collection of materials in early modern history and remains open in the summer from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Thursday, 7:30 am to 6:00 pm on Friday, and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekends.

During the course of the four weeks, NEH Summer Scholars will work toward completing a project that will enable them to develop teaching expertise and/or a curriculum from a range of topics within the thematic framework of the Institute. Scholars will determine the nature of their own projects, based on their perception of their teaching needs.  The design of a project might take several forms, such as a syllabus for a new course, a substantially revised syllabus, an extended analysis of a particular topic in the field, or a bibliographic essay on relevant works. At various points during the Institute, we will designate time for NEH Scholars to discuss their projects. The co-directors and guest lecturers will make themselves available to consult with members of the Institute. In the evenings, we will arrange opportunities for participants to interact with the guest lecturers informally. In the final two days, everyone will present their projects to the entire group and we will offer a general synthesis of the Institute. We will publish participants’ projects on the Institute’s website.

The ultimate goal is for everyone to return to their campuses recharged with new perspectives and strategies to infuse new life into their world history courses. Since you will have been exposed to some of the most creative scholars in early modern history, we hope that the Institute will also inspire new research programs.


Unit One: Theories: Empires and Early Modernity (June 3-June 6)

The first unit will open the door to some of the most fundamental issues about historical interpretation on a global scale and give participants a better appreciation for the intellectual commitments that have shaped the grand historical narratives. Thus at the outset, members of the Institute will gain the necessary theoretical background for the subsequent thematic topics. (see full reading list and supplemental bibliography)


Central Questions

  • How can historians take the world as a unit of historical analysis?
  • How have empires functioned as engines of change and interaction?
  • How well does the periodization “early modern” work for world history?


Representative Readings

  • Bentley, Jerry H. “Cross-Cultural Interaction and Periodization in World History,” American Historical Review 101 (1996): 749-770.
  • Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. and Schluchter, Wolfgang, “Introduction: Paths to Early Modernities: A Comparative View,” Daedalus 127 (1998): 1-18.
  • Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia,” Modern Asian Studies 31, (1997): 735-762.



    • Presentations, discussions, and interactions with Ahmet Karamustafa, Timothy Parsons, and Charles Parker

Unit Two: Empires and Economies of Scale (June 7, June 10-June 14)

The second unit will turn to the major theatres of empire building in the early modern world: the Asian landmass and the Atlantic basin. In both of these theatres, economies of scale pushed commodities and luxury items over long distances and contributed to greater cultural integration of world regions. The Institute will explore the commonalities and distinctions in state formation, imperial expansion, and economic development.


Central Questions

  • How did Asian and European empires manage regimes and assimilate peoples?
  • How did empire building reshape commerce, agriculture, and industry around the world?
  • What were the features of early modern global economies?


Representative Readings

  • Adas, Michael. “Imperialism and Colonialism in Comparative Perspective.” The International History Review 2(1998), 371-388.
  • Gould, Eliga H. “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery,” American Historical Review 112(2007), 764-786
  • Levi, Scott C. and Sela, Ron eds. Islamic Central Asia: An Anthology of Historical Sources (2010).


  • Presentations, discussions, and interactions with Laura Hostetler, Molly Greene, Rudi Matthee, and Carla Rahn Phillips
  • Field trip to the Jefferson Memorial National Expansion Museum to explore aspects of the French Empire in the St. Louis region.

Unit Three: Religious and Biological Interactions
(June 17-21)

The third unit explores two powerful consequences of imperial expansion throughout the early modern world: missionary enterprise and biological exchanges. Empire building and aggressive proselytization enabled Islam and Christianity to emerge as global religions in the early modern period. The global spread of plants and animals transformed ecosystems and enabled the world’s population to double from 1500 to 1800, despite devastating epidemiological disasters.


            Central Questions

  • What were the cross-cultural currents in early modern Islam and Christianity?
  • What similar problems and issues did Christian and Muslim proselytizers encounter in new lands?
  • How did the movement of plants and animals transform landscapes around the world?


Representative Readings

  • Scheper Hughes, Jennifer. “The Cristo comes to Life: Lived Religion in Colonial Mexico,” in Biography of a Mexican Crucifix: Lived Religion and Local Faith from the Conquest to the Present (Oxford, 2010), 83-106.
  • Bulliet, Richard. “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization,” in The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization (New York, 2004), 1-46.
  • McCann, James. “Seeds of subversion in two peasant empires,” in Maize and Grace: Africa’s encounter with a New World Crop (Harvard, 2005), 59-93.



  • Presentations, discussions, and interactions with Richard Bulliet, Simon Ditchfield, and W. George Lovell
  • Field trip to the Bernard Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis to examine rare book collection on disease and medicine in Renaissance Europe.


Unit Four: Theme 3: Ideas and Connections (June 24-28)

The fourth unit will consider the transmission of knowledge across cultural boundaries by examining several branches of learning from cartography to astronomy and art. Europeans and Asians borrowed from one another in remarkable ways complicating notions of “east” and “west.” NEH Summer Scholars will complete and present their projects on the final two days.


            Central Questions

  • How did Asian learning contribute to scientific development in Europe?
  • How did European learning influence scientific approaches in Asia?
  • How did Europeans and Chinese interact on questions of social order, gender roles, and visions of  life?

Representative Readings

  • Harris, Steven J. Mapping Jesuit Science. The Role of Travel in the Geography of Knowledge, in The Jesuits. Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540–1773, eds., John W. O'Malley et al (1999), 212–240.
  • Ricci, Matteo S. True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (excerpts).
  • Extract of Two Letters from the Missionary Jesuits, concerning the Discovery of the New Philippines-Islands, with a Map of the Same, in Philosophical Transactions XXVI  (1708).



  • Presentations, discussions, and interactions with Ulrike Strasser
  • Presentation and discussion of participants’ projects.


Ahmet T. Karamustafa is Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. His expertise is in social and intellectual history of medieval and early modern Islam in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. He is the author of three books, one co-edited volume, and many articles and essays. His most recent book, Sufism: The Formative Period, California, 2007), has established Karamustafa as one of the leading scholars of medieval and early modern Sufism. He has taught courses at the graduate and undergraduate level in History, Religious Studies as well as Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies. He has also held several administrative positions, including a five-year term as director of the Religious Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis. From 2008 to 2011, he served as the co-chair of the Study of Islam Section at the American Academy of Religion.


Charles Parker is the Eugene A. Hotfelder Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History at Saint Louis University, where he has taught since 1994. He is the author of three books, two co-edited volumes and numerous articles and essays. Trained in the history of early modern Europe, Parker has expanded his research focus in recent years to explore global patterns of exchange during this period. His latest book, Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400-1800 (Cambridge, 2010) reflects this emphasis. He has taught world history regularly over the past fifteen years in a variety of formats. A guest lecturer at a 2007 NEH Summer Institute at Calvin College, Parker received a NEH Fellowship for 2010-2011 to undertake a comparative study of Calvinist communities outside of Europe from 1600 to 1800.


Institute Faculty

Timothy Parsons is Professor of History and African and African American Studies, as well as the Director of the International and Area Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis.

Laura Hostetler is Professor and Chair in the Department of History at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Molly Greene is Professor and Associate Chair of History as well as the Acting Director of the Hellenic Studies Program at Princeton University.

Rudi Matthee is the Munroe Chair of History at the University of Delaware.

Carla Rahn Phillips is the Union Pacific Professor of Comparative Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota.

Richard Bulliett is Professor of history at Columbia University.

Simon Ditchfield is a Reader in the History Department and Chair of the Board of Studies at the University of York, England.

W. George Lovell is Professor of Geography at Queen’s University, Scotland who focuses on human geography in Central and South America. 

Ulrike Strasser is Associate Professor of History and Affiliate Faculty in German, Women’s Studies and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.



 The Institute is ideal for historians who have research interests or teaching responsibilities in any geographic area within the broad time frame from circa 1200 (Mongol expansion) to circa 1900 (high point of European imperialism) who either teach some aspect of world history or have an interest in creating courses on global, comparative themes. All social science and humanities faculty who have demonstrable teaching interests and responsibilities at the college or university level within the thematic framework of the Institute are encouraged to apply. We will also reserve three slots for advanced (ABD) graduate students.



 At least a month before the start of the Institute, we will send out all reading materials to give everyone an opportunity to begin preparing themselves. All Scholars are expected to have read all relevant materials before a particular session.


Academic Resources

Pius XII Memorial Library, with approximately 1.5 million volumes and over 9,500 journals, has a substantial collection to support your independent research in the Institute. In addition, the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library, located in Pius Library, is an outstanding research collection for medieval and Renaissance manuscript studies that houses more than 37,000 microfilmed manuscripts from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.



NEH Summer Scholars receive a stipend of $3,300 to help cover travel and living expenses and the cost of housing. The first check in the amount of $1,650 will be disbursed the first week of the Institute and the second check will be disbursed halfway through the Institute. Please note that stipends may have tax consequences.

Successful applicants will be notified of their selection on Monday, April 1, 2013. You need to let us know where you will be on this date if it is different from the contact information you give on your application.

For information on eligibility, instructions for applying to the Institute, and housing accommodations, see the relevant sections of this website.

We look forward to hearing from you. Please send any queries to


Charles Parker                         Ahmet Karamustafa