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Late Antiquity and World History

Mark Humphries Orcid Logo

Studies in Late Antiquity, Volume: 1, Issue: 1, Pages: 8 - 37

Swansea University Author: Mark Humphries Orcid Logo

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DOI (Published version): 10.1525/sla.2017.1.1.8

Abstract

The flourishing of late-antique studies in the last half-century has coincided with the rise of “world history” as an area of academic research. To an extent, some overlap has occurred, particularly with Sasanian Persia being considered alongside the late Roman Empire as constituting an essential co...

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Published in: Studies in Late Antiquity
ISSN: 2470-6469 2470-2048
Published: Berkeley University of California Press 2017
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URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa30084
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Abstract: The flourishing of late-antique studies in the last half-century has coincided with the rise of “world history” as an area of academic research. To an extent, some overlap has occurred, particularly with Sasanian Persia being considered alongside the late Roman Empire as constituting an essential component in what we think of in terms of the “shape” of late antiquity. Yet it is still the case that many approaches to late antiquity are bound up with conventional western narratives of historical progress, as defined in Jack Goody’s The Theft of History (2006). Indeed, the debate about whether late antiquity was an age of dynamic transformation (as argued by Peter Brown and his disciples) or one of catastrophic disruption (as asserted, most recently, by Bryan Ward-Perkins) can be regarded as representing two different faces of an essentially evolutionary interpretation of western historical development. This article argues, however, that we can challenge such conventional narrative frameworks by taking a world historical perspective on late antiquity. It will show, first, that our interpretation of late antiquity depends on sources that themselves are representative of myriad local perspectives. Secondly, it will argue that since Gibbon’s time these sources have been made to serve an essentially western construct of and debate about history. The final section will consider how taking a more global perspective allows us to challenge conventional approaches to and narratives of late antiquity.
Issue: 1
Start Page: 8
End Page: 37