Centuries before the dawn of the modern age, the world was already a surprisingly interconnected place. Readings for this theme introduce a way of understanding the past in which Islam and the West are seen as products of a shared, cosmopolitan, and inextricably intertwined past. These books help envision the world of our ancestors, which was as complex and dynamically interconnected as the world we live in today.
Centuries before the dawn of the modern age—even before the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan—the world was already a surprisingly interconnected place. Braving the high seas and the desert sands, merchants peddled their wares from the Mediterranean to China. Scientists and scholars, drawn to the far corners of the world by a thirst for knowledge, traveled just as far, searching out their peers and sharing the latest ideas about the mysteries of nature. And missionaries and holy men, as they spread the good word of their respective faiths, plied the same roads—inevitably meeting one another, debating the merits of their divergent creeds, and taking inspiration from each other as they pondered the meaning of life and the nature of the divine.
All of the books in this list explore this theme of “connected histories,” a new way of understanding the past in which Islam and the West, far from being locked in an endless “clash of civilizations,” are seen instead as products of this cosmopolitan and inextricably intertwined history. By highlighting the intellectual inheritance shared by Islam and the West, their mutual bonds of monotheism, and the surprising intensity of their cultural and commercial interaction, as well as the individual experiences of the many merchants, missionaries, and other adventurers who journeyed “to the other shore,” these books all chart a path to a new vision of the world of our ancestors, a world that was as remarkably complex and dynamically interconnected as the one we live in today.
This theme was developed by Giancarlo Casale. Casale holds a PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and is currently associate professor of the history of the Islamic World at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 2005. He is an expert in Ottoman history, early modern empires, and the history of geography and cartography. His book, The Ottoman Age of Exploration, was awarded the Cundill Recognition of Excellence prize in 2011.