According to Simon Potter and Jonathan Saha, with his 1997 essay entitled “Connected Histories: Notes Towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia”, Sanjay Subrahmanyam largely introduces the term “connected histories” into the academic field (Potter and Saha, ‘Global History’, p. 4.). In this seminal essay, Subrahmanyan proposes the use of “connected histories” in order to shed light on those historical processes which had previously been obscured by the work of historians who utilized “comparative histories”. As evidence for one of his sub-arguments – that even in the early modern world, “ideas and mental constructs… flowed across political boundaries” (Subrahmanyam, ‘Connected Histories’, p. 748.) – Subrahmanyam notes that Columbus was motivated on his voyage of discovery by “millenarian aspirations” and “Franciscan apocalyptic thought” (Ibid., p. 749.). Upon reading this I stopped in my tracks, so to speak. I was shocked to learn something new and completely at odds with what I had learned about Columbus, a figure who played a central role throughout my schooling in the United States. There are of course practical concerns which might explain this disjuncture. For example, Subrahmanyam notes that this information about Columbus was only found by research completed in recent years, and perhaps this is why it never made it into the material I learned between 2008-2018. Nevertheless, it got me wondering, how many other facts was I missing? Did my teachers simply omit pieces of information which did not conform to the dominant narrative pursued by the academic institution they were a part of? I wonder if my teachers had taken a more transnational or global approach, might they have been less likely to omit such an interesting detail? It seems to me the answer is yes. This may seem to be an incredibly trivial realization. However, as someone who has very little experience in global or transnational history and has just switched into the class last minute, these are very exciting thoughts. I look forward to learning things this semester which challenge my existing knowledge, and allow me to make connections which had previously not occurred to me. Hopefully by the semester’s conclusion, I will be able to expand on and express this thought much more eloquently!
Subrahmanyam, Connected Histories, and Columbus