Connected Worlds: New Approaches across Pre-Modern Studies

DATE: January 24-26, 2013

PLACE: 370 and 3335 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

SPONSORS: Sponsored by the Walter and Elise Haas Chair in Asia Studies and the Haas Junior Scholars Program at the Institute of East Asian Studies, with additional support provided by the Classics Department, the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology, the History Department, the History of Art Department, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for Chinese Studies, the Center for Japanese Studies, the English Department, the Program in Medieval Studies, and the Division of Student Affairs.



This multidisciplinary conference brings together scholars interested in the study of interconnectedness during the pre-modern period. The panels will cross traditional disciplinary boundaries based on geography or periodization, and deal with themes like trade and travel, cross-cultural exchange, empire-building, and the making of ethnographic and geographic "knowledge." The conference also features four talks by invited speakers from Yale University, Stanford University, California State University (Chico), and the University of Southern California.

There is a growing body of evidence for contact and exchange between early cultures which are typically deemed isolated by geographic, linguistic, cultural, or ethnic barriers. The study of pre-modern cross-cultural or cross-textual encounters has thus emerged as an alternative to traditional comparative analysis. So we propose tracing connections in worlds of all sizes, from the largest Euro-Afro-Asian or pan-American trade routes to the smaller worlds of people and communities everywhere.

We are pleased to be hosting for our keynote Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan (Yale, Art History), and three other guest lecturers, Asa Mittman (CSU Chico, Art History), Grant Parker (Stanford, Classics), and Kevin Van Bladel (USC, Classics). In addition to their lectures, our four guests will sit for a round-table discussion, chaired by Erich Gruen (UC Berkeley, History). In addition to those special lectures, "Connected Worlds" will include several panels covering a variety of disciplines, fields, and areas of study.

What do we mean by "Connected Worlds"? Older views of early cultures often hold that they basically corresponded to modern political or social units, especially nation-states, or to the "areas" of area-studies, or to highly generalized civilizations. Hence, for example, early China is treated as geographically coextensive with the area of the modern Chinese state, late-antique and medieval ethnicities justify Europe's national boundaries today, and ancient Greece and Rome are embraced as the foundational stages of the development of what is called "Western Civilization." These are modern units of analysis projected backwards onto ancient peoples and therefore anachronistic. But, at the same time, we do not want to be limited to older generalizing concepts, such as the "nation" as early Christians meant the word, or the "empire" of a Rome or China.

Our framework draws from two compelling attempts to turn the social sciences away from the paradigm of the nation-state: Connected Histories, as conceived by Sanjay Subrahmanyam ("Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia," Modern Asian Studies 31 [1997], pp. 735-762), and World-Systems Analysis, as articulated by Immanuel Wallerstein (see esp. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Duke UP, 2004).

Arguing against comparative studies which take nation-states as essentially independent cultural units, Subrahmanyam emphasizes that the early modern Eurasian landmass was connected, and that Eurasian cultures were "plugged into some network, some process of circulation" (762). With this, he advocates that scholars look for these connections, which will often transcend nations and states, in order to understand how culture, and not just material objects, traversed the continent. But Subrahmanyam is focused on the early modern world, which raises a question for us: would this emphasis on integration work for earlier times? We will attempt to address this issue by focusing not on a single world, the globe, but on multiple worlds.

Our definition of worlds is inspired by world-systems analysis, which advocates that we use world-systems as an alternative unit of analysis to the nation-state. "In 'world-systems,' we are dealing with a spatial/temporal zone which cuts across many political and cultural units, one that represents an integrated zone of activity and institutions which obey certain systemic rules," and these systems are not global in the sense that they encompass the entire planet, but are worlds unto themselves (Wallerstein, 17). Like Subrahmanyam, world-systems scholars tend to focus on more recent times, but we think this approach could be applied to earlier times as well.

In different ways, Connected Histories and World-Systems Analysis are methods that challenge the use of nation-states as a unit of analysis. We think these could be combined, and so we advocate the method of "Connected Worlds." Our worlds, defined anew for each project, may cut across conventional boundaries. They may be as large as the so-called Silk Road, or as small as a handful of neighboring communities. We seek to reconstruct these worlds beginning with the people, places, texts, materials, practices, and so on, that are the subjects of our studies. And these subjects, in turn, are themselves nodes in many networks. We want to look for those connections, and frame our unit of analysis around them. This is what we mean by connected worlds, in the abstract. To put it another way, if our studies were Venn diagrams, the worlds would be the overlapping circles around our subjects, but they would be drawn not by conventional political or cultural units, nor by modern disciplinary boundaries, but according to the relationships that connect our subjects to the rest of their world.

Convinced that it is possible to reach a fuller understanding of all sorts of connected worlds, we aim to provide a forum where scholars from many humanistic and social science disciplines may present their research and join this discussion.

"Connected Worlds" is sponsored by the Walter and Elise Haas Chair in Asia Studies and the Haas Junior Scholars Program at the Institute of East Asian Studies, with additional support provided by the Classics Department, the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology, the History Department, the History of Art Department, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for Chinese Studies, the Center for Japanese Studies, the English Department, the Program in Medieval Studies, and the Division of Student Affairs.



Thursday's events will be held in 370 Dwinelle Hall; the rest of the events, on Friday and Saturday, will be held in 3335 Dwinelle Hall. Thursday, January 24


Location: 370 Dwinelle Hall

3:00 – 4:00 pm: Registration

4:30 – 5:45 pm: Guest lecture 1 — Keynote address
Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan (Yale, History of Art)
A Supernova's Starry Spheres and the Intersection of Art and Observation in a Medieval Japanese Painting of the Buddha Tejaprabhā

5:45 – 6:30 pm: Welcome reception


Location: 3335 Dwinelle Hall

8:30 – 9:00 am: Coffee and pastries / late registration

9:00 – 9:15 am: Opening address: Scott Paul McGinnis (UC Berkeley, History)

9:15 – 10:45 am: Panel 1. The Circulation of Stories

  1. Eric Dodson-Robinson (West Chester University, English)
    To Rewrite the Ways of Gods and Men: Hesiod's Pandora and Assyro-Babylonian Myth
  2. Jacobo Myerston (University of Chicago, Classics)
    Interpreting Divine Succession in the Eastern Mediterranean
  3. Aren Wilson-Wright (UT Austin, Middle Eastern Studies)
    Lions Gone Wild: Jeremiah 51:3839 and Judean-Egyptian Contact in the 6th century BCE
  4. Mary Harvey Doyno (Princeton, Writing Program)
    A Generous King: Mansa Musa and the Emergence of the Black Magus
  5. * discussant Alexandre Roberts (UC Berkeley, History)

10:45 – 11:00 am: Break

11:00 – 12:00: Guest lecture 2
Grant Parker (Stanford, Classics)
Pompey's Pillar: situating a monument

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 pm: Panel 2. The Circulation of Things

  1. Ilona Gerbakher (Harvard Divinity School, Islamic Studies)
    Garum (fish paste) in Late Antiquity
  2. Colleen Ho (UC Santa Barbara, History)
    Panni tartarici: Linking Eurasia
  3. Seth Adam Hindin (UC Davis, History of Art)
    Rethinking the Reception of Islamic Art in Medieval Europe: The Case of the Pisa Griffin
  4. Luo Di (USC, East Asian Languages and Cultures)
    Architectural Design in Pre-modern East Asia: Chinese Prototypes and Japanese Derivatives
  5. * discussant Andrew Griebeler (UC Berkeley, History of Art)

2:30 – 3:00 pm: Break

3:00 – 4:00 pm: Guest lecture 3
Asa Simon Mittman (CSU Chico, History of Art)
Making the Absent Present: Medieval Cartographic Telesthesia

4:00 – 5:15 pm: Panel 3. Mechanics of Connection I: Texts, Maps, and Metaphors

  1. Benjamin Saltzman (UC Berkeley, English)
    Local Connections: Micro-Comparison and the Imitation of Aldhelm
  2. Sayoko Sakakibara (Stanford, History)
    Provincializing Asia: Mapping Japan, Asia, and Europe in the Early Modern World
  3. Kristopher Kersey (UC Berkeley, History of Art)
    The Eyeless Sutra
  4. * discussant Claire Yang (UC Berkeley, History)


Location: 3335 Dwinelle Hall

9:00 – 9:30 am: Coffee and pastries

9:30 – 10:45 am: Panel 4. Mechanics of Connection II: People, Networks, and Places

  1. Paul C. Dilley (Iowa, Classics and Religious Studies)
    Court Networks and Religious Exchange in Late-Antique Eurasia
  2. Patricia Blessing (Stanford, Art and Art History)
    Connected Land, Entangled Space: Medieval Anatolia and the Mongol Empire
  3. Randall Souza (UC Berkeley, AHMA = Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology)
    Sicily in the Center of the Mediterranean: The Case against Internal Borders
  4. * discussant Lisa Eberle (UC Berkeley, AHMA)

10:45 – 11:00 am: Break

11:00 – 12:00: Guest lecture 4
Kevin van Bladel (USC, Classics and Middle East Studies)
Eighth-Century Indian Astronomy in the Two Cities of Peace

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch

1:00 – 2:15 pm: Panel 5. Connected Perspectives I: Ethnography and Historical Narrative

  1. Hamish Cameron (USC, Classics)
    Connecting Worlds in Mesopotamia: Strabo's Presentation of an Inter-imperial Borderland
  2. Daniel Melleno (UC Berkeley, History)
    Representation and Reality: Vikings and Franks in the Ninth Century
  3. Shao-yun Yang (UC Berkeley, History)
    Wang Dayuan's World: Re-reading the Intellectual and Historical Context of a Fourteenth-century Chinese Ethnography
  4. * discussant David DeVore (UC Berkeley, AHMA)

2:15 – 2:30 pm: Break

2:30 – 3:45 pm: Panel 6. Connected Perspectives II: States and Statehoods

  1. Hayley Taga (University of Chicago, History)
    Between Italian and Greek: Why Poseidonia Became a Sybarite Colony and Took its Bull
  2. Michael J. Taylor (UC Berkeley, History)
    Seleucid Imperialism and Native Temples
  3. Amanda Buster (UC Berkeley, History)
    Han Chang'an and its Mausoleum Towns
  4. * discussant Lisa Eberle (UC Berkeley, AHMA)

3:45 – 4:00 pm: Break

4:00 – 5:00 pm: Speaker roundtable.
* Chair: Erich Gruen (UC Berkeley, Classics)

5:00 – 5:15 pm: Closing remarks
Tom Hendrickson (UC Berkeley, Classics)

5:15 – 6:00 pm: Closing reception


Guest Lectures

We are pleased to be able to host four guest lecturers, including our keynote speaker, who together reflect the broad research interests of our group members and conference participants. All four of these guests will also participate in our round-table discussion on Saturday. (For lecture and panel times, see "Schedule.")

Keynote address

Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan, Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, will give a lecture entitled "A Supernova's Starry Spheres and the Intersection of Art and Observation in a Medieval Japanese Painting of the Buddha Tejaprabhā."

Lecture abstract:
In the spring of 1006 the largest supernova in human history appeared in the southern skies of the northern hemisphere. This scintillating celestial object was recorded by observers from the Arabian Peninsula to the Japanese archipelago over a period of nearly two years. The diaries of Kyoto aristocrats suggest that this "guest star" — which was likened to the full moon in size and brilliance, and could be seen during the day — was viewed with dread. For many, it was yet another indicator of the End Times whose epoch was slated to begin in late 1051. Like the catastrophic outbreaks of smallpox and measles that decimated Kyoto between 995 and 1020, punctuated by natural disasters such as flooding of the Kamo River so massive as to reshape the riverbed on Kyoto's eastern border, the star came without sign or warning. Its lingering presence in the sky portended a world from which normalcy on earth and in the heavens had been banished.

Coping with the abnormal — such as two suns in the sky — became a way of life in Kyoto around the turn of the first millennium. It lies at the heart of the innovation and experimentation that characterize the contemporary Buddhist cultural productions of the Kyoto elite and explains their keen pursuit of new scientific information and technology. This paper takes up the famous Hoshi Mandara (Star Mandala) at Hōryūji, a monastery in Nara, as an exemplar of the fertile intersection of visual culture and scientific knowledge in the time of the supernova. It proposes that the painting is at once a mandala and a representation of an armillary, devoted to a Buddha solaris called Tejaprabhā, and based on observation of the heavens on the night that the supernova was first seen over Kyōto.

About the speaker:
Professor Yiengpruksawan studies the Buddhist art and iconography of medieval Japan. Her first book, Hiraizumi: Buddhist Art and Regional Politics in Twelfth-century Japan (1998), analyzes the sociopolitical uses of religious art and architecture by the "Northern Fujiwara" regime in northern Honshu. In recent years, she has been interested in cross-cultural Buddhist exchange linking the Silk Road and Himalayan regions to China, Korea, and Japan, as well as trade and cultural exchange along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Her new book "Art and Catastrophe in the Japanese Middle Ages," which examines the impact of disaster and risk on cultural production in Japan at the turn of the second millennium, is forthcoming with Brill. She is also completing another book, "Tadazane's Parrot: The Culture of Twelfth Century Kyoto in Global Perspective," which takes up Japan's place in a medieval Eurasian world defined by ongoing cross-border exchange and engagement.

Guest Lectures

Kevin van Bladel, Associate Professor of Classics and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Southern California, will give a talk entitled "Eighth-Century Indian Astronomy in the Two Cities of Peace."

Lecture abstract:
Embassies of the Arab caliphs to the Tang court at Chang'an (its name meaning "perpetual peace") began under Umayyad rule and became a frequent, sometimes annual, event under the first two ‘Abbāsids, Abū l-‘Abbās (r. 750-754) and al-Manṣūr (r. 754-775), who had come to power with the backing of supporters from eastern Iranian and Central Asian countries previously in long-distance contact with China and that had been clients of the Tang within living memory. Chinese court records mention annual ‘Abbāsid missions to Chang'an from 752 to 774. The Arab ambassadors brought and received gifts and participated in formal court receptions, but other specifics about exchanges between the two courts are lacking.

Near the end of this period of diplomatic exchange, in 771 or 772/773, al-Manṣūr, founder of the carefully designed capital Baghdād — properly in Arabic Madinat as-salām, "city of peace" — ordered the translation into Arabic of Indian materials for astronomical calculation very closely related to those employed then by known Indian astrologers at the Tang court. This presentation provides evidence that the present realities of the Tang court, and not only the memory of Sasanid patronage of learning, provided a model for al-Manṣūr's patronage of the astral sciences. It is in this context that the vizier Yaḥyā al-Barmakī's further importation of Indian learning to Baghdād should be placed in the generation before the better known translations from Greek into Arabic became much more numerous.

About the speaker:
Professor van Bladel is a philologist and cultural and intellectual historian who studies the interacting cultures expressed in Greek, Syriac, Latin, Iranian languages, Sanskrit and Arabic. His first book, The Arabic Hermes (Oxford 2009) uses Latin, Greek, Syriac, Arabic and Persian sources to trace legends about Hermes and his wisdom from Egypt and the Greco-Roman world into the Islamic world. Professor van Bladel's articles include "The Alexander Legend in the Qur'an 18:83-102" (in The Qur'an in its Historical Context, ed. G. S. Reynolds, Routledge 2008) and "The Bactrian Background of the Barmakids" (in Islam and Tibet, eds. Akasoy et al., 2011), as well as the articles "Bayt al-ḥikma" (with Dimitri Gutas) and "Hermes and Hermetica" in the 3rd edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam.

Grant Parker, Associate Professor of Classics at Stanford University, will give a talk entitled "Pompey's Pillar: situating a monument."

Lecture abstract:
The column shaft erected in 297/8 CE at Alexandria in honor of Diocletian enjoys special status on several count, not least as the sole surviving major remnant of ancient Roman presence in that city. It is misnamed in that it has no connection with Pompey. The biography of this singular object is interesting in its own right, but all the more so if we view it in light of comparable objects, particularly obelisks. Once we have explored contexts for making historical sense of this monolith, it turns out that its history is a highly connected one.

About the speaker:
Professor Parker studies elements of the exotic in Roman culture. His first book, The Making of Roman India (2008), surveys representations of India in Greek and Latin texts of the imperial Roman period and emphasises the social processes whereby the image of India gained its exotic features in the Roman imagination. His current research includes studies of Roman travel literature and the cultural reception of obelisks in the Roman empire. He is also co-editing, with Richard Talbert, a sourcebook of Roman travel writing entitled Travel in the Roman Mind. He is joint editor, with Carla Sinopoli, of Ancient India in its Wider World (Center for South and South East Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 2008), and with Miriam Cooke and Erdag Göknar, of Mediterranean Passages: readings from Dido to Derrida (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). He is also co-editing, with Richard Talbert, a sourcebook of Roman travel writing entitled "Travel in the Roman Mind." His current research includes studies of Roman travel literature, the representation of India, Egypt, and Parthia in Augustan poetry, and the cultural reception of obelisks in the Roman empire.

Asa Simon Mittman, Associate Professor of Art History at California State University, Chico, will be giving a talk entitled "Making the Absent Present: Medieval Cartographic Telesthesia."

Lecture abstract:
Medieval world maps are jarring to look at, and were likely so for their original audiences as well as for modern viewers. Their visual peculiarity lies not only their eastern orientation — strange to us, but normal at the time of their production — nor in their presentation of only three continents — again expected in the Middle Ages — but also in their odd spatial and temporal disjunctions. As we look at the other end of the world, we see large landmasses and bodies of water, mountains and cities, but also can see individual figures. People, animals, and monsters are visible in great detail, as if they were merely across the room rather than across the ecumene — the inhabitable world. Similarly, juxtaposed with more or less unchanging landscape features and contemporary cities and peoples, we see moments from the distant past (e.g. Adam and Eve in the Garden, Noah in his ark) and even from the prophesied future (e.g. the return of Jesus, the Last Judgment). In this talk, I will consider medieval maps through the notion of "telesthesia," a term coined by geographers working in "Antipodean Studies," which refers to "perception at a distance." I will discuss the role of medieval cartographic telesthesia in tying together distant parts of the world and distant peoples, focusing on European Christian representations of Jews, Mongols, Indians and Africans.

About the speaker:
Professor Mittman is an art historian who specializes in cartographic and other visual representations of monsters and foreign worlds, as found in the manuscripts of the European Middle Ages. He is the author of Maps and Monsters in Medieval England (Routledge, 2006; paperback 2008), co-author with Susan Kim of Inconceivable Beasts: The Wonders of the East in the Beowulf Manuscript (ACMRS, 2012), and author of a number of articles on the subject of monstrosity and marginality in the Middle Ages. He co-edited with Peter Dendle a Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (Ashgate, 2012), and is the president of MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: the Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory And Practical Application). He is also the co-director of Virtual Mappa, with Martin Foys.


Erich Gruen, the Gladys Rehard Wood Emeritus Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, will chair the roundtable discussion. For this, he will be joined by our four guest lecturers, who have been invited to reflect on our conference theme.


Guest Panelists
  • Patricia Blessing (Stanford, Art and Art History)
  • Hamish Cameron (USC, Classics)
  • Paul C. Dilley (University of Iowa, Classics and Religious Studies)
  • Eric Dodson-Robinson (West Chester University, English)
  • Mary Harvey Doyno (Princeton, Writing Program)
  • Seth Adam Hindin (UC Davis, History of Art)
  • Colleen Ho (UC Santa Barbara, History)
  • Ilona Gerbakher (Harvard Divinity School, Islamic Studies)
  • Luo Di (USC, East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • Daniel Melleno (UC Berkeley, History)
  • Jacobo Myerston (University of Chicago, Classics)
  • Sayoko Sakakibara (Stanford, History)
  • Randall Souza (UC Berkeley, Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology)
  • Hayley Taga (University of Chicago, History)
  • Michael J. Taylor (UC Berkeley, History)
  • Aren Wilson-Wright (UT Austin, Middle Eastern Studies)


Haas Junior Scholars

This conference has been organized by the efforts of the Haas Junior Scholars fellows listed here.

  • Amanda Buster (History)
  • David DeVore (Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology)
  • Lisa Eberle (Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology)
  • Andrew Griebeler (History of Art)
  • Tom Hendrickson (Classics)
  • Kristopher Kersey (History of Art)
  • Scott Paul McGinnis (History)
  • Alexandre Roberts (History)
  • Benjamin Saltzman (English)
  • Claire Yang (History)
  • Shao-yun Yang (History)



The events for the conference "Connected Worlds: New Approaches across Pre-Modern Studies" will be held in various locations on and around the UC Berkeley campus.

370 Dwinelle Hall and 3335 Dwinelle Hall

See section C3 on this large campus map.

Dwinelle Hall

Dwinelle Hall is a large and very confusing building with two main entrances and two numbering systems. To reach 370 Dwinelle from the east (Sather Gate) entrance:

  1. Enter campus via Sather Gate which is located where Telegraph Avenue meets the Berkeley campus. After going through the Gate and crossing the immediately following bridge, the first building on your left will be Dwinelle Hall. Enter through the doors off the big plaza.
  2. This entrance to Dwinelle Hall is on Level D. To the right in the main hall, there will be an elevator. Take it to Level F/G. Alternatively, you can take the stairwell directly opposite the elevator.
  3. Once you have exited the elevator, the entrance to the Common Grounds cafe (371 Dwinelle) will be immediately to your left. The entrance to 370 Dwinelle is at the far end of the cafe. If you take the stairs, the entrance to Common Grounds will be facing you directly.

To reach 370 Dwinelle from the north entrance:

  1. Take the elevator to Level G.
  2. After exiting the elevator, follow the hallway either clockwise or counterclockwise.
  3. The clockwise direction leads to the entrance of the Common Grounds cafe, which will be on your right when Level G becomes Level F. The entrance to 370 Dwinelle is at the far end of the cafe. The counterclockwise direction leads to the other entrance to 370 Dwinelle, which will be on your left at the very end of the hallway.

[Note that from 3:00 to 4:00 pm on January 24, registration for conference participants will be held in 371 Dwinelle (the Common Grounds cafe). 370 Dwinelle will only be open to conference participants after 4:00 pm due to a meeting being held in that room.]

To reach 3335 Dwinelle from the north entrance, take the elevator or stairs up one floor to Level C. 3335 Dwinelle is at the opposite end of the hall from the History Department main office.

To reach 3335 Dwinelle from the east (Sather Gate) entrance, take the elevator or stairs in the main hall down to Level C. After exiting the elevator, turn left; if you take the stairs, turn right. 3335 Dwinelle will be to your right at the end of the hallway.

Alumni House

See section D3 on this large campus map.

Alumni House

Directions to the Berkeley campus

If traveling by BART, exit the Richmond-Fremont line at the Berkeley station (not North Berkeley). When you leave the BART station, walk east up Center Street (towards the hills) one block.

From Interstate 80

To reach the campus by car from Interstate 80, exit at the University Avenue off-ramp in Berkeley. Take University Avenue east (toward the hills) approximately two miles until you reach the campus.

From Highways 24/13

To reach the campus from Highways 24/13, exit 13 at Tunnel Road in Berkeley. Continue on Tunnel Road as it becomes Ashby. Turn right at College Avenue and drive approximately one mile north to Bancroft Way.

Directions to the campus are also available at visitors/ traveling.html


There are various public parking lots and facilities near campus and in downtown Berkeley. This list includes municipal and privately owned parking lots and garages open to the public. Please consult signs for hours and fees prior to entering the facilities.

More information is available on the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation page.