Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John E. Wills, Jr.'s "The World from 1450 to 1700"

John E. Wills, Jr. is Professor of History Emeritus, University of Southern California, and the author of Pepper, Guns, and Parleys: The Dutch East India Company and China, 1662-1681; Embassies and Illusions: Dutch and Portuguese Envoys to K'ang-hsi, 1666-1687; Mountain of Fame: Portraits in Chinese History; and 1688: A Global History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The World from 1450 to 1700, a volume in the New Oxford World History Series, and reported the following:
These are short books and try to be accessible in style. The target audience is people with little background in history, including advanced high school students and college freshmen. The last page of text in my book is 154, so 99 is over halfway through it. I try to fit in something substantial about a lot of parts of the world. It still seems like an impossible assignment. Some of the themes I chose to make a lot of are the many roles of Islam, from Senegal to eastern Indonesia; the revivals of cherished ancient ideals in Hinduism, Confucianism, Christianity, and the Italian fascination with ancient Greece and Rome; the ways more parts of the world began to interact after the voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama; the struggles to build stronger and more unified states; and the movements of people from continent to continent, including the Chinese in Southeast Asia and the African diaspora created by the slave trade.

Page 99 comes in a chapter on “Settlers and Diasporas”. At the top of the page I’m just finishing a bit on the vast Armenian diaspora around the Indian Ocean, including even an outpost in Tibet. Then I look quickly at the settlement of some French Protestant refugees near the Dutch outpost at the Cape of Good Hope, and even a bit on interaction between the European settlers and the native Khoikhoi people. And by the time I get to the bottom of the page I’m starting to discuss English settler groups in North American who had some financial backing from the home country but also were seeking a place where they could follow their own religious convictions. That’s two big changes of subject on one page, which is considerably more than the average for the book. For example, Luther and the political transformation of Japan each get five pages. I think it all works pretty well to keep the reader thinking about comparisons and connections, and above all about the variety and strangeness of our many histories.
Learn more about The World from 1450 to 1700 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue