The Circulation of Silver and Print:
Some reflections on Early Modern Armenian History
In recent decades, historians such as Jerry Bentley, John F. Richards, Joseph Fletcher, Victor Lieberman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam have used the term “early modern” to describe a distinct phase in world history that covers the period roughly from 1500-1800. These scholars have argued that during the early modern period human societies across the globe “shared in and were affected by several worldwide processes of change unprecedented in their scope and intensity.” Among the world historical developments that came to coalesce during this period these historians have singled out 1) the creation of global sea passages; 2) the rise of a global economy, much of it based on maritime mercantile networks; 3) the proliferation across Eurasia of consolidated, centralized, and stable states; 4) the growth of population; 5) the spread of new technologies such as gunpowder and printing; 6) the development of a distinct genre of early modern travel literature; and 7) the “quickening of pace” in the circulation of men and things (including silver, spices, pathogens and diseases but also cultural commodities such as books, letters, etc., and mental constructs) across wide geographical divides, with men and information traveling faster and farther than at any time before in history. The early modern world, in short, witnessed the rise of a more integrated and “connected” world, where regions, peoples, and cultures heretofore largely separated from each other through space and time found themselves to be increasingly linked and integrated through global networks of circulation.
Armenian historiography has largely ignored these discussions in World History and even the vital issue of periodization in history has not attracted much attention. The purpose of this panel is to explore Armenian history between the crucial time period of 1500-1800 as an integral part of a larger early modern world. The panel will interrogate the usefulness of this periodization scheme for Armenian history. Does Armenian history share in the traits usually associated with early modernity or should it continue to be examined as “autonomous history” with its own inner logic?
The papers on this panel will explore Armenian early modernity by focusing on networks or circulation that connected Armenian urban centers across Eurasia. The panel will focus on two objects of circulation, silver and print, whose movement across the early modern transregional networks linking the world of the Mediterranean and northwest Europe to that of the Indian Ocean appear to have integrated Armenians living in scattered urban centers from Amsterdam and Venice (leading centers of Armenian printing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) to Constantinople, Madras, and Calcutta (important centers of Armenian book consumption). By exploring the eastward circulation of knowledge in the form of printed books and the counter circulation of patronage in the form of silver currency, the panel seeks to shed new light on early modern Armenian history and in doing so to integrate the latter within the burgeoning field of early modern world history.