Multi-State Systems

23 May 2002 / University of Massachusetts at Amherst

This relatively brief occasion was the first WSWG Conference to have a single thematic focus.


The conference seeks preliminary answers to two questions: (1) Is there a recurring historical topos, consisting of a system of states in mutual contact, more or less unified by culture but politically separate; entities that are more than different parts of the same country, but for which the term "international" overreaches? And can that topos be defined by extracting its recurring features from various particular instances? (2) If the topos can be defined, of what use is it to scholars investigating particular instances? Have Warring States Chinese historians anything to learn from Maya archaeologists, or should all continue to work in their own corners, as (obedient to academic career pressures) they have always done?

We will test the first question by considering six possible instances of multi-state systems, at various size levels and with various cultural backgrounds and previous historical experiences. We will tentatively assess the second question by a brief final discussion, and by a sense of the value of this conference to its participants. It is tentatively planned to hold a follow-up conference in October 2002, to explore in greater depth some aspects of the multi-state topos identified at the May conference as inviting further examination (diplomatic and military relations have already been identified in prediscussion), and to explore some of the advantages and difficulties of defining and using the general topos in practice. Intermittent instances (such as the brief Sengoku Japan interlude) will be considered along with some other new situations. The familiar difficulties of adequately describing any economic or military situation in the ancient world will be duly noted. At the modern end, the concept of "national unity" may wind up being challenged. What is the module of unity; the range over which people standardly perceive themselves as "one" (and not "other")? Acculturation will obviously make a difference. With due allowance for such factors, the standard unit may well prove to be larger than the neighborhood, but smaller than the typical modern nation-state. It is possible that we may still perceive those old "natural" groupings, persisting beneath, and sometimes troubling, the modern nation-states that have overlaid them.


Summaries and extracts from the background reading are posted at this site; click on a highlighted word or name below. Prediscussion and postdiscussion are on the CGC (Comparative History) E-List.

Wednesday, 22 May 2002

Duyvendak Memorial Banquet

Thursday 23 May 2002

Informal Introductions and Opening Remarks
Prolegomena; The F-Word (at Comparative History)

Warring States China
Epitome, Map 1; Map 2 [Warlords]

The 15c Italian States
Map 1; Map 2; Griffiths (in Griffeth/Thomas); Ilardi, Toynbee

Coffee Break

Samguk (Three Kingdoms) Korea
Map 1; Map 2; Map 3.

China, Italy, and Korea


The Classical Greek States
Map 1; Map 2 [Dialects], Small (in Charlton/Nichols); Thomas (in Griffeth/Thomas); Finley; Sealey

Pre-Mauryan India
Map 1

Coffee Break

The Classical Maya States
Map 1; Webster, Pyburn, and Charlton/Nichols (in Charlton/Nichols); Webster 2002 (predistributed)

Greece, India, Maya

Is There a Theory In Here Anywhere?
Background Reading: Strayer (in Coulborn); Introduction (in Griffeth/Thomas)

End of Conference

Roster (20)
Attending in Person / Participating in Absentia

Jon Best (Wesleyan)
A Taeko Brooks
(Warring States Project)
E Bruce Brooks (Warring States Project)
Mark Byington (Harvard)
Janna Carpenter (UMass)
Alvin P Cohen
Constance A Cook (Lehigh)
Patrick Draine
(Warring States Project)
Steve Farmer
Victoria Hui (Stanford)
Andrew Huxley (SOAS)
Gary Reger (Trinity)
Paul Ropp
Richard Salomon (University of Washington)
David Small (Lehigh)
Carol Thomas (University of Washington)
Katherine Thornton (Intern, Warring States Project)
Karen Turner (Holy Cross)
David Webster (Penn State)
Michael Witzel (Harvard)


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14 May 2002 / Contact The Project / Conferences Page