A Global History of Power, 1300-1800
Cambridge University Press 2015
For most of recorded history, single rulers such a kings, queens, chiefs, and emperors exercised authority over human populations. Jeroen Duindam (Professor of Early Modern History, Leiden University) examines an important part of this story in his new book Dynasties: A Global History of Power, 1300-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2015). He employs an easy-to-follow, four-level comparative framework that explains how dynastic power evolved in kingdoms as diverse as the Qing Empire, Mughal Empire, France, and Dahomey in Africa. The use of this framework allows Duindam to move beyond the pitfalls of many comparative works. With careful attention to detail, he recounts how “divergent practices” of dynastic rule “can be seen as part of the same pattern,” as well as how “striking similarities hide profound differences (14).” This approach allows him to illustrate the tendency of scholars to overstate the differences between “Eastern” and “Western” dynasties; it also puts him in a strong position to make astute observations about the role women played in the functioning of dynastic power. Just as important, Duindam’s analysis of dynastic power raises important questions about how modern governments maintain their authority and how the “masses” view the exercise of power over them. Whatever one thinks of Duindam’s specific arguments, he has authored a well-crafted, thought-provoking work that should be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about global history and the exercise of power.