Nile GreenJul 8, 2023
How Asia Found Herself
A Story of Intercultural Understanding
Yale University Press 2023
The nineteenth century saw European empires build vast transport networks to maximize their profits from trade, and it saw Christian missionaries spread printing across Asia to bring Bibles to the colonized. The unintended consequence was an Asian communications revolution: the maritime public sphere expanded from Istanbul to Yokohama. From all corners of the Asian continent, curious individuals confronted the challenges of studying each other’s cultures by using the infrastructure of empire for their own exploratory ends. Whether in Japanese or Persian, Bengali or Arabic, or Chinese or Urdu, they wrote travelogues, histories, and phrasebooks to chart the vastly different regions that European geographers labeled “Asia.”
How did people from different parts of Asia encounter and come to understand and interpret each other’s cultures in the modern period? What did they make of the languages, histories, literary cultures, religious traditions, and broader societies of the countries and regions that they encountered? Nile Green’s How Asia Found Herself: A Story of Intercultural Understanding (Yale University Press, 2023) attempts to answer these questions through analyzing a wide range of primary sources in different languages from across Asia and paying attention to the often-forgotten individuals who became the interpreters within their own countries for the distant cultures and societies that they encountered.
Yet comprehension does not always keep pace with connection. Far from flowing smoothly, inter-Asian understanding faced obstacles of many kinds, especially on a landmass with so many scripts and languages. Here is the dramatic story of cross-cultural knowledge on the world’s largest continent, exposing the roots of enduring fractures in Asian unity.
How Asia Found Herself is the 2023 winner of the Bentley Book Prize for best book in world history from the World History Association.
Nile Green is Professor and Ibn Khaldun Endowed Chair in World History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is a historian of the multiple globalizations of Islam and Muslims, and the author of multiple books and articles. His research truly spans the world and having begun his research as a historian of India and Pakistan, he has subsequently traced multiple Muslim networks across the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, Africa, Japan, and even Europe and North America.
Shatrunjay Mall is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He works on transnational Asian history, and his dissertation explores intellectual, political, and cultural intersections and affinities that emerged between Indian anti-colonialism and imperial Japan in the twentieth century.