Pembroke College, Oxford
30 September – 1 October 2013

Primary convenors:
Hilde De Weerdt (hilde.de_weerdt[at]
Franz-Julius Morche (julius.morche[at]



The research group “Communication and Empire: Chinese Empires in Comparative Perspective”
(History Department, King’s College London) invites scholars of Chinese and European
medieval and early modern history to participate in the international workshop “New
Perspectives on Comparative Medieval History: China and Europe, 800-1600”. The aim is to
discuss representations of medieval Chinese and European history in current comparative
frameworks as well as key concepts and methodologies in cross-civilisational comparative
research. The workshop will also include a session on practical aspects of collaborative
comparative projects.
Scholars are invited to address points of interest in the form of preliminary position
papers (about 5 pages). We hope that these will lead to longer essays to be presented and
discussed at a follow-up conference in April 2015. The organisers aim to submit a selection of the
final essays to a journal in global or comparative history for a thematic issue.
Attendance is by invitation only.



Panel I: Divergence
The focus on divergence in comparative studies holds the promise that greater weight can be
given in macro-historical accounts to contingency and the effects of historically and culturally
specific responses to shared problems. Have narratives of divergence delivered in this regard?
Despite its frequent use, the concept itself appears ill-defined and its methodological
implications remain unexplored. Theories of divergence place the point of divergence between
Chinese and European states at different times ranging from the third century BCE and the
eleventh century CE to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Differences of opinion on a
similar scale characterise the comparative history of Europe and West and Central Asia.
In this session we invite comparative historians to revisit historical divergence by
examining questions such as:

  • Can there be multiple divergences? Can different “divergences” be compared?
  • Does divergence require a pre-existing common ground?
  • Are theories of divergence teleological?
  • Histories of divergence have focused on economic and religious difference. When and how did a great divergence in politics take place?


Panel II: Networks
“Networks” are a ubiquitous and cross-civilisational phenomenon in medieval societies and thus
of critical significance to comparative historical research. The concept has become a
commonplace in connective global histories and has also been used in a variety of ways in
national histories. Network studies share an interest in tracking and analysing flows of goods,
ideas, and people. They privilege interaction, the formation and dissolution of relationships, and
the measurement of relationship patterns over attribute variables or socio-cultural norms in
explaining individual and group practices.
This panel is intended as a platform for presenting new findings on networks in various
geographical areas and historical periods. We are interested in particular in the formation and
dynamics of communication networks and their socio-political impact. We invite panelists to
consider the following questions:

  • What would a comparative history of elite social and political networks look like?
  • Are network and institutional histories compatible? Do network studies lead to different conclusions than institutional histories?
  • How can network studies incorporate relations of power and hierarchy?
  • How can the comparative study of communication networks contribute to political history, the history of identities and political imaginaries?


Panel III: Collaboration in Comparative History
This round-table brings together scholars with a strong record in interdisciplinary collaboration in
large-scale comparative research projects. Participants are invited to share their experiences and
to highlight approaches and methodologies that, in their view, are most promising in furthering
cross-civilisational comparative research. The discussion will be focused around the following

  • What should a comparative history of medieval societies consist of?
  • Do comparative histories favour social-scientific methods? If so, which ones?
  • How can digital technologies and virtual collaboration facilitate the discovery of, and access to, primary sources and secondary materials?
  • Comparative projects often result in the juxtaposition of thematically similar but areaspecific studies. How can comparison be facilitated? Under which circumstances can different historical contexts be compared at all?
  • What are the pros and cons of macro- versus micro-historical approaches in comparative history? How can micro-historical approaches be incorporated into large-scale comparative projects?

Recent blog posts

International Medieval Congress 2015 by mchu, July 30, 2015, 5:11 p.m.

Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Chu Mingkin and Julius Morche contributed to the panel “Historical Knowledge Networks in Global Perspective” more

MARKUS update and new tools by hweerdt, March 12, 2015, 7:38 a.m.

The MARKUS tagging and reading platform has gone through a major update. New features are more

Away day for the "State and society network" at LIAS by mchu, Dec. 5, 2014, 1:40 p.m.

Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Julius Morche and Chu Ming-kin participated in the Away Day of the “state and society more

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