The flourishing of late-antique studies in the last half-century has coincided with the rise of “world history” as an area of academic research. To an extent, some overlap has occurred, particularly with Sasanian Persia being considered alongside the late Roman Empire as constituting an essential component in what we think of in terms of the “shape” of late antiquity. Yet it is still the case that many approaches to late antiquity are bound up with conventional western narratives of historical progress, as defined in Jack Goody's The Theft of History (2006). Indeed, the debate about whether late antiquity was an age of dynamic transformation (as argued by Peter Brown and his disciples) or one of catastrophic disruption (as asserted, most recently, by Bryan Ward-Perkins) can be regarded as representing two different faces of an essentially evolutionary interpretation of western historical development. This article argues, however, that we can challenge such conventional narrative frameworks by taking a world historical perspective on late antiquity. It shows, first, that our interpretation of late antiquity depends on sources that themselves are representative of myriad local perspectives. Secondly, it argues that since Gibbon's time these sources have been made to serve an essentially western construct of and debate about history. The final section considers how taking a more global perspective allows us to challenge conventional approaches to and narratives of late antiquity.
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Research Article| February 01 2017
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Mark Humphries; Late Antiquity and World History: Challenging Conventional Narratives and Analyses. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 February 2017; 1 (1): 8–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2017.1.1.8
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