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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Synchronizing the World: the Making of Global Progress

Alternative title: Synchronizing the World: the Making of Global Progress

Awarded: NOK 8.7 mill.

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2014 - 2018


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In this project we target one of the most enduring myths of the Western world: the myth of progress. After a series of set-backs, and with the climate crisis looming large on the horizon, we still hold on to the idea that the world is moving forward - th at all people, all cultures, all parts of society have the same inherent time: a homogenous and regular movement toward a better future. Traditionally, this concept of time is said to emerge in the 18th century. In the first part we take a closer look at the 18th-century culture of knowledge in Western Europe, particularly at two of its most prominent genres: universal history and the encyclopedia. In works belonging to these genres there are no single homogenous progressing time. On the contrary, they c ontain a plurality of different times, unfolding both in different cultures and in different parts of one and the same culture. Do Parisian bourgeoisie and American Indians really live in the same time? Are science and religion really developing at the sa me speed? The answer in most cases must be no. In these works, however, attempts are also made to sort out this temporal mess and make all the histories move according to the same rhythm, in other words: to synchronize them. In the project we claim that modern idea of progress emerges from this work of synchronization. In the 18th century synchronization has still not gained its univocal and unambigious character; there are still room for non-synchronicities, non-synchronous rhythms and durations distributed across the globe. In the second part we will ask what happens in the 19th and 20th centuries when this Western synchronized idea of progress is taken up in the ideology of imperialism and colonization and i s exported to colonies and contact zones, where the West is confronted with other cultures, with other inherent times. In Bengali, Ottoman, and Arab culture there are experiences of time that do not fit with the Western ones. What happens when the same genres are employed, mostly by local elites, to bring Bengali, Ottoman, and Arab knowledge traditions and concepts in sync with the Western ones - when progress is made global, not just on paper, but in practice? Results from Part I of the project has been disseminated in articles in leading journals and books, on historical and theoretical topics. The probably most important finding concerns the central role of diagrams in the processes of synchronization described above. Neither the works of universal history nor the encyckliopedias can succed in their work to synchronize different times distributed across the globe without the use of diagrams, mainly of three types: so-called synchronistic tables, trees of knowledge and world maps. In this way we have discovered a synchronization technology of major importance. Part II of the project have had path-breaking results published in journals and books within mainly three areas: In Indian and especially Bengali medicine we have found that phramaceutical terminology from entirely different periods and traditions is synchronized in order to refer to the same medical substance; in Ottoman politics, Western, especially French, concepts are imported in order to synchronize Ottoman modernization processes with Western; and finally, in Arabic writing culture, the Bible emerge as the most important tool of synchronization, due to Bible translations being used to synchronize Arabic terminology with Western.

In this project we intend to follow the myth of progress back to the eighteenth century and explore how it emerged due to a series of practices that we will refer to as practices of synchronization. Furthermore, we will investigate how these practices gai ned effect and momentum in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to imperialism and colonialism and thus how cultural globalization emerged as a precondition for societal development, especially in religious and multicultural environments. The proje ct consists of two WPs: 1. Making Global Progress: In eighteenth-century Western Europe, the plurality of historical times characteristic of the emerging modernity was synchronized into the linear, homogeneous time of progress. In this project we argue t hat the main tools for performing this synchronization was two textual genres: universal history and the dictionary/encyclopedia. In works belonging to these genres, we intend to identify and investigate models of multiple temporalities unfolding simultan eously in different regions of the world but also in different fields of knowledge or social practice, as well as practices employed to synchronize them, by means of tables, narratives, cross-references etc. 2. Making Progress Global: In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the spread of imperialism, non-Western locales, such as Ottoman, Arab and Bengali cultures, witnessed transformations in their traditional genres of knowledge through contact with the European Enlightenment genres. In the pro ject we will study how the adoption of historiographical works and dictionaries/encyclopedias turned the benchmark of Western historical time into a historical necessity in colonial Bengal, the Ottoman empire and the Arab world. Through the mobility of th ese Western knowledge practices, we argue that global progress as a Western idea was made truly global, at the same time giving rise to various non-synchronicities within and between cultures and religions.

Publications from Cristin

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell