Conference Overview

“Empires, Economy, and Culture Before and After 1500:
Implications for Global and Postcolonial Studies.”

September 20-23, 2012
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Supported by the UMass-Amherst Interdisciplinary Studies Institute, the Graduate School, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, the Colleges of HFA and SBS, as well as by several departments and programs in the Five College Inc. Consortium

Co-organizers: Professor Laura Doyle (English), Professor Mwangi-wa-Githinji (Economics), and Professor Joye Bowman (Chair of History)

As the WSIP launching event, in September 2012 UMass-Amherst hosted the WSIP Seminar-Conference, “Empires, Economy, and Culture before and after 1500: Implications for Global and Postcolonial Studies.” The conference was the first in what will be a series of events intended to create ongoing discussion of world studies and to promote interdisciplinary development of the field in both research and curricula at UMass-Amherst and the Five Colleges. Below are the guidelines that were posted for the conference.

For more information, see: Seminar Papers · Paper Abstracts · WSIP Scholar Profiles · Seminar and Plenary Panel Schedule · Seminar Paper and Abstract Guidelines · Target Essays

WSIP Seminar-Conference Format

The Fall 2012 WSIP conference on “Empires, Economy, and Culture before and after 1500” was structured as a think-tank event, with a blend of small-group seminar meetings and late afternoon plenary panels. The seminar and panels featured scholars of early Afro-Eurasian and American political, technological, capitalist, imperial, and cultural formations before the sixteenth century, with discussion of implications by some scholars of later periods. Several of the visiting scholars presented their work in public panels open to both students and faculty at UMass and the Five Colleges. The plenary panel on Thursday, September 20th (5-7PM) focused on “Empires and Political Economy in the Longue Durée” and the plenary panel on Friday, September 21st (4:30-6:30PM) focused on “Cultural Mediation, Sexuality, and Empires, medieval to modern.” See below for more detail about the Plenary Panels.

Invited seminar participants were asked to write 8 to 10-page papers partly in response to a set of methodological readings distributed in advance of the seminar. Readings focused on the “interactive emergence” (Wills 1993) of world systems, societies, and cultures in Afro-Eurasia over the longue durée, with emphasis on medieval and early-modern formations or empires that shape later periods. Participant papers offered brief “case studies” from the scholar’s own region and discipline in order to address one or more of the main methodological or historical claims made in the target essays; or they offered complementary or alternative models to characterize the dynamics of such historical formations. Key themes and methodological questions emerged from these papers, and seminar sessions were organized around those topics. WSIP organizers plan to disseminate these discussions in special journal issues and ultimately to publish a collection of essays based on the seminar papers. We expect the conference-seminar and publications to lay the ground for an ongoing set of world studies discussions, in person and in print.

WSIP Plenary Panels, September 20 and 21, 2012

“Empires and Political Economy in the Longue Durée”


  • Professor Frederick Cooper, “Empires Old and New”
  • Professor Christopher Chase-Dunn, “The Comparative Evolutionary World-systems Perspective”
  • Professor Maya Shatzmiller, “Islam and the ‘Great Divergence’: Was Marīnid Morocco a precursor of the Atlantic Empires?”

“Empires, Sexuality, and Cultural Mediation, medieval to modern”


  • Professor Sahar Amer, “Naming a Taboo, Recognizing an Identity: The Challenge of Homosexuality in the Arab World Today”
  • Professor Luís Madureira, “From the Edge of the World to the World’s Metropolis: Portugal’s Expansion into Asia”
  • Professor Lydia Liu, “Fakes, Copies, and Counterfeits: Translating the Ethnographic Other in the 18th Century”