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Cultures in Motion

Cultures in Motion: Mapping Key Contacts and Their Imprints in World History

Peter N. Stearns
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Cultures in Motion
    Book Description:

    When different cultures come in contact with one another, the impact on the course of history can be dramatic and unexpected. Encounters between separate societies or civilizations have resulted in the spread of major religions, vast migrations, scientific breakthroughs, the dissemination of powerful political notions, and many other transformations. This unique book brings to life key episodes of cultural contact in world history, from the beginnings of civilization to the present. Through a combination of vivid case studies and imaginative color maps, award-winning history professor Peter Stearns shows how we can better understand world history by examining what happens when culture meets culture.One culture's new contact with another can lead to assimilation, rejection, or--most often--a merging of elements from both cultures. Stearns focuses on fourteen important historical examples of intercultural exchange from around the globe. He considers:• the spread of major religions, such as Buddhism and Islam• voluntary and forced migrations, such as the Jewish and African diasporas• the dissemination of modern forces, including nationalism and Marxism• the impact of European colonial rule on gender relations in India and in Africa• recent international diffusion of consumer culture• and much moreFor each example, original maps reveal geographic patterns and provide a clear sense of the impact of that particular meeting of cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12828-4
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-1)
  4. Introduction (pp. 2-5)

    This is a book about contacts between cultures as a theme in world history since the beginning of civilization. Examples of these cultural contacts, and their resulting influences and impacts, are abundantly familiar in our own age. Christian evangelical missionaries from Western Europe, and even more often the United States, bring their message to Russia, whose government in 1997 tried to limit their operations. Missionary efforts have also generated one of the most important cultural changes in Latin America in recent decades: the spread of Protestant fundamentalism. The export of McDonald’s restaurants to Europe, Asia, and Russia challenges traditional food...

  5. Part I. Early Cultural Contacts Through the Classical Period
    • 1. Egypt and the Middle East: The Contact with Early Greece (pp. 8-13)

      The great river-valley civilizations of the Middle East and Egypt unquestionably spread cultural influences beyond their normal borders. Egyptians, for example, interacted with sub-Saharan African people along the Upper Nile, helping to form the Kush civilization and then its successors. There have been claims that the range of Egyptian and Middle Eastern influence extended to the Iberian Peninsula, southern Russia, and India, but there is little evidence for such claims, beyond occasional trade routes for artifacts and crafts. Greece and the Aegean islands form a different story. Here, contacts began early and were undeniably extensive. Greeks looked to the Middle...

    • 2. The Hellenistic-Indian Encounter (pp. 14-19)

      Toward the end of the fourth century BCE, armies from Macedonia, the kingdom north of Greece, swept through Greece and into the surrounding territories. They took advantage of division and decline in Greece but also recruited Greek officials and assimilated Greek culture; the great Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle. Alexander pushed conquests farther into Egypt (where Alexandria, a center of Greek learning, was founded) and through the Middle East, where he destroyed the Persian empire. Alexander, hoping to solidify his rule, encouraged a merger between Greek and Middle Eastern cultures. The result of the...

    • 3. Buddhism and New Cultural Contacts in Asia (pp. 20-27)

      Buddhism, arising in the special religious context of classical India, generated some of the most striking cultural contacts in world history. Buddhism’s dissemination began in the classical period but accelerated during the early centuries of the postclassical period, when its full geographical range was achieved. Becoming one of the three main world religions—and the one with the earliest origins—Buddhism shared features with Christianity and Islam, including devoted missionary activity and the prestige of accompanying political, commercial, and cultural features. Like its two counterparts, Buddhism clearly could straddle preexisting cultural boundaries, creating new contacts and exchanges in the process....

    • 4. The Jewish Diaspora (pp. 28-35)

      The extensive migrations of Jews from their early base in what is now Israel form a distinctive chapter in the history of cultural contact. Millions of Jews have migrated over more than two thousand years, fanning out in the Middle East and North Africa, to a lesser degree in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, extensively in many parts of Europe, and more recently in North America and other areas of European colonization. As they migrated, Jews often interacted with local cultures, providing new cultural elements and accepting new ones in turn—including language. But large numbers of Jews managed to preserve...

    • 5. The Spread of Christianity (pp. 36-43)

      Like the Jewish diaspora, the spread of Christianity began in the classical period and has continued into recent times. This chapter deals with Christianity’s spread in Afro-Eurasia, particularly in the classical and postclassical periods but with renewed development in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Like Buddhism, and later Islam, Christianity developed into one of the great world religions, capable of transcending a host of geographical and cultural boundaries because of the power of its appeal. Like the other world religions, however, Christianity’s spread led to a number of compromises with local belief systems, in various patterns of syncretism that...

  6. Part II. Postclassical and Early Modern Periods, 450–1750 CE
    • 6. The Spread of Islam (pp. 46-55)

      One of the great cultural contact experiences in world history involved the spread of Islam, from its initial base in the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East to a host of areas in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Islam appealed to people in a variety of societies and cultures, bringing important changes as a result of contact while often in some respects merging with the established local belief systems.

      Muslims compelled new cultural contacts from about 700 CE onward as a result of conquests, far-reaching trade, and, increasingly, missionary activity. The geographical dimensions of the Muslim world were pretty well established...

    • 7. Christianity and the Americas (pp. 56-61)

      Europe’s regular connection with the Americas, from 1492 CE onward, brought important cultural contacts. Christianity was one of the main European imports to the Americas (which at the time of first contact supported more than a thousand distinct societies), along with new animals, new diseases, and new rulers. Missionary activity was intense. Interest among many previously polytheist native American groups ran high, though Europeans used a mixture of persuasion and force to drive their religion home. Many syncretic combinations developed, even in this unequal interchange. The spread of Christianity also involved Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere as slaves (see...

    • 8. The Spread of Science (pp. 62-65)

      Western Europe’s scientific revolution of the seventeenth century had immediate, dramatic implications for Western culture and, in the long run, for cultures around the world. Scientific discoveries about the circulation of the blood or the laws of gravity and planetary motion did more than provide specific new knowledge about the workings of nature. They also generated formal methods by combining generalization, often using advanced mathematics, and empirical inquiry that could advance knowledge still further. And they elevated the position of science and scientific thinking in culture more generally, gradually reducing previous reliance on religious faith.

      To be sure, the term...

    • 9. The African Diaspora (pp. 66-73)

      The European discovery of the New World during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had profound effects. One of these was the large influx of enslaved African men and women into the European colonies in the Caribbean, South America, and North America. Although the spread of the African populations into the New World is not the only chapter of the African diaspora, it certainly is the most important one. From the time of the ancient Egyptian civilizations, Africans spread into many corners of the world, sometimes as soldiers but mostly as slaves. African culture also spread with the African people, influencing...

  7. Part III. The Modern Centuries
    • 10. The Spread of Nationalism (pp. 76-83)

      The worldwide spread of nationalism from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century resulted from two kinds of cultural contact. One was hostile: as Western influence and imperialism spread, many peoples sought movements that would maintain or reassert their independence and cultural integrity. Nationalism, couched in terms of liberation from the West, proved ideal here. But nationalism also spread from the West, where it had begun. Many areas adopted nationalism because of its success in organizing European states and because it spoke a language that Europeans might respect and understand. Nationalism, in other words, resulted from new cultural...

    • 11. Imperialist Ideas About Women (pp. 84-91)

      Gender relations often reveal some of the most intense beliefs of a society because they reach so deeply into private lives, personal identities, and power arrangements. At the same time, substantial contacts between societies often bring some awareness of different gender standards. The result may lead a society—at least a society open to influence—to modify prior traditions, or it may call forth resistance to possible change as gender becomes one of the areas defended as integral to the preservation of cultural integrity.

      Prior episodes of cultural contact often had implications for gender issues. Japanese imitation of China, in...

    • 12. The Development of International Art (pp. 92-97)

      Cultural contacts in the modern period often featured Western influences on other societies, but international exchange moved in other directions as well. Growing trade and imperialism brought increased awareness of societies in Asia and Africa to the West. European imperialists were often dismissive of these societies, proclaiming their great backwardness. But artists often had a different appreciation, and the new contacts had significant influence on Western art.

      Fruitful exchanges of artistic styles have been common in world history; we have seen the impact of Buddhism on Chinese art, and of Greece on Indian art. In this sense, the modern exchange...

    • 13. The Spread of Marxism (pp. 98-107)

      Marxism is a political and economic philosophy that developed in Western Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. Karl Marx himself, a German who spent most of his adult life in England, along with many followers, worked to use Marxism’s complex yet appealing theories to generate a mass movement. By persuasion, example, and force—a familiar combination in the spread of cultural systems—Marxism did win massive numbers of followers in many parts of the world, from the 1860s into the later twentieth century. Marxism’s diffusion resembles that of many world religions in providing intense beliefs that could capture...

    • 14. International Consumer Culture (pp. 108-112)

      The spread of consumer products and related values was one of the key developments in twentieth-century world history. I focus here on three specific disseminations: the spread of British sports in the later nineteenth century, supplementing or displacing traditional games in many parts of the world; the development of Hollywood as an international entertainment center; and the recent global success of American-based fast-food chains, supplementing and challenging traditional eating habits in many areas.

      A shared popular culture, based on common attraction to consumer products and entertainments, including sports, had several components. European and American influence spread through imperialism—the Japanese...

  8. Bibliography (pp. 113-116)
  9. Index (pp. 117-120)