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By expanding the geographical scope of the history of violence and war, this volume challenges both Western and state-centric narratives of the decline of violence and its relationship to modernity. It highlights instead similarities across early modernity in terms of representations, legitimations, applications of, and motivations for violence. It seeks to integrate methodologies of the study of violence into the history of war, thereby extending the historical significance of both fields of research. Thirteen case studies outline the myriad ways in which large-scale violence was understood and used by states and non-state actors throughout the early modern period across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Atlantic, and Europe, demonstrating that it was far more complex than would be suggested by simple narratives of conquest and resistance. Moreover, key features of imperial violence apply equally to large-scale violence within societies. As the authors argue, violence was a continuum, ranging from small-scale, local actions to full-blown war. The latter was privileged legally and increasingly associated with states during early modernity, but its legitimacy was frequently contested and many of its violent forms, such as raiding and destruction of buildings and crops, could be found in activities not officially classed as war.

Open Access (free)
Violence and the early modern world
Erica Charters
Marie Houllemare
, and
Peter H. Wilson

This co-authored introduction analyses how violence was described, defined, and measured across the early modern world, eschewing Western categories and narratives and applying a global approach in their stead. By focusing on large-scale violence, it highlights the fundamental relationship between violence and growing interconnectedness across the early modern world. It endorses the broader view that violence includes both physical actions and coercive threats of physical action, and that it should be understood as a transgression that is socially defined. Early modernity is defined as the period between the mid fifteenth and early nineteenth centuries, while recognizing that any attempt to delineate epochs faces the difficulty of imposing a single framework on something as complex as the history of the world. Global history is used as a methodology to analyse large-scale violence more precisely by providing detailed case studies of violence in a range of local contexts, and to articulate the significance of violence in narratives of state and empire-building, as well as in narratives of decline and fall. Finally, the volume’s thematic structure is outlined, and comparisons and contrasts are drawn between the thirteen case studies.

in A global history of early modern violence