About the Premodernist Group


The Premodernist Group (PMG) at Ohio State is a forum where specialists in pre-modern and non-western experiences come together to consider matters of common concern.  Though the PMG is based in Ohio State’s Department of History, affiliates and other participants in its activities include faculty and students from many other departments and programs at OSU, including Classics, East Asian Languages and Literatures, English, Comparative Studies, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.  We have also welcomed affiliates and participants from institutions elsewhere in the region.  The PMG was founded in fall 2011 by History professors Ying Zhang (Imperial China) and Greg Anderson (Ancient Greece), who continue to serve as its organizers.

Among the various lines of inquiry pursued by the PMG, three have been especially important to us from the start.

First and foremost, what common theoretical issues are faced by those of us who work on pre-modern and non-western pasts?  In particular, given that mainstream practice in disciplines like history and anthropology continues to depend upon models, categories, and other devices that were devised by modern social scientists, often to make sense of modern western experiences, what kind of problems arise when one uses such tools to produce accounts of non-modern worlds?  How can one make meaningful sense of past realities which were not always already divided into discrete realms of experience, like the natural and the cultural, the sacred and the secular, the public and the private, state and society?  How can one account for phenomena which defied modern categories like the political, the social, the economic, the religious, or the natural individual?  And if modern analytical devices are often confounded by non-modern experiences, what exactly are our alternatives?

Second, as a group we are interested in the process of “modernization” itself.  How and why have particular instances of modernization occurred?  What kinds of discontinuities does such a process involve and how are these shifts actually experienced by subjects?

Third, it follows that we are also interested in constitution of “the modern” as a category in its own right.  Just how historically productive and meaningful is this category?  How fundamental are the distinctions between modern and non-modern experiences?  How historically anomalous are the essential textures and fabrics of modern lifeworlds?

To date, the PMG has hosted and sponsored quite a wide variety of events and activities, often in conjunction with other groups.  These have included visiting lectures, workshop presentations, meetings to discuss important books and articles, an annual graduate student conference, and sponsorship of a dedicated History Minor program.  We very much hope that this site will help us to further the mission of the PMG, affording us a new way to publicize the activities of the group and its affiliates, to share information and ideas of common interest, and to extend our connections with the world beyond the Ohio State campus.  We warmly encourage all interested persons to contact us, to attend our events, and to contribute content to this site (e.g., blog entries).

Greg Anderson

Ying Zhang