index - Global Enamels: A Symmetrical History of Material and Technological Exchanges Between France and China (mid-17th to end-18th Century) Access content directly

Our project is part of the new directions in the global history of material culture and technology.

As a successor to the Annales, the history of ordinary things was revitalized by D. Roche in France and by British and American scholars who emphasized the important role of objects as sources in material culture studies and who initiated the study of long distance circulations within and across empires. In contrast with the heroic narrative of British industrialization, these historians have questioned the Eurocentric geo-politics of development.

Inspired by K. Pomeranz and advocating a reversal of perspective, they have however pointed out the minor role played by technology in Pomeranz’s model and the restriction of technological progress to a succession of Eurocentric, nay British-centric major inventions.

They have argued that Pomeranz’s conception ignores the importance of non-European technological contributions to the so-called British industrial revolution, especially in the case of consumption goods (cotton, japanning, tea). It has also failed to explain the meanings given to technology in different regions, including Europe, beyond their strictly economic sense, something recent studies have highlighted.

Historians of technology are at last urging for a more thorough understanding of the meaning of technology in context, and for a deeper analysis of circulations, instead of “big narratives” calling upon mono-causal explanations. These approaches are innovative, and their authors propose abandoning the European perspective on the technical transition of the eighteenth century, in order to focus on the study of technical connections between Europe and Asia as a factor of economic development—in short, the “mutual influences”, thereby questioning European and Chinese identities as outcomes of the process of globalization.

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