Peter Gran's "The Rise of the Rich" escapes Eurocentric narratives of history
Mohammed Saad, Thursday 30 Nov 2017
Peter Gran is among a wave of historians who challenged traditional narratives about Egypt during the Ottoman era, positing an inclusive global history in place of Eurocentrism

American scholar Peter Gran launched in Cairo the Arabic translation of his 2009 book, "The Rise of the Rich: A New View of Modern World History." The work is an effort by the historian to establish a new narrative to read and interpret global history in a way that escapes pervasive Eurocentrism. It continues the historian's efforts to re-imagine global history that began with his seminal work, "The Islamic Roots of Capitalism."

The Arabic translation's title is slightly altered to be "The Rise of the Powerful," rather than "the rich," and was translated by Sahar Tewfik. It is released by Egypt's National Centre for Translation. The book attempts to form a new inclusive paradigm to read history, away from Eurocentric narratives that focus on the history of the West. Gran believes that reading the history of other nations through a primarily Western paradigm marginalises the people of non-Western nations, even deeming them "people without history in some cases," in Gran's words.

Peter Gran is among a wave of historians who challenged historical narratives about Egypt during the 16thto 18thcenturies, especially during the Ottoman era. He seeks to establish a paradigm based on "the rise of the rich," instead of writing "the rise of the West," as an approach to the history of powerful events that shaped history across geographies.

Gran, who worked and lived in Egypt for between 1968 and 1973, discussed the outline of his book with an engaged and receptive audience in Cairo.

"The book focuses on the very question, who has power in the world? And how can we understand power in the world geographically?" Gran said.

"The rich" is the new paradigm that Gran uses to widen his approach and narrative from that of "the West." He uses this paradigm to overcome the difficulties that scholars and historians often confront when interpreting the modern and contemporary world through a Western paradigm.

The writer of "Beyond Eurocentrism" argues that "the rise of the West" paradigm has reached its end point and is no longer able to assimilate new knowledge.

"The rise of the West creates a rising West and a stagnant Orient and a people without history serving to marginalise most people in the world," he says.

The rich aren't a class in the classic sense, but an alliance of ruling elites in the West and East that has formed in the past three or four centuries at the expense of their people, as Gran explains, arguing that his book is an agenda book, as it provides tools to readers and researchers to think differently and offers a new method to writing the history of the modern world.

"Some 70 to 80 percent of the people live in the Third World, and the paradigm of the rise of the West leaves them without history and they need a new narrative to be integrated in history, a narrative also that tracks the power of wealthy elites across geography and explores the disempowered population in the West and East. My book introduces a new idea, which is that the brutal alliance between the Western and Eastern powerful and wealthy elites oppresses people on both sides. There are a lot of people in the West whom are not wealthy or powerful and those are not represented in the paradigm of the rise of the West," he explained.

Professor Ahmed El-Sherbiny said the new paradigm offered in this book allows the historian to analyse history in a more objective way and integrates the powerful elites of the East in the history of production, through their alliance with ruling elites in the West.

Sherbiny argued that the book comes from the author's realisation of a crisis in historical writing.

"He cited many historical events and eventually he applied his own method to the history of the contemporary United States, and introduced many technical terms and theoretical notions for the researcher to use; that in addition to the criticism he offered in the first half of the book of the paradigm of the rise of the West, And he used many Egyptian examples, like Mohammed Ali Pasha," Sherbiny added.