World History Texts: The Mongol Conquest in World History

It was Jerry Bentley who informed us that the term world history means different things to different people whether it is an “entire history of all the world’s people” or “a comparison of experiences across the boundary lines of societies.”[1] In the text “The Mongol Conquest in World History” Timothy May illuminates the importance of the Mongol Empire to world history, while highlighting its continued legacy that persists today.

In May’s estimation, the Mongol Empire is an essential period of world history that enables scholars to understand the events, people, places that significantly influenced political institutions, trade, migrations during the pre-Modern era. The geographic scale of the Mongol Empire is particularly compelling to world history as May informs:

“The Mongol Empire’s importance in world history is most apparent in two fashions. The first is through its immense size at its peak, making it the largest contiguous empire in history-approximately 705 million sq. km…or about roughly the size of the continent of Africa.”

May contends that in spite of its eventual political fragmentation, the interactions which culminated from the creation of the Mongol empire marks its importance to world history. Pointing out the geographic dimensions of the Mongol Empire provides a spatial clue to its past prominence.

May’s second instance of how the Mongol Empire is important to understanding world history is through “the sheer number of languages used in sources related to the study of the Mongol Empire.”[2] Here May provides the linguistic scale of the Mongol Empire that includes the Arabic, Latin, Old French, Japanese, Italian, Armenian, Georgian, Old Uighur, Tibetan, and others.”[3] Such a vast array of languages required to study the Mongol Empire does signal that during its heyday there were great opportunities for cultural contact with speakers of these linquistic groups while engaging in migration, transfers of technology, campaigns of imperial and religious expansion.[4] Considering the array of languages spoken historically there is ample opportunity to study the Mongol Empire to expose its global impact.

The Mongol Empire provides a pre-Modern global framework for understanding the strategies involved in maintaining political power, expanding commercial trade, and enacting conquest. In this way, May is not wrong for attributing to the Mongol Empire an essential element and emblem of what makes world history.


[1] Jerry H. Bentley, “The New World History,” A Companion to Western Historical Thought, 2007, 408

[2] Timothy Michael May, The Mongol conquest in world history (London: Reaktion Books, 2012)11

[3] Ibid, 11

[4] Jerry H. Bentley, “The New World History,” A Companion to Western Historical Thought, 2007, 408

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