The Blackwell History of the World was designed in the early 1990s by me and the late John Davey, then managing editor of Blackwell, which in 2007 merged with John Wiley and Sons. It is addressed to a mature, but not a specialist reader who needs a serious account and thoughtful discussion of things beyond her own special patch – not only an academic, and certainly not only an historian. It will cover the whole of human history in single-authored volumes of 200,000 – 250,000 words, each of which offers a synthetic view of either world history in a specific period or the history of a particular region over a very long period – typically, at least from the end of antiquity until the present. Nine volumes have been published, three are in press, and seven more are under contract.
The three volumes currently in press illustrate the range and quality of the series. Christopher Bayly’s Remaking the Modern World, 1900 – 2015 (just completed when he died suddenly in 2015) is the sequel to his enormously successful The Birth of the Modern World, universally hailed as an epoch in writing world history; Remaking is equally innovative and exciting. The second volume of David Christian’s Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, dealing with the period from the Mongol conquests to the present, is centred on the question why successful rulership in that vast region has invariably been despotic. It builds on and develops the conclusions of his first volume to complete a strikingly original account of the history of the region since the Stone Age, showing in doing so why it has to be understood as a whole, both chronologically and geographically. In this, like Theofilo F. Ruiz’s Western Mediterranean, it embodies an important feature of the series, that it challenges traditional boundaries of period and region. There are, of course, several major histories of the Mediterranean as a unity. Ruiz’s marvellously poetic account, based on intimate personal experience as well as distinguished scholarship, shows by contrast how the lands bordering its western half, from Sicily to Gibraltar , and on both shores, have developed a unity of their own, culturally and politically, since the end of antiquity both in tension and in synthesis, providing not only a distinctive historical vision but a passionately invoked context for the present tragedies. It will be complemented by a volume on The Eastern Mediterranean by Nicholas Doumanis. All three books embody the conviction of the series that ‘a world facing a common future of headlong and potentially catastrophic transformation needs its common history’, not only providing authoritative and compelling accounts of large stretches of human history, but speaking eloquently and directly to the preoccupations of the present historical moment.