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Benjamin W. Pedersen

The current revival of universalistic approaches in the study of the past has generated increasing scholarly interest in universal historiography. Emerging with the Greek historian Ephorus in the 4th century BC and finding its final form with the Sicilian historian Diodorus in 1st century BC, the roots of the approach are to be found in Hellenistic Greece where it constituted one of the most significant historiographical approaches and included some of the most important works on which we rely heavily for our knowledge of ancient history. The purpose of the present project is to examine the cause, nature and development of universal history as a distinct historiographical approach in the Hellenistic era. As of yet, no scholar has attempted to explain universal history as part of a wider Hellenistic phenomenon of universalism, and the project will argue that ancient universal historiography is an expression of a unique zeitgeist that represents a fundamental break with the traditional monographic historians by creating a new understanding of space, time and narrative.


Three key questions structure the study:


  1. How can Hellenistic universalism be characterized and defined by examining the ancient historians, and how is the approach distinct from other approaches in Greek historiography?
  2. What intellectual and historical conditions initiated universalism, and in what sense did a new understanding of space, time and narrative influence the writing of world histories?
  3. What is the significance of universal history in modern historiography, and why is the approach again relevant?


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