Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

In the Footsteps of Elias of Babylon

A Global Microhistory of the Seventeenth Century

Prof. Dr. John-Paul Ghobrial

I will use the Fellowship at Konstanz to complete a book about Elias of Babylon, an Eastern Christian who travelled from Mosul to Peru in the seventeenth century. An ancestor of today’s dwindling community of Iraqi Christians, Elias wrote the first Arabic eyewitness account of America. Rooted in the close study of a paper trail stretching from Baghdad to Lima, this book will be the first complete study of Elias’s journey, writings, and the world he left behind.

From Lebanese immigrants in Argentina to Iraqi refugees in Sweden, Eastern Christians can be found today scattered across the entire world. Too often, however, this global migration has been seen purely as a modern development, one arising from contemporary political and confessional events in the Middle East, while in fact this phenomenon had its roots in the early modern period. From the sixteenth century onwards, Christians in the Ottoman Empire set out for distant and foreign lands, travelling as far as Europe, India, Russia, and even the Americas.

I will use the Fellowship at Konstanz to complete a book about one such individual, Elias of Babylon, who travelled from Mosul to Peru in the seventeenth century. An ancestor of today’s dwindling community of Iraqi Christians, Elias wrote the first Arabic eyewitness account of America. Rooted in the close study of a paper trail stretching from Baghdad to Lima, this book will be the first complete study of Elias’s journey and writings, as well as the wider world of Eastern Christianity from which he emerged. The book will also use Elias’s life to excavate the global connections that linked the early modern world. In doing so, this research seeks to respond directly to one of the most pressing conceptual and methodological challenges facing global history today, that is, how to link the study of the micro-scale level of everyday life to the macro-narratives cherished by global historians.