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The articles in this section are based on a Social Science History Association roundtable organized in 2008 in response to Donna R. Gabaccia's presidential call “It's about Time: Temporality and Interdisciplinary Research” (see Gabaccia 2008; see also Gabaccia 2010). Her emphasis on questions of periodization resonated with concerns with which we had grappled for a decade. The questions that the roundtable and these articles address initially emerged from our experiences as teachers of a course on world history with a temporal frame of a few centuries (1450 to the present). But the course that really forced us to confront the challenges of periodization is one we introduced in the fall of 2009 on “the family from 10,000 BCE to the present.” In trying to connect research from around the globe on the domestic group as a site of world history to narratives that begin with human origins, we were struck by the inappropriate presumptions embedded in most conventional periodizations. Our inherited vocabulary of terms to describe eras, ranging from “the Neolithic revolution” to “early modern,” implicitly place all regions of the globe on a yardstick measured against European temporalities and based on activities typically gendered male.
For historians, questions about what to call particular eras and how to conceptualize the temporal dynamics of change become particularly acute as we take on revisionist projects, such as writing and teaching feminist history, examining chronologically “deep” history, or placing history in a material as well as a social environment and in a global perspective. Temporal frameworks influence historical research even when it is located within a very limited time frame; temporalities and periodizations operate more explicitly in the teaching of survey courses. The particular periodization problems we focus on here emerged from teaching premodern world history with a focus on family and household dynamics. In trying to connect research on the domestic group as a site of world history with a historical narrative that begins with the emergence of human society and draws on evidence from around the globe, we were struck again and again by the problematic perspectives embedded in conventional periodizations. New directions in archaeological scholarship offer global historians insights and approaches with which to inform their temporal frameworks.