18 September 2009
Abu-Lughod Reading pp. 102 – 247
The beginning of this week’s readings focused on the two main European ports, Genoa and Venice, and their impact on the world trade, and later segueing into the Middle Eastern part of the world system. Genoa and Venice were basically the connectors between Europe and the Far East and caused Europe to become engrossed in the pre-established world system. Venice and Genoa rose with their trade empires and were also quite competitive. As their technologies advanced, they were able to expand further and further and strengthen their position as the middlemen of the world system. In the end, Venice proved a more powerful entity than Genoa. Genoa had firm roots in the Black Sea and Egypt due to their supply of slaves. Egypt was their true root to the East but when Genoa was no longer able to supply the slaves, Venice stepped in and took Genoa’s place. This along with the Black Death’s detrimental effect on Genoa caused Venice to become superior. As the Europeans looked at the East with elaborate myths and a bit of romantic awe, the Mideast looked back on them as animals. In the Mideast, the Pax Mongolica is what made the region safe enough for travelling merchants which is one of the keys that allowed Europe to enter the world system. These routes were less dependable after the death of Genghis Khan but this ensured Europe was safe from Mongol invasion. The combination of the bubonic plague and the less safe Mideast trade routes on account of the fall of the Mongol Empire, caused a momentary pause in the world system established in the 13th and 14th centuries.
What I found particularly interesting from these readings was the religious relationship between the West and East. At this point in time, the West grew particularly devout to their Christianity and with papal commands, grew intent on spreading it East with their trade. The Crusades began during this time. Genoa jumped on the opportunity to send their men abroad in search for more people to trade with, but Venice was more hesitant on entering the Crusades. They waited until it was a sure victory which proved a smart move as they were rewarded with control of the route to the East, a more generous win than what was given to the Genoans. I found it particularly interesting that both these Mariner states went into the Crusades for their own secular purposes in trade as opposed to the papal purpose of the war as spreading Christianity to the Muslims and others to the East.
Another point that was surprising was the mythology and rumors going on between the two sections of the world. Through the Crusades, the East thought the Europeans were animals since they killed and flattened towns so ruthlessly. The West on the other hand saw the East with such awe and spoke of it with rumors of absurd deformed men in India and magical trees and other things in China. The trade between the two opened up this room for their imaginations to run wild. But I wonder why now that they had this direct contact, they didn’t have more concrete ideas to the products and people to the Far East. Their ideas were completely unrealistic and I’d imagine through word of mouth that these merchants and travelers could give a more accurate depiction of the realities.