In Before European Hegemony, Janet L. Abu-Lughod tries to describe the time period before Europe became the dominant world force, in order to more fully explain the reasons for the change. She believed that histographers have been wrong in the past to start from the European hegemony and work backwards in time to find the reasons for domination. Instead, she wishes to start in the thirteenth century and work forwards towards the same conclusion.
The second half of the thirteenth century, she tells readers, there was both a huge increase in economic integration and cultural achievement throughout the globe, which was not coincidental. The innovations in technology and cultural productivity created surpluses, which enhanced trade, in order to feed money back into cultural affairs.
Abu-Lughod shows that in this time period, there was no single hegemonic power. The East, Middle East and West all had similar power in trade and culture at this time. She questions whether the economic system could be called a world system at that time, and if we could consider it modern capitalism.
I found it fascinating to find that Europe was not the dominant world power in this time period; instead it actually lagged behind the East in most of its cultural and economic achievements. She tells the reader that after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was left in disorder. It was only when the East stumbled, faltering because of the Black Death, and the many divisions of power that came about after Genghis Khan, that Europe moved ahead in world dominance.
Because Europe is not assumed to have always been dominant in this text, she automatically raises the question of why that thesis has always been assumed. Is it only because Europe is powerful now, that people assume it was always been so?