Friday, September 18, 2009

Before European Hegemony - Blog 2

Janet Abu-Lughod continues to track shifts in power through the analyzation of trade patterns. In particular, she focuses on Genoa and Venice. Venice was much more centralized with a system closer to state capitalism. Genoa, on the other hand, had mostly individual citizens contribute in direct investment. Both cities used public debt to fund investment on nearly all state-related products and services. In return for their investment, citizens earned shares of stock. It can then follow that this was an extremely early indication of modern capitalism. Genoa and Venice tried to vastly expand their areas of trade, which eventually led to the creation of what could be termed a world system. However, Genoa and Venice heatedly competed for trade, which greatly increased the protection rates. The Bubonic Plague also infected both cities and killed many people, including merchants. This, along with an increase in political factionalism, led to their decline. Abu-Lughod then goes on to describe three different routes that went to the East: the Northern Route, the Middle Route, and the Southern Route. Before the trade between the West and East was relatively common, Europeans were extremely ignorant of the Mongols. Papal missionaries paved the way for Venetian and Genoese traders who were finally able to dispel some myths surrounding the Mongols. It also helped that the Mongols united a large area of land which provided a venue for safer trade routes and invited merchants. However, that peace could not last forever. Each of the routes eventually became a victim of the wars between the Christian Crusaders and the Mongols.

It was especially intriguing to me to hear about how the East and the West thought so strangely of each other, but still in the same vein of thought. For example, Roman citizens thought India was a source not only of spices but also of “men with a dog’s head…or a single foot…or with heels in front” (Abu-Lughod 160). I know people are generally afraid of what they do not know, but it still seems odd that they would assume that other people were so different from themselves. It seems even stranger that the East was equally as disillusioned about Europe. Perhaps early explorers and merchants created such stories not only to gain attention but also as a way of frightening others from usurping their discoveries and routes. Therefore they were creating a novelty that was meant to be feared and admired but not traversed.

I wish Abu-Lughod had expanded on the mail system of the time. She merely mentioned that two letters were sent in 1305. I am curious to know if the route the letters followed was the same as the route other goods followed. Did merchants act as mailmen at that time? Would it not then have taken possibly years for letters to arrive at their destination? It seems to me that there must have been a more efficient system in place that allowed mail to travel faster. In which case, were there prescribed routes that the supposed mail deliverers followed? If so, I would assume that they crossed the plains of central Asia on horses because Abu-Lughod’s description of that area seems the most conducive to such quick, light traveling. However, I wish she had provided a more concrete example of what the mail system was like around the fourteenth century.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciated your mentioning of the mail system, I too found that an interesting subject area. Abu-Lughod only touched on the subject, I wish she had elaborated more; it may have made the chapters slightly more interesting.
    All in all, your thoughts on the mail system are deep and I share the same questions. I do believe mail was sent with merchants, or maybe mail men travelled with merchants. I assume that they would have had to travel the existing trade routes because they were by far the most secure routes at the time, maybe the trade routes came into existence because they were first travelled by mail carriers?.