Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 by Janet L. Abu-Lughod
9/9 – 9/11 Readings pp. 4-101
In this text, Abu-Lughod attempts to explain the complex world system of the thirteenth century and examine how it came to be the way it was as well as what it became. She analyzes the international connections between the East and West in a variety of ways including trade, art, knowledge, and technology. During the time frame in which Abu-Lughod presented, the international trade economy first developed, connected Northwest Europe to China which foreshadowed the future of modern capitalism. Europe was the newest addition to this world system since many other Eastern powers already established world economies. This new shift led to a great international growth in some European cities. Europe had a very similar world economy to the China and the East Orient, and where they contrast, Europe was inferior to the East. At the beginning of the 13th century, Europe was behind the East in a number of ways but by the 16th century, Europe pulled ahead. As international trade in this world system developed, land and sea routes developed that merchants traveled to transport goods and markets increased. But by the end of this era, the city market declined since the trade system outgrew them, political turmoil disintegrated them, and new improvements in transportation made them unnecessary stops.
One point that this book has caused me to reflect on was this Eurocentric view of history as well as the modern world. Throughout this history, I’ve certainly learned everything with Eurocentricity and only studied the Far East and North Africa as marginal areas or if they interacted directly with Europe. Another point was the fact that all nations have a tendency to study history and the world as if they were the center and that certainly rings true for us in America. In this situation, it was particularly interesting because Abu-Lughod didn’t take this typical Eurocentric approach and now I’ve stepped back and looked at my knowledge to this point of the matter, and am really shocked. In classes, I’ve always been taught about Europe and its prestige. At this point all that mattered was that Europe was in the Dark Age and would soon emerge with the Italian Renaissance. This was all that seemed to matter, when in fact the East was thriving and advancing. Perhaps here and there as periphery information, I’d learn Europeans picked up a certain technology from Muslims, but it was very rare and completely marginal. I’m just really surprised that there was so much world development during this time and the foundations of the modern Old World were laid during this period when high school courses didn’t even touch on this fact.
This discovery led me to wonder one thing. If a completely unbiased person, like maybe an alien, were to analyze this entire world system, what would he consider to be the center?