Saturday, September 12, 2009

Before European Hegemony

The book, Before European Hegemony, written by Janet L. Abu-Lugbod, deals with the formation of the world system which evolved in the mid-thirteenth century. The book presents the formation of the world system, where many different areas, though not all, began to come together for the first time as a recognizable trading system. First the material explored how and why the different areas were able to form and develop into their own distinguishable regions. It also explored some reasons why the world system of the thirteenth century ultimately failed and drastically changed, displacing China from the top of the system to the bottom, being replaced by European powers. Disease, along with differences in population, culture, and geography were aspects that led to Asia’s temporary supremacy and Europe’s eventual dominance over the Middle East. Other than those differences, the different regions had common elements as well; small populations in rural lands, underdeveloped transportation, little technology, and markets where vital goods were exchanged, were common amongst the different villages region to region. It was at this point in time when our modern system of the market (i.e. advanced economy, credit, currency, and risk) was beginning to take root. Abu-Lugbod’s exploration of the geography, dominant religions, politics, and demographics of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East explained the development of the world system in the thirteenth century.
The name, “The World System”, to me is one of the most intriguing and debatable issues within this week’s reading. In class the question, “Was the Pax Mongolican system truly a worldwide system?” was briefly discussed. I would like to take that question one step further and explore some related ideas. I do believe this system should be considered a worldwide system, yet at the same time, I question myself – how so, if only 2 continents and a small region of a 3rd continent were included in this system? Please feel free to commentate: The Pax Mongolica system was, in fact, a world system. Of the populated territories in the world at the time, those who wanted to trade did begin to trade their goods in the system. Africa and modern-day Russia, were populated regions, yet they did not partake in trade with other regions. They were self-sufficient societies and were content that way. These areas could have easily been included in the intricate, developing trade routes in Europe and Asia, had they wanted more, yet the superficial goods being traded did not contribute to their culture in any desirable way. Another obvious fact in the trade system was the lack of trade routes going to the Western Hemisphere. This is because at the time, there wasn’t even a thought of a western hemisphere existing. Had the Western Hemisphere been known to exist, trade would have been possible between the continents – for boats were used to get across seas between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Technological adjustments to get across the Atlantic would have been necessary, yet possible at the time. Although different regions had an almost-isolationist platform (being able to survive on their own sources) it would have been possible for them to partake in the trade system. Additionally, the ability to have traded across seas although time-consuming was doable, thus, justifying the name, “The World System.”
I understand that the black death took a toll on so many lives that it even affected areas/regions that could have potentially risen to hegemony before their population decreased. But I am not fully aware of any of the other effects the black death had on trade, routes, or demand for specific goods (i.e. medicinal herbs?), or any other areas related. Did I overlook a section in the reading?

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