Friday, September 18, 2009

BEH 2: Trade Routes

The fourth and fifth chapters of Janet L. Abu-Lughod’s book are about Genoa, Venice and the Mongols. The forth chapter about the merchant powers of Genoa and Venice is important because they played vital roles in bringing Europe into the previously existing trade system. Abu-Lughod tells the history and origins of both Genoa and Venice. While both rose to be naval powers during the Crusades, Genoa was more active earlier on, while Venice held back. The two cities battled for control of the sea, and thus contact to the Middle East and trade networks. Both Genoa and Venice were able to develop technology with “impressive sophistication in navigation, shipbuilding [,] armaments” and improve the way to do business that improved European trade (103). Although the desire to destroy one another overtook the advancements they were making and energy that could have gone toward development went toward fighting each other instead. An interesting point that Abu-Lughod brings up is that by the thirteenth century, Genoa and Venice “almost capitalist”(116). The time of the Crusades against the Muslims brought along false hope that Europe would form an alliance with the Mongols, when “all that Europeans knew at the time was that the Mongols were not Muslims” (144). When the Mongols divided into subgroups, European hopes for a “great trans-Central Asian route as an alternative to the Indian Ocean collapsed” (145). As a result of the division of the Mongols, disagreements and battles broke out and trade suffered.

I found it interesting that Italian city-states were the ones to connect Europe to the Middle East and tip “the center of gravity” toward Europe (108). Also, that the reason they were the ones to connect Europe to the existing system due to the Crusades. Another interesting point brought up was near the end of the forth chapter, Abu-Lughod says that “the basic problematic of this book is to understand why [a truly interdependent world system] did not happen”(125). She also stated how each area was prosperous, while it had been said earlier in the book; I found these paragraphs on pages 124 and 125 fascinating.

In our lecture PowerPoint from the 16th, there was a slide in the discussion on whether Venice rose or Genoa fell. This is something I believe Abu-Lughod could have gone into more depth on. Not only which happened, but also why that city either rose or fell. I could have used more description on why Venice was able to gain so much strength while Genoa faltered. There was also a comment about the "need for continutal geographic expansion" of the Mongols (183). I understand their desire to continue gaining land, but I would have liked more detail from Abu-Lughod on why the Mongols could not stabilize. Thoughts?

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