Thursday, September 17, 2009

BEH: Commentary 2

This weeks readings elaborate on the Mariner States of Genoa and Venice and also finally move on to the "Mideast Heartland" (which I have been waiting for with all the references to it in Part 1.) These two mariner states of Italy played a key role in joining Europe to the flourishing world economy of the East. Both played pivotal roles, and hence were always at odds with eachother; whether through rivalry for markets and ports or wars. Both found personal gains through the Crusades, although I find it necessary to mention that while Genoa was eager to join the effort early on to gain access to the "richer markets" (pg 105), Venice did not want to risk her economic ties. The Crusades ushered in ways for economic and cultural interactions between Europe and the Levant. While the Europeans harbored a mixture of hatred and romantic awe, the Muslims saw the Crusaders as barbaric animals. New maritime technology allowed Genoa and Venice to continue to not only hold but expand their land and economic holdings as well as their roles as the vital middlemen of the world economy. However, rivalries and wars (including Christian crusades against Christains, essentially) brought Venice to the top mariner state while Genoa fell below the ranks. The lessons from these mariner states are that "commercial shippers" (pg 130) are necessary however unstable, as they are most vulnerable to external factors beyond their control.

The Mideast Heartland was described very romantically and (in my opinion) in a very interesting fashion. The first part of BEH constantly made references to the Mideast, and here finally those references were elaborated on. The Mideast had three major routes which all had different characteristics and served different purposes: the northern route, the middle route and the southern route. The Mongols play a vital part in understanding the blossoming of the world system and its eventual - yet temporary - downfall. Due to the Pax Mongolica, Europe was able to integrate into the already existing world system between the Mideast and the Far East. Prominent examples of the integration are the Polos - especially Marco - and the various Friars and Preachers that trekked the route across the dualcontinent via land and sea and came back safely. Fragmentation of the Mongol Empire, interestingly enough - yet also ironically, served Europe both positively and negatively. On the one hand, the unsurance of the succession of Mongol power after the death of Genghis Khan allowed Europe to be spared from ever being directly invaded by the Mongols. If this had happened, it is unlikely that Europe would have ever become the hegemonic power it later became. On the negative side, the fragementation and end of the Pax Mongolica also ended safe transit routes and exchange between the two regions. This compounded with the disasterous results of the Black Plague reiterate the temporary downfall of the world system that later recovered but in a new form. Like the lessons learned from the Mariner States, the Mongols show us that as "facilitators," (pg 182) they are always vulnerable to political and geographical changes that are often out of their own control.

Although I have learned about it before, I was still intrigued by the complicated history of the Mideast in terms of dynasties, rulers and ethnic groups and their connected rivalries. The complication and frequent change of rule from hand to hand may also be reflected in the short span of time in which the Crusaders were able to retain control of sections of the "Holy Land" they conquered during the Crusades. I find it interesting (and also question how) there could be stability in a region that was constantly changing rulers/government.

It would be nice to have more elaboration as to exactly why and how Genoa was not able to revive after the Black Plague while Venice was. Some explanation is given, but I find the topic very interesting; If more details could be provided I think it would also give conceptual clues as to what ensures economic success. Abu-Lughod also makes reference to how in Venice there was pooled capital and in Genoa there were the joint stock companies (pg 118), I do not understand the difference between these two systems and why it matters?

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