Thursday, September 24, 2009

Concluding the World System During the Thirteenth Century

Abu-Lughod depicts the significance of yet another trade route between Europe and the Far East, which is through Sinbad and the Persian Gulf. It became essential when problems arose in either Constantinople or Egypt through means of the Red Sea, although the Red Sea clearly led to a more difficult journey. Baghdad faced a noteworthy fall to the Mongol Empire, but it’s not necessarily certain whether or not it rose again like Samarkand. Baghdad’s trade with Syria and Egypt did not continue again until the fourteenth century, yet the centrality of location ensured that the Gulf would be used even in the worst of times. Egypt on the other hand was a vanguard to the world system by the thirteenth century with an essential location, but European Crusaders and Central Asian Mongols certainly weakened the country. Once again of course, the Black Death debilitated an already weakened economy, leaving only India as an outside source of wealth.

Abu-Lughod then finishes with the explanation of trade in Asia through Part III of Before European Hegemony, which explains the coasts of India, the power of the Strait area, China influenced by different dynasties through time, and the collapse of the sea route. It is surprising how passive of a role south India played after the thirteenth century, due to its strategic location, and that it was because of its wealth and self sufficiency. Also, it’s easier to understand the importance of the Straits and the surrounding regions with abundant resources because when demand was high natural products were redefined as exports and the labor was available. Singapore and Hong Kong gained their success through the idea of a “free” port and access to an otherwise restricted market, and small kingdoms along the passage never really became naval powers.

I think this book does a good job of describing that the thirteenth-century system of international trade was indeed substantially more complex organization, volume, and execution than anything before. It seems practically irrelevant to compare it to our system now as far as size and certainly technology when Abu-Lughod analyzes the development and innovation at a global level during the thirteenth century. She finishes with “A Theory of Systematic Change” and “Future World Systems,” and I would ask why this is essential to her conclusion. She even mentions the United States and its military attempts met with declining success, but I think it was important that she reiterated the purpose in her work because there is so much we can learn from the thirteenth-century world system.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that the author does a great job of explaining the world system of the thirteenth century. She manages to create a readable account of what happened throughout the expanding world economy at the time even though it at first may seem like a string of facts about various cities. I think she finds it necessary to compare the current world system to that of the thirteenth century in an attempt to draw parallels and highlight similarities for the reader in hopes that they will better understand the information she is putting forth.