Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ever Changing World System

Upon the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the emerging world system is defined by lack of one or group of dominating powers. This time consisted of many countries such as: China, Rome, Mongolia, England, India and more stretching from Northwestern Europe to China. Although they are well known as prominent influences, throughout history none of them serve to be a hegemonic power, or superior influence. This period of time is described by Abu-Lugbod, as a “turning point in world history.” The world system that is created, in part due to Mongol unification of a major trade route in Northern China, links the known the world. Arguably, the known world at this time is linked in eight different trading routes. The fall of the Roman Empire takes place during this time, their former glorious empire is scattered into proto-feudal territories. Eastern Europe such as China as its own self-sustaining core started out with an advantage over the lagging West, yet eventually the world system favored the West in the end. Why was this possible?

A possible account is the downfall of China in the 15th century. China in the 15th century became recluse and shut themselves off from the remainder of the world, if they had not they probably would have been the core for many centuries. This is in part due to a couple factors. The first factor that I took notice of is the Mongolian loss of Northern China. This separated the once easily traversed trading route through upper China. This route was commonly used to attend the cities of the Champagne Fairs(Troyes, Provins, Bar-sur-Aube, and Lagny). After the fragmentation of Mongolia, into I believe three separate parts, there became need for another route to transport goods. Secondly, the Black Death had a huge role in decreasing East’s population and economy. The specific effects of the Black Death are not discussed in detail. Some 60 percent of the world’s population is devastated by the plague.

A second explanation for the switch of favor from the switch in favor from West to the East is the advancement in technology, mainly transportation, textiles. Technology that was previously retained by China for decades is now flourishing in the 12th and 13th centuries. Once the Mongol Empire ceased their became a need for a new route to cross with goods, primarily spices. The answer to this was a new ship created for the need to advance and cut costs. The advancement in transportation allowed civilizations the ability to by-pass previous land trade routes, and as well the “middle man.”.

The third possible reason for the switch in favor is nothing more than location. Abu-Lugbod makes reference that a city or territory is heavily involved in trade by geography. Italy is a great example of this. Italy even during the worst of times, the Black Death, continued to trade and make profit. Ironically, this was also why Italy was struck so hard by disease. Italy revived along with many other key cities that were geographically linked to key sea and land routes, such as Bagdad that is both. Eastern Europe is not located in key meeting destinations, of world trade. This lessened their lead that they once had among the other countries and allowed in my opinion the favor of the world system to shift to the east. The one point that is portrayed is any country or side of the world can have the World system favor them, in essence it is ever changing

The reasons that are mention are my own interpretation of how the West came to be the superior in the world system. I’m always open for criticism and feedback. Also, if anyone knows what they steps to recover from Black Death were used?


  1. Eric,

    Your explanations for the rise of the West over the East helped to make more clear some of what I found vague in the reading. Italy's geographic advantage definitely helped it rebound from the Black Death even though it was one of the hardest hit (for the same reason, it's geography). Not only did it maintain its connections to the Middle East but it was also relatively close to the newly flourishing regions in France and the Low Countries.

    For the most part, I agree that China would have remained a core region had it not chose to isolate itself. The decision to do so, however, seems rather subjective. Rather than taking advantage of their technological superiority, they basically allowed the west to catch up and surpass them. To me, China would have been best to attempt to reconnect to the West to help it recover from the devastation left by the Black Death. Then again, it is possible that the West would have refused to serve as a benefactor, instead looking to establish itself as the leading world power. All in all, China's decision to isolate was a curious one, and the ramifications are still being seen today, though interestingly China has been undergoing a "Westernization" process for the last three decades or so.

    Good analysis and interpretation.

  2. Please update you blogger account to use your full name or sign your future blog posts with your full name.