Friday, September 11, 2009

My take on the reading

The first 101 pages of Janey L. Abu-Lughod's book "Before European Hegemony" seek to drive home the point that Europe has not always been as privileged as it is today in the world economy. It was not always a major port of trade. Abu-Lughod strives, through several lengthy examples, to contrast European thought and society in the thirteenth century and that of the sixteenth century. She uses the examples of two scholars, one from each period in time, to display what interested the intelectuals of that time. The story of these two scholars, Rogar Bacon and Francis Bacon, display the change in European thought as the area moved towards hegemony in the world system. Abu-Lughod also does a good job of displaying what is important to someone studying the world economy, or any aspect of an areas culture, long after the witnesses of the time period have passed on. She speaks of gathering data (what is important?) and who to gather data from (how to interprete it).

Personally, I found the section in which Abu-Lughod goes in to detail about the drawbacks in Marco Polo's story very interesting. She takes a well known story and goes to show that even something so monumental can not be completely trusted because there are not many records with which to compare it. I enjoyed the details included as well. They helped me to visualize the world (both Oriental and European) in better context than I would have otherwise.

The only thing that still sticks out as confusing to me is the mention that Rogar Bacon's requests to gather more knowledge were largely ignored by the Pope. Is this because the Pope saw new knowledge of the sort Bacon sought to be against the church? Or is this simply because the majority of the people at the time did not wish to change. Is it possible that a society can willingly remain blind to another society which is apparently prospering at the other end of their trade route?


  1. In regards to your question at the end:

    I think the main point of both the Bacon stories was not to necessarily illustrate the division of religion and knowledge, (albeit easy enough to do, given the track record of sciences and churches in the past) but more so to show the general thought process of the Europeans in both of the eras.

    Roger Bacon, who wrote to the Pope, stressed an importance to learn from the East (as Europe was not even an "emerging power" at the time). To learn from the East would require the Crusades to stop, which I believe (though, I could be very wrong) were the intentions of his letters to the Pope.

    Francis Bacon, however, is an almost perfect juxtaposition of European desires. Only three centuries after Roger Bacon encouraged the cessation of The Crusades, Francis Bacon encouraged the Europeans to simply discover more knowledge. This is an atypical Western belief of today, essentially a precursor of Western industrialization to come. "Don't learn from others, create our own advancements!"

    Err, anyways. Now I am completely off track.

    Theoretically, during the Pax Mongolica era as taught by Abu-Lughod, European society didn't necessarily turn a blind eye to success on the opposite side of their trade route. They, actually, nearly embraced it.

    Abu-Lughod specifically mentions Charlemagne and his attempts to reunite what was once the Roman Empire, creating two administrative centers for trade. These centers contributed to some of the beginning of the "fair" trade areas.

    Furthermore, specific towns developed within Europe & Africa for the "fair" trading atmosphere.

    The sixteenth century (and on) mindset begins only when Europe has actually begun its ascent to power and is, arguably, more successful then the "East"- otherwise known as previously more successful powers.

  2. I definitely agree with Nick that the pope's opinions can be linked to the idea of stopping the Crusades, and as a generalization, people with religious authority tend to fear any radical change in their beliefs. Unfortunately, this is simply my own interpretation, which could be very wrong.
    I also found the section about Marco Polo rather enticing because we are always taught to just accept what we are told, like Nick also mentioned. I never really questioned Polo's significance until I read what Abu-Lughod mentioned about trusting certain accounts of history. There may have indeed been many Europeans before Polo that made some of the same achievements, but they simply lacked opportunity to record it. Although it's an engaging story for people to tell through out time, I believe that I too will now see the world in a new way.

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