Friday, September 11, 2009

Before Europe Became A Core

The modern day world system is very different than that of the thirteenth century. We are governed by a system with a few cores, including the United States and much of Western Europe, and many semi-peripheries, such as Brazil, and peripheries such as Haiti. The West has not always been dominant over other countries. In the past trade was not governed by the dependency theory, although many trade routes did interact with others. The East already had a somewhat capitalist system set in place before Europe joined in and it is not until the sixteenth century, as Abu-Lughod tells, that Europe became a core of world trade, and the East fell behind.

In the first chapters of Janet L. Abu-Lughod’s book, Before European Hegemony, she attempts to explain why and how the West became dominant. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was left in shambles and in many aspects “whenever differences appeared [between the East and the West,] the West lagged behind” (15). While many relate the start of the world economy to the sixteenth century, Abu-Lughod tells how in actuality there was a world trade century before, where Europe was just a newcomer. It was between 1200 and 1300 CE that Europe joined the trade system (Pax Mongolica) with the Middle East, India and China. Abu-Lughod also brings up that while parts in central Europe’s economies practically disappeared, Italy was able to somewhat sustain its international trade, due to the easy access to water. The European economy went through many changes of core cities during its time of gaining power. Abu-Lughod explains that these core trade cities needed to be accessible and have multiple regions products in order to be successful. Also, she informs us that during this time the role of a banker became highly important. While Europe was gaining strength, Abu-Lughod explains, that the European economies growth was not the whole reason Europe became a core of the world system. Europe was able to become the core of world trade, largely because of the tribulations and disarray of the East, such as the Black Death and the division of land between the successors of Genghis Khan. Before European Hegemony helps us understand the process by which Europe gained its dominance over world trade, starting with the periodic markets.

I found it interesting that Europe fell so far behind the orient and was able to pull ahead in such a short amount of time. The change in views of the orient from the thirteenth century to now is astounding. I found it particularly interesting how Portugal could claim that they “’discovered” the sea route to India’ when in fact “Arab navigation manuals had charted” the route long before (19). The discoveries of the East that were then claimed by the West are still assumed by many to be Western discoveries.

Abu-Lughod writes “throughout history, the core zones of world economies have been displaced successively from one location to another. Cores become peripheries and peripheries are thrust into the core”(74). This leads into my question for the class. Why is it that we assume Europe and the West have always dominated? Why is it that the discoveries the East made are still attributed to the West? I feel as though modern day society is still geared toward European and western society dominance, when it is most likely that cores will change.

Justine Howe

1 comment:

  1. White people always take credit for stuff they didn't come up with. Look at rock'n'roll.

    But you ask why we assume Europe and the West have always dominated. Certainly here in America we still have lingering feelings of superiority towards the East left over from the period of Western colonization and imperialism in the 1600s-early 1800s: the Enlightenment age of Scientific thought hit Europe first and the Western European countries were lucky enough to invent a bunch of advanced technology that made them think they had the right to oppress and subjugate the less-technologically advanced East Asian countries "for their own good".

    So yeah, it is true that in learning world history in this country we tend to be rather Euro-centric: as they say, the winners write history. It only got worse after imperialism: our "skirmishes" with Japan in WWII, our intense fear of Communist China during the Cold War Era, the Korean War, Vietnam...yes, there is racism. The people who wrote our high school history books lived through many of these conflicts, and still have harbor bitter feelings and mistrust towards all things East Asia. So they sort of skim over all the contributions to the world economy and artistic and technological movements and developments China, Japan, and Korea have made in the history of civilization.

    I also liked Abu-Lughod's comment on Portugal's "discovery" of the African coast route to India, when India had figured that out long before but just didn't make a big fuss about it. Typical Western revisionist history.
    -katie dempsey