Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Rise of the West

Clearly the rise of the west had something to do with its timing. The East and Middle (East) in the 13th-15-th centuries had various problems that contributed to their relative decline in that world system. The route along the north had become too dangerous and unpredictable to remain a viable ‘core’ region. Fighting between the Mongols and the Muslim population in and around Iraq lead to the destruction of Baghdad, the first hegemonic trading centre. An important lesson for Europeans was that when trade routes in one area become less profitable then you must find alternatives. Egypt and the city of Cairo benefited from this situation when it’s route became the most widely used. Also, European powers (namely Venice) benefited from renewed trade through Cairo. Europe by this time in history was a growing partner in the world system.

On the other side of the Middle East, the numerous powers around India and S.E. Asia claimed trading preeminence. Their cities lay on the coasts that would connect Western traders with the East. It was access to these ports in the Far East that would necessitate naval technological advancements for Western powers. The native peoples of this region failed to realize the importance of this fact. The saying is that “necessity is the mother of all invention.” This is a good way to illustrate how and why Western European powers places so much emphasis on naval technology. The routes through the Middle East became too perilous for European traders to profit from and alternative routes to the East became important again. The maritime superiority of European nations (traders) allowed the Portuguese, Dutch and English to eventually control this region of S. Asia. It wouldn’t be until centuries later that China would be dominated by the West and this too had a lot to do with Superior English seamanship.

The most interesting aspect of this time period is the rising importance of the navy which is one main reason why Western powers began to dominate the world system instead of simply being a partner to it. Is there another single factor that helped transform the old system into what could be called the infancy of our contemporary system ?

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