This week’s readings in The Age of Empire by Eric Hobsbawm, focus on the transformation and growth of society from 1875 until 1914. The author makes it clear in the overture that his book title refers to “Imperialism, as Lenin called it” and describes a world which we can never return to—liberal bourgeois society. Hobsbawm begins Chapter One, the Centenarian Revolution, by explaining a new “global” world that emerged in the late 19th century. For example, railroads and steamships made intercontinental and transcontinental travel much quicker, a matter of weeks rather than months. Populations, too, were growing rapidly; therefore, the world’s numbers were growing but its geography was shrinking. But something else was growing—the gap between developed and non developed countries; the gap between the rich and poor in the world. Although Hobsbawm says compared to modern times the gap was relatively small, by 1913 the per capita GNP of developed countries was seven times that of “the third world”. Hobsbawm continues by describing the industrialization processes of many regions such as Europe and Russia. Although Europe was still ahead of America in production and capital, he claims it was extremely clear that the United States would become a world economic power. Transitioning into chapter two, the author describes the fail in the economy by the 1870s. For instance, the level of British prices dropped by forty percent. There was no other period so harmful to the world economy than 1873-1896 in this new industrialized world. Again moving on, the author highlights important issues during this time period, for example, a tendency toward monopoly, territorial expansion, protectionism, and multiple social tensions that burst in different parts of the world, and most importantly, the growing interconnection of global economy and politics. This caused a large change in the theory of capitalism; it was now hard to distinguish between what was economic policy and what was political. Lastly, Hobsbawm demonstrates the impact of the West on the rest of the world, economically and politically.
I really enjoyed this book more than Abu-Lughod. I felt it was more organized, clear, and easier to read. I found the part about mass education in the developing countries very fascinating. The author briefly describes European dominance of the education system in many underdeveloped countries and the concept of the “essentially secular university”. There is only one paragraph about this topic and I would have like to have seen more about it. The only question I have is: was the world at this point as globally connected as he describes? Yes, lines of communication and trade were much faster and efficient, but in some sections he writes as though in the early 20th century, the world was as connected as in modern times.