Before European Hegemony by Janet Abu-Lughod, discusses 13th century world economics. She talks about the world system being centered primarily in the middle and far east, while Europe was a minor player at best. Abu-Lughod's main thesis is that although Europe utlimately became the dominant hegemon in world economics, there was no inherent reason for why this should have become the case. She begins with a look at Europe and their position in the world. With the fall of the Roman Empire, northwestern Europe sufferred through a period of invasions and isolation known as the Dark Ages. The eastern and southern parts of Europe, although affected by the Roman Empire's collapse, did not go through the same process as northwest Europe. Italy was able to keep its contacts alive with the rest of the world. In particular, Genoa,Venice and other coastal city-states kept in close contact with members of different nations and was able to serve a crucial link between Europe and the middle eastern system. The crusades also played a large role in world economics and politics in the 13th century. These holy wars helped to expand European horizons and increase trading prospects. As Europe began to re-emerge from the Dark Ages, trading opportunities became more numerous. First the fairs of Champagne and Brie provided the biggest trading opportunity. The fairs began at first to be as periodic markets but eventually evolved into sites of continuous trading. With the evolution of the markets, it became important to implement bankers to oversee currency exchange, credit, record keeping and establish a system of security for the merchants traveling to and from the fairs.
The Italians were extremely important to operations of the fairs. Because of their crafty business skills and goods obtained through their contacts with the middle and far east, they increased the popularity and relevance of the mrkets. The markets here declined as a result of the Flemish controversy, annexation and the discovery of a new Atlantic sea route that bypassed France. Soon after, the trading towns of Ghent and Bruges emerged and developd the new locale for the fairs. However, just like the Champagne and Brie, these fairs eventually collapsed and gave way to maritime trade. The decline of these fairs were due to a combination of factors as well, but the biggest one seemed to be the Black Death, which claimed appoximately 40-50% of Europe's population and important trading centers like Italy, France, and Flanders were hit the hardest. In summary Europe's venture into the world system was effected by economic, political and natural varibales that impacted the population and trading abilities.
What I found intersting is that the author shows that Champagne and Bruges and other trading towns did not necessarily deserve to fail, but the political and natural occurrences decided their fate. This she says, is the same case for the fall of economic centers in China and other eastern countries of the world system. I find her take on European hegemony quite refreshing. Instead of advocating that Europe was somehow innately "better" than the world powers of the middle and far east,and therefore, naturally assumed a dominat role, she believes hegemony was a consequence of many factors and the west came to dominate because the circumstances were right at the time for the west. I am a senior this year and I have never had a course that told both the European and the eastern perspectives. Why does western academia tend to ignore the role and importance of the east when teaching its students world history?