Saturday, September 12, 2009

Before European Hegemony

The book, Before European Hegemony, written by Janet L. Abu-Lugbod, deals with the formation of the world system which evolved in the mid-thirteenth century. The book presents the formation of the world system, where many different areas, though not all, began to come together for the first time as a recognizable trading system. First the material explored how and why the different areas were able to form and develop into their own distinguishable regions. It also explored some reasons why the world system of the thirteenth century ultimately failed and drastically changed, displacing China from the top of the system to the bottom, being replaced by European powers. Disease, along with differences in population, culture, and geography were aspects that led to Asia’s temporary supremacy and Europe’s eventual dominance over the Middle East. Other than those differences, the different regions had common elements as well; small populations in rural lands, underdeveloped transportation, little technology, and markets where vital goods were exchanged, were common amongst the different villages region to region. It was at this point in time when our modern system of the market (i.e. advanced economy, credit, currency, and risk) was beginning to take root. Abu-Lugbod’s exploration of the geography, dominant religions, politics, and demographics of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East explained the development of the world system in the thirteenth century.
The name, “The World System”, to me is one of the most intriguing and debatable issues within this week’s reading. In class the question, “Was the Pax Mongolican system truly a worldwide system?” was briefly discussed. I would like to take that question one step further and explore some related ideas. I do believe this system should be considered a worldwide system, yet at the same time, I question myself – how so, if only 2 continents and a small region of a 3rd continent were included in this system? Please feel free to commentate: The Pax Mongolica system was, in fact, a world system. Of the populated territories in the world at the time, those who wanted to trade did begin to trade their goods in the system. Africa and modern-day Russia, were populated regions, yet they did not partake in trade with other regions. They were self-sufficient societies and were content that way. These areas could have easily been included in the intricate, developing trade routes in Europe and Asia, had they wanted more, yet the superficial goods being traded did not contribute to their culture in any desirable way. Another obvious fact in the trade system was the lack of trade routes going to the Western Hemisphere. This is because at the time, there wasn’t even a thought of a western hemisphere existing. Had the Western Hemisphere been known to exist, trade would have been possible between the continents – for boats were used to get across seas between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Technological adjustments to get across the Atlantic would have been necessary, yet possible at the time. Although different regions had an almost-isolationist platform (being able to survive on their own sources) it would have been possible for them to partake in the trade system. Additionally, the ability to have traded across seas although time-consuming was doable, thus, justifying the name, “The World System.”
I understand that the black death took a toll on so many lives that it even affected areas/regions that could have potentially risen to hegemony before their population decreased. But I am not fully aware of any of the other effects the black death had on trade, routes, or demand for specific goods (i.e. medicinal herbs?), or any other areas related. Did I overlook a section in the reading?

Before European Hegemony

I couldn't figure out how to post for a bit...

Before European Hegemony by Janet L. Abu-Lughod begins to answer how 13th and 14th century trade became a world system that has evolved into our own system today and how European hegemony rose. We are able to piece together how studying the history of globalization is vital to our further understanding of our own world system and what is to follow firstly by understanding how Europe became the dominating force it has been since the 13th and 14th centuries.

The first modern world system that rose during that period prefaced the rise of Europe in the centuries to follow. It was the start of global trade, and thus, a modern world system. Trade expanded in subsystems from far-east Asia and the Middle East, where credit and paper money were already in use, to Europe. The assimilation of capitalistic ideas in Europe from the Middle East and Asia spread because Europe had just come out of a period of foreign control. Government was not a part of trade, enabling capitalism and the trade system to flourish. World cities became hubs for merchants to sell products and stop on long routes. Markets grew and even smaller cities were important trade points on roads between Asia and Europe. Europe's dive into the new global system was the starting point of Europe's supremacy. And just as the new trade system expanded in Europe, it began to fall across Asia and the Middle East. But Europe's rapid rise in the world system came at a cost: a cost to the rest of the system. For example, the growth of market cities with security, frequenting merchants, and prime location pushed other market cities over the edge by means of the dependency theory.

The scale on which original products were produced and sold during the 13th and 14th centuries is what intrigues me the most. The commodities and art were brought to such a broad spectrum of people and places. Although we have reached new levels and advances in our system today, it cannot be denied that our world of trade has commercialized and gone to mass production. Food, art, and clothing were all handcrafted. It is almost impossible to find something sold on such a broad scale that is its own, that is unique. The fact that world trade grew so rapidly to be able to achieve such a system is most astonishing.

The Middle East and of Asia contributed to the rise of Europe. But did it not work both ways? I find myself wondering it Europe's rise only furthered the fall of the East. If Europe had gotten the foot ahead.

I also wish that I heard more about the rest of Europe. The author spoke about few parts of Europe and expanded on those rather than giving more examples of places in Europe that furthered world trade.

The periphery, Core and Maps

The division of the world system into the periphery and core is a very useful and commonly accepted explanation. It represents a relationship between all the relevant actors in the world, be it nation-state or multinational corporations. In the age of Pax Mongolica, this system was more static. A lack of technology hindered the abilities of traders to quickly exchange goods. I think the slower nature of trade in this time is not as closely linked with the phenomenon of core & periphery trading. Tracking the Black Death across Eurasia shows how long it took to cross that landmass in the 14th century. The lack of any hegemonic power also distances the example of Pax Mongolica from this theory. Alternatively the trade relationships of today clearly involve the extraction of cheap resources, labor and products from the periphery and that wealth being sent to the core.
When discussing the issue of the center of the world, the lecture looked at different maps that different cultures created. Each had its own civilization at the center. It has taken thousands of years to develop “good” world maps. It is technically hard to create truly representative maps. E.g. some maps over represent certain land masses like Greenland while dwarfing the southern hemisphere. The best representation is an actual globe. However, it strikes me that problems with maps continue today because you can have a globe perfectly represent the physical world but maps today are often outdated or even mislabeled (maps of Europe for instance often have Yugoslavia and the U.S.S.R. still on them. All this aside, many people cannot locate many things on a globe or atlas besides where they are located. Personally, I have tutored high school students in social studies and often have to point out where countries like France, England and Germany are located. When I ask them where they are on the globe they can quickly point to western Pennsylvania on the atlas. A persons frame of reference is very important to their understanding of the world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Perodic Market Systems

Janet Abu-Lughod discusses the periodic market system in depth throughout the early sections of chapter two in Before European Hegemony. Periodic markets were the result of societies which were scarce in population, had low levels of development and were faced with poor means of transportation. In these markets, a merchant would bring goods to sell or trade to customers on regular schedule, usually on a weekly basis. These markets would continuously move to new location each day causing its patrons to also constantly keep moving. The merchants would bring their manufactured or imported goods to the site of the first market, complete their transactions, pack their remaining goods and head for the next days marketplace. This was a continuous cycle for the merchants. These markets originally dealt in barter, but as the larger itinerant merchants began to show interest, the need for a currency became apparent. Also, they would need to have someone act as the money changer. This is where the credit process began. A farmer would order a specific item from a merchant and then would either give credit, by paying in advance, or get credit by promising to pay upon receiving the item. However, if the farmer doesn’t have the full amount, he could place a down payment on the item. Now, the farmer could borrow money and repay it in time, or borrow against their mortgage by giving up part of their harvest in return for the product. The result of this was the introduction of a complex economic system.
I found the measures of security taken by the merchants to be extremely interesting. As merchants transported valuable goods over long distances, it was important to find a way to ensure their caravans made it to market. Traveling through poor regions with their expansive goods was an invitation for local raiders. Merchants would travel in these large caravans to ensure their safety, and even employee their own guards to protect their cargo.
My question is do you think, based on the evidence provided Janet Abu-Lughod in Before European Hegemony on the decline of this system that this could happen to our system some day? Change is inevitable; we are always thinking of new and better ways to do something so what are the chances of our system becoming obsolete? Dan Loheyde

Misconceptions of Europe's Role in History

What Abu-Lughod investigates in Before European Hegemony and essentially what we’re trying to figure out together in class is why did Europe emerge as the dominant hegemonic power and what exactly were the processes that led to its domination. Abu-Lughod presents her argument to us upfront:

The thesis of this book is that there was no inherent historical necessity that shifted the system to favor the West rather than the East, nor was there any inherent historical necessity that would have prevented cultures in the eastern region from becoming the progenitors of a modern world system.

She then goes on to explain the factors that contributed to the Orient’s increasing disarray in the sixteenth century which allowed Europe to pull ahead in terms of economic power and control. A couple of the major factors include the Black Death, which started in China and destroyed much of the city populations along the coastal trade route, and the fragmentation of regions providing trade routes and declining security.

One of the things that most fascinates me is that in her historical analysis of these events and the nature of trade before European power, is that she continues to refute many preconceptions I’ve developed from grade school about Europe’s role in history. I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that history and social science classes never exposed Europe’s utter insignificance in the world trade system in the times before its hegemonic period. Dimly, I think it was assumed that Europe always had the upper hand and was presented at the center of action and importance. Learning more about the complex and rich interactions of everyone else during the Middle Ages is all the more interesting adds a more objective perspective to my understanding of world history.

It's upsetting to me that the natural (it seems) tendency toward ethnocentrism corrupts the relation of "truth" in history in classrooms. Can we really get at a "truth" anyway though? This is a question that Abu-Lughod reflects on early in her book while explaining the various complications of historical analysis. For example, the recorders of history cannot be trusted as unbiased and the records themselves can be lost or damaged. To construct a picture of what it was truly like from 1250-1350 becomes a very daunting task - like attempting to fit puzzle pieces together whose shapes and edges were changed from the original. It is important to keep this in mind while reading about history and noting historical sources because you cannot assume their validity.

week 2 - commentary

The countries we view now as peripheral or semi peripheral were once the
powerhouses of the world economy. Abu-Luhhod discusses what the world
economy was like between 1250-1350. During this time, the international
trade economy was developing from NW Europe to China. The author talks
about how some of the economical techniques used today were formulated
many centuries ago. As in the use of currency, banks, money exchangers,
etc. There were also differences and similarities being discussed about
the economies of the Middle East and Europe. Talks about the rise and fall
of a world economy and how many centuries later, Europe thrived with a
world economy that is still practiced today. On how this world system was
seen in the 13th century by a different group of leaders.

I find it interesting that some of the 3rd world countries today were once
the powerhouses in the past. Growing up in a society where Europe, USA,
and others countries have lots of power and perphereal countries in the
Middle East with little power and to imagine that the roles were switched
many centuries ago is pretty amazing. Another point is seeing how some of
the systems we use today began and why they began. In this current state,
we may understand the use of currency, banks, credit, but some of us don’t
know how it came about and how it became invented.

Going along with what I found interesting, I’m curious on how Europe was
able to prosper while the Middle East plummeted. I understand how during
that period the Middle East went through many different rulings and such
but why wasn’t the Middle East able to pick itself up and move on. Was it
the continuous bad leadings by the rulers or lack of knowledge? And I
guess one may wonder if the current powerhouses will also in a couple
centuries become peripherals while many peripherals now become core
countries. On what would some ways be so that we one can maintain their
power and not let what happened in the 13th century happen again.

Angela Han

Commentary 1

In the couple of chapters of Before European Hegemony, Janet L. Abu-Lughod takes the reader through an explanation of the different sorts of countries and how they interacted through the world trade from 1200-1300. She goes on to explain the difference between the countries. Core countries are more developed and industrialized and usually dominate other countries. The opposite are Periphery countries who are underdeveloped and poor and instead of dominating other countries, they are dominated by others. There is also a category in the middle known as the semi-periphery countries who are in the process of developing and industrializing, and dominate as well as submit. During the time period of 1200-1300, the Pax Mongolica was dominant. Trade between the three big countries of Europle, the Middle East, and China connected different regional systems and spread each individual culture of the country along the trading routes.

One of the observations I made was how different the trading style was back then than it is now. It seems like in today's hectic society, most people are preoccupied with speed rather than quality. Everything is about efficiency and along the way of pursuing instant gratification, quality is lost. During the trading period back then, everything was about exploration and discoeries of new and exciting things. Trade by ship took months and years as opposed to mere days in today's society, and things were savored and appreciated much more by their caliber of production rather than the speed at which they were produced.

Another thing that I learned was the effect the Black Death on the spread of globalization and the course of trading. I had learned a lot about the Black Plague before, analyzing statistics and going in to detail abotu the actual disease and the viral logistics, but I had never before considered what such a massive pandemic (killing up to an overwhelming 60% of the world's population) would do to trade. I think Abu-Lughod did a very clear and efficient job explaining it and its devastating effects both on the human condition and on globalization in general.

Yet another item I found interesting was in the second part of the reading that concerned how the economic system got started. It was enlightening to see the roots of today's current economic system, including mortgage and down payments, start so early in history. When global trade really began to pick up, larger merchants also set up their lots. Consequently, a primitive credit and banking system was created through the rising need of currency.

-Helena Li

Portuguese Power

I think that one of the purposes of this class and Abu-Lughod’s book –– and sociology in general –– is to unearth history. The history that needs to be unearthed seems to have become a theme for our class: the question of why Europe emerged as the dominant power in the world system during and after the sixteenth century. (A lame introduction, but I won't delete it).

Abu-Lughod highlights some possible reasons why Europe emerged hegemonic in her (i.e. Abu-Lughod's) first chapter in Before European Hegemony, more specifically in the section titled Differences, which begins on page eighteen. In this section, she identifies “geographic, political, and demographic” reasons as being “far more significant and determining than any internal psychological or institutional factors. Europe pulled ahead because the ‘Orient’ was temporarily in disarray” (18). One of these geographic-political-demographic reasons she cites is the introduction of Portuguese ‘men-of-war’ into the Indian Ocean in the early 1500s (19). It is this idea that I would like to advance.

The germinal Portuguese fleet reached India by the 1490s, and while they did not annihilate the societies they encountered as the Spanish did in the New World, they did help undermine the Indian Ocean’s economic system, a world-system that, since the seventh century C.E., had been growing and thriving (Pomeranz & Topik 1999). The amount of trade was enormous, and it can be said that no one power – be it military or political – ruled the sea. Within twenty years of sailing into the Indo-Asian waters the Portuguese built forts at most of the locations where westbound trade routes could be blocked (Pomeranz & Topik 1999). The Portuguese clearly had intentions on monopolizing the system. Monopolize is just what the Portuguese did. They taxed vessels and would destroy those who did not pay.

Portuguese power in the Indian Ocean began to decline in the middle 1500s, but it was too late for the Asian commercial system to remain unhindered. Soon, more powerful Europeans arrived: the Dutch and the English. European hegemony was beginning.

This is not the only “reason” why Europe gained dominance on a global scale, but it is most definitely a piece of the puzzle. Perhaps Abu-Lughod will expound more on this issue in Part III of her book.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. World that trade created society, culture, and the world economy, 1400-the present. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.

-Stefan Larson

Janet Abu-Lughod: sociologist maybe, writer no

Before European Hegemony

I'll be honest: this is my first (and probably will be my only) sociology class. This is my last semester and I needed the International Studies/Global Requirement to graduate. And after the first few pages of Before European Hegemony it became immediately apparent to me that this is one of those disciplines where scholars of the field tend to use terminology and modes of discussion that are not necessarily accessible to a wider audience. I probably would've been better off first taking Intro to Sociology or something along those lines, but alas, such are the ways of the University of Pittsburgh's haphazard systems of scheduling and graduation requirements.

Me? I am a Psychology/English Nonfiction Writing major, and if this text is any indication, I am not a sociology person. These are just not the sort problems my brain likes to solve. I like sociology in what it does for Psychology, but I can not really comfortably deal in these sorts of abstract pattern-relationships. Maybe I can lend an outsider's perspective: who knows.

What I'm getting at is that as Janet Abu-Lughod's book is serving the unique honor of being the first ever Sociology text I have ever begun to read, I am not finding it very accessible to me, the layperson. Her thesis is relatively clear, but in general her writing style is not. She suffers from the roundabout, repetitive style of written argumentation/persuasive writing that seems to be so pervasive in academia. She doesn't make points, she circles around them endlessly like a cat playing with a mouse, with only a lazy intention to maybe, someday attack.

You may well be inclined to defend her, and say that this text was not meant to be accessible to the layperson, that it was written to be read by Sociologists and sociology students. That's all very well, and it is obvious to me that she is intelligent and well-read and passionate about her subject, but that is no excuse for unclear, unorganized, unfocused writing. The new, modern Orwellian school of thought behind writing about anything, anything at all, postulates that if you can't write about your subject so that anyone can understand it, then you do not deserve to write about your subject at all. This still-held high-and-mighty idea that laypeople can't be expected to understand writings about relatively non-mainstream academic disciplines is what is contributing to an overall mistrust of academia as a whole in these modern, fast-paced, changing times.

Yes, if I were really interested in the subject I would find her dry, unorganized writing style more bearable. Many a psychology text I have given the writers more benefit of the doubt because I really wanted to hear what they had to say on the subject. But as someone majoring in Writing I take this sort of thing personally. Reading anything to learn about it shouldn't be boring, and it shouldn't be a chore. You can't hide behind academic buzzwords and jargon and fancy sounding conjunctions. You need to explain and you need to be clear and you need to respect the reader's intelligence, not talk down to them from a pedestal of higher learning.

So humor me, please. Maybe you can explain it better than her. What is this book about, exactly? What is she getting at, and why should I care? I get the historical-patterns, cross-societal relations, birth of globalization and a global economy thing. I understand, since she says it about twenty different times in twenty different ways, that she is "examining the processes by which international connections were forged, expanded, and strengthened during the course of the thirteenth century" and "describing the roles--cooperative, conflictual, or symbiotic--the varied participants played in the ongoing commercial exchanges." (p 37). But for what? And what does this mean for the human experience as a whole?

-Katie Dempsey

The "Miniscule" World System of Pax Mongolica

To extend the class discussion of the world system in its earliest state, the world system under which Pax Mongolica functioned was “miniscule” in comparison to today’s ‘s commerce, but the question that it might not matter at all is completely irreverent of all of the technological advancements made throughout history. Granted, the system is quite different, but for the pre-modern world, its complexity and inclusion of core, semi-periphery, and even periphery countries establishes its capitalistic tendencies and its basis for advancement into the modern world system.

Furthermore, the system under which the Pax Mongolica functioned was, in many ways, more intricate and sophisticated than the modern world system, if only because it functioned considerably well, given the giant geographical, linguistic, and cultural barriers. Today’s system hardly faces any of these barriers thanks to modern capabilities, and when it does, we have technological advancements that can override their influences. This system did not have a set currency exchange rate, either, making foreseeable transactions almost impossible. Yet, according to Abu-Lughod, “goods were transferred, prices set, exchange rates agreed upon, contacts entered into, credit – on funds or on goods located elsewhere – extended, partnerships formed, and obviously, records kept and agreements honored,” (8). If anything, this speaks to the integrity of the system that functioned centuries ago, across land and sea, without the technological advancements that we have today. In essence, these tradesmen were willing to uphold their goods and their word (which, in this case, was sometimes more valuable than their word, in cases of credit and partnerships) in order to keep this valuable cross-cultural tool in working order.

Before European Hegemony

In Before European Hegemony, a book written by Janet L. Abu- Lughod, three major areas of the world at discussed. It focuses on Europe, the Middle East and the Orient, mainly on a time frame of the 13th and 16th centuries. During the 16th century, Europe would definitely be characterized as a core country. Although, by the 16th century, Europe grew to be a key player in the world, the country was still very immature during the 13th century while other countries flourished. was As the author she strives not to take sides on the development of history, but to merely state facts on how it evolved.

It starts off with saying  that during the 13th century Europe was not the dominant or "core" power of the time. In actuality, the three major parties worked in a some what homogenous matter. The Middle East, Europe and Asia all coincided together and traded together to better help one another and push along their advancement. During the Pax Mongolica, between 1200 CE and 1300 CE, Europe gained its strength. Europe was weak after the fall of the Roman Empire and needed a way to build up its power after their down fall. Because of Europe's easy access to water and neighboring countries, they were able to join a trade system that had been around for many previous years. This was a trade system between that extended across the Middle East to the coast of China. At this time Europe was no where as powerful as its contenders in the trade market but it allowed for periphery cities at the time to flourish into core areas. Cities along the coast line especially did well do to their easy access of water and their area on the map. As the trade continued all over the continents a mass variety of goods were being distributed. Not only did the trade help the economy and growth of each individual country but it also caused a lot of learning. Cultural diffusion was being displayed at its best while paintings and art, food and tradition, and the life style and good of others were being traded. 
With this spread of ideas and goods religion was also being moved around. I found it very interesting that religion was also spread through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Its interesting to look at because religion it a very tough thing to grasp and would be extremely difficult to teach to another person with such a language barrier. Not only was religion interesting but the fact that power between each area was never completely gained by one specific region of the time. Until the 16th century, when Europe took its place as a core country, the three regions were working and trading together in harmony, and equally, in order to flourish and further advance as a whole. 

The begining of this capitalist stuff?
Abu-Lughod’s book begins with the author stating that she is not arguing for one side of history but merely stating the facts that can best link to the modern world system. “My plan is to examine this world system as a whole, treating Europe at that time as it should be seen, as an upstart peripheral to an ongoing operation”(13). She gives the reader two points on pg. 24 about the historiography methodological problems that readers need to be aware of before reading to deep into the truths of time; first being that the people who could keep record intact are the people who tell history and that the amount of “equally reliable data” (24) is never the same place to place. The second is what she names “the problem of testimony” (25). She claims it is the gap between now and then. She uses a visual representation on the known world and how they are connected using various rings to connect them, like a world vie diagram. She starts the beginning by stating the Roman Empire caused the parts of Europe (except Italy) fell into the “dark ages” because of the fall of the empire. Finishing off the first part of the book, Abu says that the fall was due to growing population and urbanization. After that she brings up the most interesting part of the first 51 pages: that she attributes Europe’s integration back into the global society of the Cursades.
I found it very interesting that Europe’s integration back into the global arena was driven by religion. That is a bold statement considering that religion seems to be the hot topic in the world. Just a reminder that religion still and always will play a role in our lives down to the global relationships is just mind boggling. It was also interesting to learn that traveling to foreign lands caused the crusaders to trade because what was there (Palestine) wasn’t in Europe and vice versa. I also learned that China had so much to do with history keeping but was never a part of the history writing. This brings up a good point that history is skewed and what one says is true might not be what another believes to be true. Finally, I found in the article was that Italy somehow was left out of the dark ages. Was this simply because they had fallen but were okay? Time and time again, the loser or the fallen empires in wars were totally destroyed and needed to have some heavy rebuildment. I’m not saying that they didn’t rebuild but what were they not affected? Just doesn’t make sense.
I think she needs to talk about the processes of global interactions and how they came to be. She pre-dates how they came to be, but never what were the under lying reasons for them. Obviously wealth plays a huge role, but I would like to ask her, “Did every one want to participate or did the west force itself into the territories of the Middle East to cause this interaction?” The flips side of that coin is that well, they would have explored it anyway. My final question is where would we be now, if religion wouldn’t have been such a fundamental part of this who scheme? I’m not for it or against it, it is just a thought…

Early Trading and What Has Come Out of It

Janet L. Abu-Lugbod, the author of Before European Hegemony, discusses the ways of three major areas: Europe, the Middle East, and the Orient. She really focuses mostly on Europe, and how it evolved into a strong hegemony from the 13th to the 16th century. However, I found the trading and marketing (in the second half of the reading) to be particularly interesting.

A market in early Northern Africa, firstly, was very different because their markets originated on a need basis; this form of market occurred in very poor places, where trade and transportation were not very good. The traders would settle in one location and sell for an entire day, but at night they would pack up their goods and move on to the next location. In other places, there would be farmers markets targeting the farmers to buy good and technology that could be used for the farm. The credit process began here. Either, a farmer could give credit, by paying in advance, or the farmer could get credit by promising to pay eventually; but, if the farmer does not have the full amount, he could give a down payment and either borrow money, and then pay it back, or he could borrow against his mortgage by giving up part of his harvest in return for the product.

The origins of trade and payment plans happened in the three major world areas. The way that the marketers and traders worked back that really amazed me in the way that they were able to successfully trade, for a very long time. It began as a simple way to make money for the travelers of the Middle East, but it evolved into a business, that many people major in colleges today about. It truly amazes me how something that started in the early 13th century, could become a major part of our world today. What would the United States do if we could not trade with China? The world is full of trade and markets and to think that it started back by pitching a tent and selling to people as they traveled across a land is truly astonishing.

For the rest of the required reading, to be honest, I did not really understand much. She went too into detail about small, specific countries it was difficult for me to follow. Perhaps I will re-visit the earlier pages of the book and try to comprehend what she has written. Either way, I fully understood the trading section.

Before European Hegemony Blog 1

Arielle Parris-Hoshour

In Before European Hegemony, Janet L. Abu-Lughod tries to describe the time period before Europe became the dominant world force, in order to more fully explain the reasons for the change.  She believed that histographers have been wrong in the past to start from the European hegemony and work backwards in time to find the reasons for domination.  Instead, she wishes to start in the thirteenth century and work forwards towards the same conclusion.

The second half of the thirteenth century, she tells readers, there was both a huge increase in economic integration and cultural achievement throughout the globe, which was not coincidental.  The innovations in technology and cultural productivity created surpluses, which enhanced trade, in order to feed money back into cultural affairs.

Abu-Lughod shows that in this time period, there was no single hegemonic power.  The East, Middle East and West all had similar power in trade and culture at this time.  She questions whether the economic system could be called a world system at that time, and if we could consider it modern capitalism.

I found it fascinating to find that Europe was not the dominant world power in this time period; instead it actually lagged behind the East in most of its cultural and economic achievements.  She tells the reader that after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was left in disorder.  It was only when the East stumbled, faltering because of the Black Death, and the many divisions of power that came about after Genghis Khan, that Europe moved ahead in world dominance. 

Because Europe is not assumed to have always been dominant in this text, she automatically raises the question of why that thesis has always been assumed.  Is it only because Europe is powerful now, that people assume it was always been so?

The World System, Then and Now...

In the first two chapters of Before European Hegemony, Janet Abu-Lughod gives us her explanation of how The World System from 1200 A.D. – 1350 A.D. came to fruition. There is no concrete date of when this trading system start, and the author even point’s out Karl Marx’s ambiguity about when the system was formed (p. 9). However, Abu-Lughod estimates that the sixteenth century could possibly be an appropriate era for the beginning foundations of European dominance. In an attempt to discuss this system in more detail, Abu-Lughod gives a detailed breakdown of the different “statuses” of the countries and how those “statuses” determined how they would interact with one another. Making up the lowest level status were the countries that were small, lacking development and had incredibly high exportation rates. These were known as the “Periphery” countries. Taking a step up the chain, we had our “Semi-Periphery” countries. These countries had power over smaller, less fortunate countries but also had absolutely no power in comparison to the higher status countries. Ranking with the highest status in the system were the “Core” countries. The countries had already began to dominate over other smaller countries, and also were the most developed. Abu-Lughod does make it a point that in the beginning there was no single country that had complete authority over another.

What I found most interesting about this system, after reading the first few chapters, was how comparable it is to the system we have in the world today. In our Global Society today, I think it is safe to say that we still have Core, Semi-Periphery, and Periphery countries that exist. We have Core countries like the United States, Japan, Russia, and China; Semi-Periphery countries like France, England; and then our Periphery countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the list goes on and on. I think what the biggest different between now and then is that some countries can be considered as having dominance over others. For example, the United States definitely has used its power to dominate over much smaller countries, particularly in the Middle East where they would like to see democracy established.

One thing I would like a little further clarification on is the domination of countries during the early stages of the World System. Abu-Lughod makes it clear that unlike today, there was no single country dominating over another, but isn’t that exact what the Core countries were doing?


Commentary Week 1

In Before European Hegemony (Chapters 1 and 2), Janet L. Abu-Lughod depicts the vast economic, social, and cultural integration of the thirteenth century’s world system. She opposes the common “Eurocentric” view that in the sixteenth century Europe was the first to develop what modern scholars call the modern world system. Abu-Lughod argues that the thirteenth century was a necessary precursor to the world system that we have today. She also confidently asserts that there was no “inherent historical necessity” that pushed the West to eventually dominate the world system or to stop the East from becoming the hegemony. For instance, there were already world- economies developed in different parts of the world before a hegemonic European system prospered in the sixteenth century. Consequently, she focuses on the fact that there was no one hegemonic power in this system, unlike our current world economic system. Furthermore, today there is a large focus on the economic aspect of our world system, but Abu-Lughod emphasizes the cultural growth and development that ensued from these “global” interactions in the thirteenth century. Consequently, she makes it very clear that she believes “no world system is global, in the sense that all parts articulate evenly with one another…” (32). With this statement, she is emphasizing the fact that even today, our advanced world system is not completely global. However, in the thirteenth century when trade spanned from Western Europe to the Far East, the most global network up until that time was formed.

For organizational purposes, Abu-Lughod describes the eight, self sufficient, interlinked subsystems involved with the world trade. She then groups them into three circuits; the Far East, the western European, and the Middle Eastern. The first part of the book explains the European subsystem and breaks it down into three important arenas; east-central France, Flanders, and the trading ports on the Italian peninsula, Genoa (34-35). These were the centers for meeting that connected the intricate network of trade. Abu-Lughod also identifies the common traits of the various arenas within the system—the invention of money and credit, mechanisms for pooling capital and distributing risk, and merchant wealth.

I found the readings extremely interesting, especially the discussion of the idea of capitalism throughout the work. At some points it seems as though capitalism was developing; for instance, Abu-Lughod mentions the large amount of luxury items that were being traded and developed. On the other hand, however, at the end of Chapter 2, she mentions that the Flanders and the Italian city states often had a role in regulating commerce and trade. The “state” made laws that aided its own merchants and disadvantaged others. Furthermore, in the Middle East and some parts of the Italian states a feudal system still ensued. One of the only criticisms I have is a lack of firsthand evidence to her conclusions; she has a long list of secondary sources but not much evidential proof. However, Abu-Lughod mentions this problem herself in the introduction.
BEH-Blog 1
Aub-Lughod introduces you to the thirteenth century “world system” from non-biased perspective. While most authors describe the Western strength and their self-propelled entrance into the “world system”, Aub-Lughod paints the scene of the European societies as periphery at best in the thirteenth century and its slow indirect elevation to a core role. This rise as a more central role was due to the non-western societies falling behind. The Orient was struggling with the breaking down of their trade routes and the Black Death wake of annihilated cities.
With this shift in power came a sense of European arrogance (as if they needed any more fuel on that fire). Roger Bacon to Francis Bacon optimizes the European mentality from “willing to learn” to “willing to dominate”. In 1257, Roger Bacon wrote to the Pope requesting the funding to write an Encyclopedia on natural sciences. His work was strongly influenced by a number of Moslem philosophers, which illustrate openness and an eagerness to learn and work with foreign cultures. In 1584, Francis Bacon viewed the Orient with little interest. For him, there was nothing to learn through the exploration of what his predecessor so valued. In the sixteenth century, Europe took on a core role in the world system.
Regardless of the present day superiority complex of Western societies, Europe’s rise to hegemony was a slow process. The fastest way to gain power and influence is through capital—a sad reflection on our past and present day society. The creation of subsystems or “world cities” presented the beginnings of Europe’s serious participation in the “world system”. Three groups within the subsystem were 1) the towns of the Fairs of Champagne, 2) the industrial and commercial towns of Flanders, and 3) the seaports of Italy.
The Fairs of Champagne began with a barter-based system, which with the Fair’s expansion demanded the development of currency, notaries, scribes, and fair guards. The expanding market at the Fairs of Champagne created an influx of outside traders, which lead to the merchants to work together on security and an exchange rate. The Fairs began to decline in 1285 due to the pressures of specialized monopolies, political controversy, Black Death, and the opening of the Atlantic sea route that bypassed these “world cities”. The institutions and agreements developed to manage global trade are still present today.
The commercial/industrial cities of Flanders illustrate the effect more permanent establishments effected the growth of the global commercial market. With the development of Italian shipping and the Atlantic sea route, the Bruges commercial city became the number one international port.
The seaports of Italy were crucial to cheap and efficient transportation of goods in the new capitalistic system. Genoa and Venice were imperative to placing Europe in the world economy. With the advancement in transportation, Europe was able to trade more heavily. By the end of the 14th century, both Europe and Orient were fighting to gain a monopoly on sea-lanes and ports. Although feudalism was dominant in 14th century Italy, the role Italy played in shipping and banks secured them a role in the “world system”.
The question I had was why the fragmentation of the Genghis Khan region had such an effect on the forward momentum of the Orient. The role as successful merchants would bring in revenue for their country as well as numerous luxury goods, or relatively luxury items. Therefore, why would the leaders of the Mongols, who are know for parallel government styles, bring such an upset to the trading routes? Wouldn’t they want to maintain them in order to maintain the good favor of the merchant class? Through what means were they so disrupting: force, legislature, fear, or miscommunication of intent?

Blog 1

Teresa (Starr) Green
Survival of the Fittest Ideas: The New style of War-- a Struggle Among Memes

Part 1:
Brin's Article, in my opinion gives a very spot on interpretation of different countries views. In the article he explains the meaning of memes and his four worldviews. Brin's defintion of meme is element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, and is transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Brin describes how memes are spread from person to person and in turn become an essential part of history. He then describes how memes can then build to become a view of a certain area. Brin describes 4 worldviews: Paranoia, Machismo, The East, and the Dogma of otherness.

Paranoia is pretty self explanatory. Countries that live in this worldview are always concerned about their enemies coming to attack them. This mindset comes from repeated invasions by other countries for years on end. This in turn reinforces different myths that make the inhabitants feel that even the most extreme leadership tactics. Brin then states that the greatest enemy of paranoia is peace.

The second theme is Machismo. Machismo is one of the leading meme in many parts of the world. The most notable characteristic of this view is the oppression of women. In this view skill and professionalism are often downgraded to benefit male loyalty groups. This deeply threatens by moidernity.

The third view is The East. This view is very big in China. This worldview is known for being very traditional and sane. The main motif is homogenity, which is the group is more important than any individiual.

Finally, the last worldview is the Dogma of otherness. This view is most common in the West. This view cares about diversity. This view is very eager for change, and has high tolerance. They also are known to be very suspicious of authority.

Part 2:
Something very interesting that I learned was that in the Dogma of Otherness that they were known to be suspcious of authority. This was interesting to me because being from the West I do not typically see people question authority. I feel that people should start questioning authority more.

Part 3:
Which worldview do you feel is the most visible in the world and why?

Before European Hegemony - Blog 1

Janet Abu-Lughod believes that the first world system developed during the thirteenth century, despite the fact that most historians maintain that it occurred much later. As proof, she describes the system of trade, including routes and methods (such as bartering and currency), that was used in the world at that time. She also examines why Europe became the dominant world power instead of another area. This topic is the basis for her book, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350. Abu-Lubghod begins by exploring the concept of fairs in the European subsystem, which were used as markets during the thirteenth century. Some were ephemeral while others were permanent, but all of them acted as centers where foreign and local traders could exchange wares. As a result of the complexities of trading across borders, a more complex system developed. Italians, who were more knowledgeable in banking practices due to their interaction with Muslims, generally controlled all foreign trade. They, along with other bankers, would exchange currencies or write “bills of exchange,” which allowed goods to be traded on a type of credit. The first major fairs that Abu-Lubghod refers to are those of Champagne because merchants were able to safely travel there, be assured that the trades would be fair, and enjoy trading in a place that was free from royal restrictions. However, as vessels improved and other places were more conveniently located between centers of production, the fairs also moved to places such as Bruges and Ghent. Unfortunately, dependency ruined both of those towns. England stopped selling wool to Flemish weavers because they were able to create their own products out of it, and Italian investors started putting their money into enterprises that were not declining. The Black Death also took a heavy toll, which contributed to the trade system shifting east.

I thought it was most interesting how complex but seemingly coincidental changes were. Abu-Lubghod tries to explain that the fairs at Champagne ended after a king took control of the towns, it was less safe and more expensive for merchants to travel there, easier sea routes to direct trading points were discovered, better vessels had been created, and the Black Death killed many people. However, she also mentions that the fairs really only dissipated once the Italians stopped coming. The same type of thing happened with the fairs at Burges and Ghent: the natural movement of silt blocked the ports and the Black Death took lives there as well. But as Abu-Lubghod points out, those fairs also ended because England had complete control over the wool that was needed to make the Flemish textiles and the Italians in Flanders ended up with control over where the money from the sale of the textiles was invested. Therefore, England withheld wool and the Italians invested the money in more profitable locations outside of the towns. It seems to me like Europe gained power through a series of chance events. The likelihood of all of these occurrences lining up, especially since even the Black Death hit the Orient and coastal regions much harder than it hit Europe at large, seems highly unlikely. Abu-Lughod provides a convincing set of evidence that Europe took power instead of the Orient because of chance, not because of destiny, as others have believed.

Something Abu-Lughod could have explained better is how these fairs relate to the modern world. For example, a connection between the desire of the French merchants to be protected from cheaper outside prices and the same desire of modern American companies is able to be drawn. Another connection between England withholding wool from Flanders to make a political statement and any of the numerous embargoes that have occurred throughout history could have been made. The Italian bankers and the complex exchanges that were transacted could also have been compared to modern macroeconomic exchanges of goods and credit. Such comparisons would have made for a very good discussion.

-Jessica Feldbauer

Blog Commentary 1 – Shaquel Smith

    The first 101 pages of "Before European Hegemony" written by Janet L. Abu-Lughod, is basically a novel of descriptive insider on The World System from A.D. 1250-1350. This period was a critical time slot in the development and idealistic of a world system. The second half of the thirteenth century was indeed a remarkable moment in world history. This introduction of the time period gave us (the readers) a basis in the understanding of what a world system is and how to understand the basics of formation. A world system is basically a system or redistribution of goods and services from the periphery to the core. Abu-Lughod uses the example of the thirteenth century to define if it is a world system or not. One of the main factors during the thirteenth century was the trade market. By the 1250 trade had been developing from the northeastern parts of Europe to China. The trading system involved a wide variety of merchant communities from all around the world. Various points in the globe participated in the trade movement simply because it was needed and the goods that were traded had value both as an export and an import.

    As previously stated, the foundation of a world system includes the redistribution of goods from the periphery to the core. I find it particularly interesting the role of the periphery. The dependency theory states that core countries need the periphery countries to stay relatively undeveloped. This fact truly beguiles and confuses me. I understand that it is important for a country to prosper, however, the "core" countries used their so-called dominance to determine the fate of the smaller, underdeveloped periphery countries. One interesting fact that I came across within the reading was that Europe was considered the periphery of the world system. That opinion was a bold prediction of the past made by Abu-Lughod. The idea of Europe being a periphery is solely standard through the Black Death idea. The Black Death epidemic thought to be started in Asia and spread its way to the rest of the world. Therefore, was Europe truly a periphery? Europe was the center of the World System trading markets and home to many of the subsystems of the world system. Lack of raw products and inability to dominate and influence was definitely a problem for Europe. Despite the various problems, Europe was still able to function and maintain economic power withstanding this time period.

    One of the most interesting ideas within the reading was the Champagne Fairs. The periodic market was one of the withstanding aspects in the city. In periodic markets, merchants bring goods to customers at regular intervals. Merchants managed and oversaw the production and transportation of goods. Each market city was equipped with area for the sellers to set up stalls and stands where consumers could trade and buy goods. Market day was filled with excitement and festivity. The idea of a market is important because it allowed the people to be entertained and the money to go around simultaneously. The fact that the market day for merchants war usually cheap on the money, is staggering because those financial aspects established many credit and fiscal opportunity.

    In retrospect, the thirteenth century was a period where a world system was developing. The development of this world system depended on trade, communication and power. Europe is considered the weak link in the world system. Despite that, I believe that Europe played a vital and important part of the world system. The dependency theory is falsehood and I believe that categorizing powers and utilizing the ideas of superiority is completely biased during that time period. The subsystems within the world system were vital to the formation of valid trade and a classic system, The World System of A.D. 1250-1350.

-Shaq Smith

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

The Global Society

In regard to a global society, the global society exists in the most accurate sense today, where great leaps in technology and the global mindset have simplified trade, making it more accessible and rapid than it has ever been before. However, these great leaps have only been realized as a result of the great leaps in trade and diplomacy that have come before them. In fact, the advances made in the world system of the thirteenth century may even be considered more monumental than ones taking place in the present day, because it was the prior global society that laid the framework for the global society of today.

In “Before European Hegemony”, Abu-Lughod aims to discern how a global society with the European nations at the core could evolve from the earlier and radically different global society of the thirteenth century, where economic power was shared by various powers from across Asia and the Middle East, as well was some emerging influence from Europe. She does this first through analyzing the world system as it existed in the thirteenth century, as well as contrasting the European powers with the rest of the world. She attempts to find “the unique characteristics of western capitalism” (15) that may have led to the emerging prominence of the west in the coming centuries. At the time, both used a currency as a method to aid in the exchange of good, which led to the invention of credit as well as the role of the banks in the exchange of money. Both also used methods for pooling capital to fund trade voyages, usually among family or religion-based lines. It is the differences that were most interesting to Abu-Lughod, as the chief difference being “that in the thirteenth century Europe lagged behind the Orient whereas by the sixteenth century she had pulled considerably ahead” (18), and all of the supplementing differences providing the reason behind this. The first, she reasons was the fragmentation of the trade routes that had been peacefully maintained by the Mongol empire. As the trade routes across Asia became less prominent, the economic prosperity shared between these regions declined as well. The second is the far reaching and devastating influence of the black plague from 1348-1351. Because the east was more involved in trade and travel, the plague traveled quicker across Asia and devastated the densely populated areas there. In contrast, Europe was more isolated and as a result felt a smaller impact. The devastation resulted in an “opening-up” of the global stage for European merchants to take advantage of, a hole in the market that Europe was soon to fill as it emerged a global economic power.

Abu-Lughod raises an especially interesting point regarding some of the problems with studying a historical system such as this. She points out what is to be learned from a lack of information, and what it can teach us about a global perspective. For example, some Arab geographers believed that in areas beyond exploration there lived dog-faced people as well as people covered with hair but having no knees, who were called “Chin-Chin”. Chinese accounts include descriptions “of water sheep that grow cotton instead of wool, or western accounts of special Chinese trees whose leaves are covered with silk floss” (32).

The study of this drastic shift in power leaves much up to speculation, which the rest of the novel will intend to explain. Most interesting would be a further explanation of effect of the Black Death on both Europe and the rest of the trading world. Why exactly was it that the “die-off rate” was lower in Europe than it was in the rest of the world? How did Europe recover its strength so much quicker than Asia and the Middle East?

-Dan Weingart

The Core, The Periphery, and the Semi-Periphery

During the uniquely non-hegemonic global system that developed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a somewhat hierarchical division still existed.  The nations with the most power could be regarded as the “core” of the system, and would consist of China and India.  As the most powerful nations in this system, they had some ability to shape the process, though it was very limited when compared to today’s global society.  Less powerful than those nations were the cities and states in the Middle East.  From Egypt and Aden to Baghdad and Basra, these areas could, to a certain extent, give terms to the undeveloped areas around them, and the less developed areas that also participated in the exchange.  Personally, I would feel inclined to put southern Europe (particularly the active trading Italian city-states) in this category.  They were more involved than the areas to their north, and were on, from time to time, an equal footing with some of the Arab states they traded with.  Certainly Italy was more powerful and important on the world stage than Flanders and France.  The periphery of the system, the least powerful areas, that had to, to the extent possible, shift priorities based on the dictates of the more powerful players, was centered mainly in Europe.  Most of the continent was still considered a backwater, and merely joined the already established trade between China, India, and the Middle East.  Flemish textiles and other manufacturing became important, but the region still had no power over other regions, beyond that any city held some power over the surrounding countryside.

            This system that occurred during the Pax Mongolica was unlike anything that came before it, and anything that has happened since.  This system incorporated virtually the entire known world to the participants (and even more, in some cases) and a larger section of the world than had ever been involved in trade.  Unlike any system we have seen since, there was no hegemonic group dictating terms to the rest of society.  The collapse of this system, from the in fighting in the Mongolian Empire to the isolationist turn taken by China, combined with the utter decimation of the Plague, established the type of system that would emerge from this era.  With everything else collapsing, Europe was seemingly the “last one standing” and was able to leap ahead of other regions and other nations by the time the “new world order” was shaped.  The way this is explained, and the sheer luck identified in Abu-Lughod’s description of the Northwestern European section of the world’s rises and falls, shows clearly that Europe was never “destined” to achieve its status above all else, but that it did so not through its own talents, but through chance.

But how does this system described by Janet Abu-Lughod differ from that which we see today?  Today we see a hegemonic system where the most powerful nations dictate terms to the rest of the world, and that is how it is, regardless of the needs of the other areas.  This type of system has even spread down to the semi-periphery.  In fact, that term could almost be replaced by “regional core,” as those nations act as the dominant force in their region.  The current core is made up of “the West.”  This consists mainly of the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan (the last three only to a certain extent).  China and the Russian Federation can also be considered to be core nations.  The behavior of these core nations has been increasingly hegemonic, as evidenced by the behavior and intervention by the West in a number of nations, current American actions in the Middle East, and Russia and China’s interventions into central and southeast Asia, respectively.   Certain regional cores, or semi-periphery states, are quickly rising and may soon join or even replace current core nations.  A nation like India, with its large population that is now beginning to mobilize itself to full capacity, or Brazil or South Africa, both large, resource rich nations that already wield considerable power in their regions.  Examples of the dominance of these states can be seen in the negotiations of disputes.  Currently the EU or the United States is often called on to settle an issue (for example, the EU’s negotiation of a settlement to the war fought between Georgia and Russia, or the role of the US in Israel-Palestine negotiations).  This is also seen at the regional level, as South Africa is called in to negotiate a power sharing deal in Zimbabwe.  The periphery concept has remained the same, though its local has shifted.  The nations of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia remain mostly subservient to larger powers, yet with good governance and an investment in infrastructure, they may soon rise.  How the world, and its relatively new hegemonic establishment, will cope with the rise of new core nations, new regional dominators, and the attempts of the undeveloped world to develop.