500 years ago, most people had little contact with, awareness of, or impact beyond a tiny, nearby group of people. Today, germs, technology, and news make us all connected. If globalization is a historical process, How did it happen? Was it inevitable?, Is it reversible?
Our six sessions will look at the connection and movement of people, things, and ideas and conceptions of the world and explore them in chronological development from the earliest days of humanity to the 21st Century. By taking a long and broad perspective, we can do a better job of understanding what forces are behind this phenomenon, separate the significant trends and factors from the detours, reversals, and “bumps in the road,” and see some ways in which these forces and trends may work in the future.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the world has become increasingly integrated since the first diaspora of humanity tens of thousands of years ago. Wonder, curiosity, diverse interests and tastes have driven technology and adventure for millennia. Opportunities for a new and better life (and some profit along the way) have spurred people to travel or move. Rumors, new things, and new ideas caused people to think about people and places outside their home areas.
These actions were premised on an implicit understanding that there is great diversity—both environmental and cultural—in the world and if one person can enjoy and benefit from it, so can another, because (despite our diversity) we are all part of the same system. Now, these principles were not so often recognized at the time, and even more rarely stated expressly; but they are there if we look hard enough. And we have to be careful here, because getting inside peoples’ heads is hard enough even when you have lots of direct experience of their behavior. LP Hartley famously said: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So, figuring the mindset of
* a 17C Dutch trader,
* a 12C Indian lascar,
* a 19C African woman taken prisoner and thrown on a ship for a few weeks only to arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, or
* a 15C Chinese imperial bureaucrat
calls for speculation…and humility on the part of the historian.
This is the frame that we will use to see some portions of the past. After all, “globalization” is not actually a “thing,” like a chair or the Republican Party. It’s a concept, and label (and a relatively new one at that) that we use to describe a bunch of events and activities. And, as is common when lots of people talk about something (especially the modern media), they use the same word but have different meanings behind it in their heads. So, we will try to be clear about what we are talking about.
It is also important to remember that “globalization” is not some divinely-mandated goal for humanity nor, usually, even some clearly stated human goal. There is a great book about the British empire called “The Absent-Minded Imperialists,” we might say the same thing about “globalization.” Whatever aspect we are discussing just happened—usually for good, but highly local and specific, reasons (like fleeing oppression, spreading the Gospel, or developing a taste for tea)—but without any sense that “globalization” was 1) something, 2) something desirable, or 3) something which a particular actor wanted to accomplish. Finally, while there may be some fundamental factors that tend towards broader inclusion and integration, nothing is inevitable; particularly the steps along the way so far.
As a result, in an important sense we can’t look for the drivers of globalization per se. We can look for and we will talk about steps and aspects along the way that, when they are stacked together, comprise what we (in the 21C) might call “globalization.”
In this 21C, most historians have changed their perspective form what most of us experienced back when we were in school (when all this stuff was still relatively fresh!). How many people here took a class in “Western Civ?”—We learned all about how Europeans “discovered” America and the Philippines and everything else. This was part of a broader story about how Western “civilization” took over the world and brought great things: science and Christianity among them. The downsides of European empires were downplayed; world Wars I and II were anomalous hiccups in the march of progress. Well now we try not to be so euro-centric. After all, there were plenty of people who knew what was happening in Molucca and Madras and Mexico before the Spanish/Dutch etc. showed up. The balance sheet on empire is decidedly uncertain. The perspectives of Africans and indigenous peoples elsewhere are no less valid or interesting than Columbus’ reports or Winston Churchill’s dispatches from South Africa or India. To be sure, there was a period where Europe was the hub of the world, but there was also a time when that locus of power was in Asia or the US of A; so a little open-mindedness is called for here. Actually, for most people, most of the time, Europe either wasn’t a thing, or it wasn’t known, or it wasn’t all that important.
So, this course is about us—all of us. And about how did we (that Dutch trader, Indian lascar, African woman, and Chinese bureaucrat) start talking to each other, eating each other’s food, and thinking about some specific other (and all those other others that we never met, only imagine, but whom we know occupy our world together).