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Europe and the People Without History by…
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Europe and the People Without History

by Eric Wolf, Eric R. Wolf

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This is a very broad yet detailed look at the history of the past five centuries, and the economic/materialist causes thereof. It combines anthropology with history, closely tying together societal and cultural organization with economic and historical factors.

'Globalization' is not new. Its speed and force have accelerated at an exponential pace since the end of the 20th century, but the very beginnings of this were beginning long earlier.

From 1400 or so onwards, the world, especially that of the Eurasian continent, was part of an interconnected global political economic system, and that very few 'isolated' systems existed. Even those societies and peoples on the American continent were able to keep in close contact with each other, or at least trade with each other.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, titled Connections, gives an astonishingly detailed and broad look the world at 1400, attempting to sketch out every single world region, including the American continents.

Already, he notes that the Europeans had a beneficial position and were making fortuitous choices. They had largely avoided the wave of Mongol Invasions and plagues of the 13-14th centuries and early 15th. The Spanish and Portugese, which were concluding their long Reconquista, began to make forays into North Africa and the Canaries and Azores, and thus stumbling upon the easterly winds which would take them to the Americas. The backwater states of the earlier periods were soon organizing into stronger centralized states which could afford the barest degree of security to the mercantile classes.

Wolf moves from here to the Middle East recovering from the Mongols and Tamerlane, then to Africa, where the organized tribal kingdoms were engaged in the vast global trade networks, South Asia, China, and then to the tributary empires of the Americas.

The second section uses four major case studies to illustrate the societal changes of the succeeding centuries. First, the Spanish/Portugese colonization of the Americas and their demolition of native societies to bring up the populace as forced labor, secondly, the expanded volume of slave trade, third, the fur trade in the northern tip of the American continent, and fourth, the European arrival in East and South Asia, including trading posts in India, Taiwan, and modern Indonesia.

One striking photograph is of a fur coat worn by a Tlingit tribesman in modern British Columbia. The coat is decorated and armored by Chinese coins brought by the Europeans.

The third and final grouping of the book concerns the rise of modern capitalist accumulation, industrialization, and the foundations of modern international trade systems.

What separates this system from other broad explanations of world history, like Ferguson's 'killer apps of the West' or Wallerstein's 'world-systems theory', are his description of a three-tiered system of modes of production - kin-ordered, tributary, and capitalist. The development of these systems is not linear. His materialist determinism is not limited solely to geography, as Jared Diamond's is. Each country is not a self-contained entity, and reacts to events as much as they are a determined cause. The economics is clearly influenced from Marxist views, but has a more subtle view on what existed before capitalism.

For a book which is so ambitious and so broad, it accomplishes its tasks well. Some grand myths of history are challenged here, and this is a book worthy of our consideration. ( )
1 vote HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eric Wolfprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wolf, Eric R.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Bárcenas, AgustínTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Diaz, Noel L.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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