April 18, 2003

The Human Web

I have been reading J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill (2003), The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History (New York: Norton: 039305179X). It has some very nice (but highly compressed) formulations of key world-historical points.

Its general viewpoint is a human-ecological look at what basic agricultural technologies make possible, coupled with an analysis of the urban-commercial-military-religious superstructure build on top of the agrarian peasantry. Its explanation of why the Industrial Revolution took place in Europe is a mixed Weberian-Marxist one: institutional differences between Europe and the rest of Eurasia+North Africa+the East African Coast (universities, religious fragmentation, self-governing cities) allowed the bourgeosie to keep from being dominated by either the feudal nobility nor the agrarian bureaucratic nobility--and the bourgeoisie is, we all know, a most revolutionary class. (Why didn't the Industrial Revolution happen in the Middle East, where merchants had even greater potential--Muhammed was a merchant, after all? A combination of (a) ecological degradation that eroded the possibility of dense populations, and (b) no rivers--hence trade is limited by what camels can carry.)

Highly recommended. Here are a few of the highlights:

p. 31: ...domesticated animals provided much of the impetus for the subsequent spread of the Southwest Asian sytle of agriculture... an amazing elaboration of human relationships with their domesticated flocks and herds... mutant wool-bearing variety of sheep... wool plucked (later sheared)... an extrmeely useful fiber for making textiles... goats, then sheep... persuaded to allow human hands to milk them... extraordinary perversion of natural biological relationships... only some human populations evolved the capacity to digest fresh milk... clearest known case of a genetic modifcation among humans provoked by agriculture and herding... milking... enormous advantage... four times over what slaughter for meat could provide... domestic animals... beasts of burden... oxen... castrated males.. placid and strong...

p. 49: ...Sumerian accomplishments towered so high that even remote Indo-European-speaking pastoralists... far to the north incorporated elements of the Sumerian pantheon... Aryan, Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic deities... bore traces of their ancestors' early encounter witht he seven great gods of the Sumerican religion...

p. 69: ...Greek public life took a distinctive turn... familiar Southwest Asian polarity between a governing elite of rent and tax receivers and poverty-stricken tax and rent payers seemed about to emerge. But... Greeks invented a new master institution... the polis... combining old ideas about justice with new ways of defending themselves... magistrates... selection or election... one year... unceasing negotiation between citizens and their leaders... phalanx warfare... military success... how bravely and skillfully each citizen kept his place in line... the polis... attracted overriding loyalties among the citizens... reformers... rearranged property and voting rights... diminished the gap between rich and poor... increased the number of citizens properly equipped for [the] phalanx... polis proved extremely successful...

p. 70: ...coinage... Croesus 560-546 of Lydia... liberate citizens from the awkwardness of barter... coins simplified, sped up, and extended retail and wholesale trade... specialization... greek cities became locations for... market exchagnes... specialized production... monetization of everyday economic transactions rapidly increased Greek skills, wealth, and knowledge... Greesk... combined the advantages of tribal and village solidarity with the skills and wealth of urban civilization...

p. 79: ...by the beginning of the common era, the Han and Roman empires had populations of about 60 million each... a massive global shift toward village life... vast majority...lived in such communities... growing proportion... paying taxes and rents to urban-based rulers and landowners... deforestation... Mediterranean coastlands and through much of Southwest Asia... deforestation and resultant erosion had begun to damage farmland by 200 B.C.E... Greek hillsides lost their topsoil... similar in southern Italy... China... the Huang He... became a periodic menace... China's sorrow... salinization of the palins of Sumer made them completely barren... disease disasters that afflicted the Roman and Han empires in the second century B.C.E...

p. 84: ...breakup of Roman and Han empires... epidemics and violence... invasions... severely damaged urban and agricultural populations... dark age... lasted almost until the end of the millennium. North China... recovered sooner... India and Southwest Asia... a time of economic and cultural efflorescence.... Shifting military balances between steppe raiders and civilized defenders go far to explain... critical change... Parthians.. invented effective local defenses against steppe atttacks, thereby diverting steppe raiders toward less well-defended frontiers to the east and the west.... Parthian warrior class... protect[ed] the plowing peasants who paid them rents... heavy horses... enough armor to make hostile arrows ineffective... with bowshots of their own... repel attackers quickly and routinely. But dispersed armored cavalryment were unruly subjects.... Sassanians... presided over a tumultuous array of formidable fighting men who sometimes followed royal commands but often defied them.... Parthian-style armored cavalry required big, strong horses... steppe peoples could not prevail against armored cavalry nor easily support such expensive horses... heavy cavalrymen could not pursue... far onto the open steppe... hay made from cultivated alfalfa... alfalfa as a nitrogen-fixer... irrigation via qanats...

p. 85: ...So much has disappeared that accurate appreciation of Iranian achievements is impossible... buildings may have pioneered the domes and mosaic... characteristic of Byzantine... from... Diocletian... Roman emperors imitated Sassanian court ritual and symbolism... cataphracts... expense... limited their numbers... imperial policy did not allow them to escape from central control by living on local rents as their Iranian counterparts were doing...

p. 101: ...mild, moist European climate... westerly winds blowing across the Gulf Stream had allowed a modified Southwest Asian style of grain agriculture to flourish on unusually well drained soils... heavy clay soils of the North European plain... too waterlogged... until... a new sort of heavy plow imporoved drainage... Rhinelands... reliance on cattle diminished and grain fields multiplied... Roman frontier defenses collapsed... German settlers... displaced Latin-speaking populations... turned Celtic Britain into Anglo-Saxon England.... Heavy [moldboard] plows... instruments that [turned]... previously waterlogged clay soils of western Europe [into] ... productive grainlands... six or eight oxen... by 1000, between the Loire and the Elbe, a carpet of grainfields... replacing ancient forests and swampy meadows... turning what had previously been a backward, thinly inhabited part of the world into a productive, growing node...

p. 106: religions of salvation... commonalities... instead of promising divine help [on earth]... redirected human aspiration toward... transcendental.... Moral rules for everyday behavior reinforced by fear of eternal punishment.... Such a shift fitted the distressing facts of civilized urban life... interdependence among occupational specialists that made cities wealthy and powerful were also persistently unstable, blatantly inequitable... liable to painful breakdown.... Hope of redress in a future life made unfairness and disaster easier to bear... sustaining hope in time of trouble was the greatest single gift the new faiths gave... made the social differentiation of civilized society easier to maintain, restore, and extend... congreuence explains the intimate connection between conversion to... religtions of salvation and the rapid propagation of civilized states and societies across Eurasia and Africa that was such a prominent feature of... 200 and 1000...

p. 111: Mayan system remained precarious... unusual drought. Political disorders, accompanying the sudden diminution of resources created by drought... presumably... abandonment of the Mayan lowlands... after about 900. the temples along with literacy and much else disappeared beneath the rising canopy of second-growth tropical forests. In subsequent generations... slash and burn farmers, without cities or elaborate social hierarchy...

p. 114: Close parallels... Africas, Eurasia, and Africa... despite enormous... differences... tempting... parallels arose because farming peoples needed the services first of priests and then of warriors to thrive. Farmers had to learn when to plan and how to save enough seed... Two kinds of religious rituals managed by experts... observation of heavenly bodies... allowed priests to determine... planting seasons. Other rituals... rationed consumption... farming communities led by priests and regulated by religious rituals were better able to withstand disasters arising from weather, weeds, and pests. hence the power of priests... eventually ceded primacy to warriors... surpluses [meant] organized robbery became a feasible way of life... niche for professional fighting men... human history evolved along parallelpaths even in the absence of direct contact... dense webs of interaction that grew up in favored locations produced the same kinds of pressures to regulate and defend agricultural societies, producing broadly similar outcomes...

p. 116: 1000-1500: consolidation... greater productivity... new techniques... growing ability to mobilize human effort.... Most ordinary persons were not noticeably better off than before, despite rapid advances in collectrive manifestations of wealth and power.... Improvements in water transport... China the principal seat of... social and economic transformations between 1000 and 1500. Western Europeans expanded the capacity of their communications and transport networks too... carts... bridges. No comparable improvements affected overland transport... Muslim heartlands... Central Asia... African interiror... continued to operate within limits set by caravan and human portage...

p. 121: Printing... widespread under the Tang, made... learning far more accessible... Acceptance of market behavior had even more significant effects. Buying and selling became more commonplace... modified the ancient Confucian suspicion of merchants.... Song... Chinese economy... commercialized... collect taxes in cash... by the late eleventh century more than half of the government's income took monetary form... market relationships. Cities burgeoned, artisan skills improved... wealthy landlords and merchants... intensified agriculture... early-ripening rice... two crops a year... terraced fields... tea and cotton... washable cotton clothing... cheap and safe transport... Grand Canal.... All the benefits of specialization that Adam Smith was later to analyze so persuasively thus emerged in Song China... Government officials... qualified for office by passing written exams based on Confucian texts, presided over this transformation with a wary eye... mandarins... restrain the power of merchants... fixing prices, taxing excessive gains... outright confiscation... weaken generals by subdividing their commadns nad keeping the delivery of necessary supplies under civilian control. Such policies limited the mobilization of China's resoruces... made large-scale industrail enterprises evanescent... 125,000 tons of iron in 1078. But China did not launch itself on a self-sustaining industrial transformation.... No one knows for sure when or why the coke-fired furnaces... closed down...

p. 126: ...Ming... deliberately repudiated commercial-imperial expansion of the sort that brought the Portuguese inot the Indian Ocean... Why waste resources bringing tribute from overseas that China did not need when defense of the land frontier required such enormous effort?... Commercialization... remained firmly in place. Offically supervised poroduction of silk, porcelain... increased. Large-scale enterprises were few an dofficial like the salt administration...

p. 128: climate change (probably) and pastoral expansion (certainly) hurt agriculture throughout the semiarid heartlands of Southwest Asia, and the Black Death was very costly.... Muslim governments did invent ingenious ways to subsidize caravan trade.... But this did not enable camels to carry heavier loads. High-cost luxuries therefore remained the staples of interregional commerce in Southwest Asia. Peasants, oppressed by rents and taxes in kind... harassed by nomads... could only enter marginally... limited capacity of overland caravans inhibited commercialization of the rural majority in Muslim lands on anything like the scale that China and parts of Europe witnessed...

p. 131: among Muslims private mineral rights were never secure in law or in practice. This combined with limitations of overland transport, meant that mining and metallurgy failed to develop.

p. 139: By 1500 Europe's population was little if at all larger than in 1300, even though... transport and industry were far more efficient.... seaworthy ships... interregional specialization and exchange.... Western Europe thus replicated China's commercialization with a delay... but... European rulers and clerics failed to maintain control over the merchants and banker... sovereign city states.... Since moneyed men were continually on the lookout for anything that might turn a profit, a self-sustaining process of economic, social, and technological change gathered headway wherever poiltical conditions allowed it the freedom to operate.... Europe's urban self-government contrasted with the firm subordination of China's far larger urban populations to official control... Muslim urban elites stood in between... easily reduced to subservience by military upstarts... employed them as tax collectors... confiscated their... gains, just as mandarins did to merchants in China.

p. 141: Self-government could be aplied to common enterprises far afield... Shipbuilding and mining attained special vigor, thanks to this sort of risk sharing among multiple private investors. As a result, by 1500 the supply of base metals--especially iron--available to Europeans far surpassed what other peoples had at their command...

p. 142: ...array of sovereign city-states... had no analogue elsewhere... consolidation of... France and England also rested in large part on continual bargaining between kings and townsmen... taxes... royal administration agreed to protect towns... and allow townsfolk to conduct their internal affairs... Merchants, bankers, and poorer urban dwellers... played a far more prominent part in politics and war...

p. 188: Scientific Revolution.. requried... political landscape that gave protected space to thinkers... [and] long-distance flow of ideas and information... political (and... religious) fragmentation of Europe... universities... [were the] requisite political landscape. The information flow came via the printing press and oceanic voyaging...

p 282: London in 1750 killed children and newcomers so quickly that it cancelled half of th enatural increase of all of England.... By the 1920s, Chinese city dwellers... outlived their country cousins...

SKETCHY NOTES>

p. 26: Domestication of plants and animals... Southeast Asia: Uncertain: taro, yams, sugar cane, coconut, citrus, rice, pigs, chickens. Southwest Asia: 11000-4000 B.P.: barley, wheat, lentils, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, donkeys, camels, horses. China: 9000-6300 B.P.: rice, millet, soybeans, pigs, chicken, water buffalo. Mexico: 6000-4000 B.P.: squash, maize, beans South America: 5000-4000 B.P.: manioc, sweet potato, potato, quinoa, llama, alpaca, guinea pig. Sub-Saharan Africa: 5000-3000 B.P.: sorghum, millet, rice, cattle.

I don't believe in the separate domestication of rice and cattle...

p.30: Southwest Asian animal domestications: sheep: 10000 B.P.: Taurus Mtns. goats: 10000 B.P.: Zagros Mtns. pigs: 8700 B.P.: Southwest Asia and China?? cattle: 8000 B.P.: Unknown donkeys: 7000 B.P.: Egypt horses: 6000 B.P.: Ukraine bactrian camel: 4700 B.P.: central Asia dromedary camel: 3000 B.P.: south Arabia

p. 31: ...domesticated animals provided much of the impetus for the subsequent spread of the Southwest Asian sytle of agriculture... an amazing elaboration of human relationships with their domesticated flocks and herds... mutant wool-bearing variety of sheep... wool plucked (later sheared)... an extrmeely useful fiber for making textiles... goats, then sheep... persuaded to allow human hands to milk them... extraordinary perversion of natural biological relationships... only some human populations evolved the capacity to digest fresh milk... clearest known case of a genetic modifcation among humans provoked by agriculture and herding... milking... enormous advantage... four times over what slaughter fo rmeat could provide... domestic animals... beasts of burden... oxen... castrated males.. placid and strong...

p. 35: rice farming... basic to Chinese... incessant work in the fields... shaped family relations and larger social structures along different lines... rice did not become China's main staple until after about 200 C.E...

p. 49: ...Sumerian accomplishments towered so high that even remote Indo-European-speaking pastoralists... far to the north incorporated elements of the Sumerian pantheon... Aryan, Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic deities... bore traces of their ancestors' early encounter witht he seven great gods of the Sumerican religion...

p. 56: Southwest Asian Empires 2350: Akkad (Sargon): bow; plunder by small military elite. 1800: Amorites (Hammurabi): bows and spears; taxes, rents, plunder 1400: Mitanni, Hitties: chariots: taxes, rent, plunder 1400: New Kingdom Egypt: chariots, bronze armor: taxes, rent, plunder 1100: Dark Ages: iron armor, swords: plunder 800: Assyrians: bows, spears, chariots, cavalry, seige engines: taxes, rent, plunder 500: Persians: plus warships: taxes, rent, plunder

p. 69: ...Greek public life took a distinctive turn... familiar Southwest Asian polarity between a governing elite of rent and tax receivers and poverty-stricken tax and rent payers seemed about to emerge. But... Greeks invented a new master institution... the polis... combining old ideas about justice with new ways of defending themselves... magistrates... selection or election... one year... unceasing negotiation between citizens and their leaders... phalanx warfare... military success... how bravely and skillfully each citizen kept his place in line... the polis... attracted overriding loyalties among the citizens... reformers... rearranged property and voting rights... diminished the gap between rich and poor... increased the number of citizens properly equipped for [the] phalanx... polis proved extremely successful...

p. 70: ...coinage... Croesus 560-546 of Lydia... liberate citizens from the awkwardness of barter... coins simplified, sped up, and extended retail and wholesale trade... specialization... greek cities became locations for... market exchagnes... specialized production... monetization of everyday economic transactions rapidly increased Greek skills, wealth, and knowledge... Greesk... combined the advantages of tribal and village solidarity with the skills and wealth of urban civilization...

p. 79: ...by the beginning of the common era, the Han and Roman empires had populations of about 60 million each... a massive global shift toward village life... vast majority...lived in such communities... growing proportion... paying taxes and rents to urban-based rulers and landowners... deforestation... Mediterranean coastlands and through much of Southwest Asia... deforestation and resultant erosion had begun to damage farmland by 200 B.C.E... Greek hillsides lost their topsoil... similar in southern Italy... China... the Huang He... became a periodic menace... China's sorrow... salinization of the palins of Sumer made them completely barren... disease disasters that afflicted the Roman and Han empires in the second century B.C.E...

p. 84: ...breakup of Roman and Han empires... epidemics and violence... invasions... severely damaged urban and agricultural populations... dark age... lasted almost until the end of the millennium. North China... recovered sooner... India and Southwest Asia... a time of economic and cultural efflorescence.... Shifting military balances between steppe raiders and civilized defenders go far to explain... critical change... Parthians.. invented effective local defenses against steppe atttacks, thereby diverting steppe raiders toward less well-defended frontiers to the east and the west.... Parthian warrior class... protect[ed] the plowing peasants who paid them rents... heavy horses... enough armor to make hostile arrows ineffective... with bowshots of their own... repel attackers quickly and routinely. But dispersed armored cavalryment were unruly subjects.... Sassanians... presided over a tumultuous array of formidable fighting men who sometimes followed royal commands but often defied them.... Parthian-style armored cavalry required big, strong horses... steppe peoples could not prevail against armored cavalry nor easily support such expensive horses... heavy cavalrymen could not pursue... far onto the open steppe... hay made from cultivated alfalfa... alfalfa as a nitrogen-fixer... qanats...

p. 85: ...So much has disappeared that accurate appreciation of Iranian achievements is impossible... buildings may have pioneered the domes and mosaic... characteristic of Byzantine... from... Diocletian... Roman emperors imitated Sassanian court ritual and symbolism... cataphracts... expense... limited their numbers... imperial policy did not allow them to escape from central control by living on local rents as their Iranian counterparts were doing...

p. 86: India... Gupta dynasty... intensified agriculture... rice paddy cultivation.. wide-ranging trade... Ganges plain remained the core area... pepper and cinnamon... cotton textiles... Buddhist and Hindu holy men... art, sacred texts, and a way of life that reconciled holiness with buying and selling...

p. 87: Sui (581-618), Tang (618-907), and Song (960-1279) dynasties... Grand Canal in 611... safe, cheap water transport between the lower Yangzi and the Huang He

755: An Lushan's rebellion...

p. 88: heavy [Sung] tributes paid to steppe peoples... spreading Chinese goods and ways... deep into central Asia...

p. 90: ...Meccan alliance of townfolk with nomads... Muslims respected merchants and the habits of the marketplace far more than... earlier empires.... Camels... informal urban-nomad alliances.... Conversely, farming peasants and rural landowners found themselves subordinated to policies favoring merchants and herdsmen. Not surprisingly, agriculture suffered setbacks...

p. 92: ...collapse of the Sassanian state in 651 was accompanied by a mysterious decay of the rural Iranian warriors who had prevously guarded the countryside so effectively against steppe raiders... no one knows... practical effect was an increasing intimacy between turkic tribesmen from the steppes and the urban centers of Southwest Asia... Abbasid caliphs... Turkic slaves... court intrigues... Islam's... political unity thus became a mere pretense...

p. 101: ...mild, moist European climate... westerly winds blowing across the Gulf Stream had allowed a modified Southwest Asian style of grain agriculture to flourish on unusually well drained soils... heavy clay soils of the North European plain... too waterlogged... until... a new sort of heavy plow imporoved drainage... Rhinelands... reliance on cattle diminished and grain fields multiplied... Roman frontier defenses collapsed... German settlers... displaced Latin-speaking populations... turned Celtic Britain into Anglo-Saxon England.... Heavy [moldboard] plows... instruments that [turned]... previously waterlogged clay soils of western Europe [into] ... productive grainlands... six or eight oxen... by 1000, between the Loire and the Elbe, a carpet of grainfields... replacing ancient forests and swampy meadows... turning what had previously been a backward, thinly inhabited part of the world into a productive, growing node...

p. 102: ... earlier, more extensive, spread of rice paddies across monsoon Asia...

p. 103: Portable, universal religions...

p. 106: religions of salvation... commonalities... instead of promising divine help [on earth]... redirected human aspiration toward... transcendental.... Moral rules for everyday behavior reinforced by fear of eternal punishment.... Such a shift fitted the distressing facts of civilized urban life... interdependence among occupational specialists that made cities wealthy and powerful were also persistently unstable, blatantly inequitable... liable to painful breakdown.... Hope of redress in a future life made unfairness and disaster easier to bear... sustaining hope in time of trouble was the greatest single gift the new faiths gave... made the social differentiation of civilized society easier to maintain, restore, and extend... congreuence explains the intimate connection between conversion to... religtions of salvation and the rapid propagation of civilized states and societies across Eurasia and Africa that was such a prominent feature of... 200 and 1000...

p. 111: Mayan system remained precarious... unusual drought. Political disorders, accompanying the sudden diminution of resources created by drought... presumably... abandonment of the Mayan lowlands... after about 900. the temples along with literacy and much else disappeared beneath the rising canopy of second-growth tropical forests. In subsequent generations... slash and burn farmers, without cities or elaborate social hierarchy...

p. 114: Close parallels... Africas, Eurasia, and Africa... despite enormous... differences... tempting... parallels arose because farming peoples needed the services first of priests and then of warriors to thrive. Farmers had to learn when to plan and how to save enough seed... Two kinds of religious rituals managed by experts... observation of heavenly bodies... allowed priests to determine... planting seasons. Other rituals... rationed consumption... farming communities led by priests and regulated by religious rituals were better able to withstand disasters arising from weather, weeds, and pests. hence the power of priests... eventually ceded primacy to warriors... surpluses [meant] organized robbery became a feasible way of life... niche for professional fighting men... human history evolved along parallelpaths even in the absence of direct contact... dense webs of interaction that grew up in favored locations produced the same kinds of pressures to regulate and defend agricultural societies, producing broadly similar outcomes...

p. 116: 1000-1500: consolidation... greater productivity... new techniques... growing ability to mobilize human effort.... Most ordinary persons were not noticeably better off than before, despite rapid advances in collectrive manifestations of wealth and power.... Improvements in water transport... China the principal seat of... social and economic transformations between 1000 and 1500. Western Europeans expanded the capacity of their communications and transport networks too... carts... bridges. No comparable improvements affected overland transport... Muslim heartlands... Central Asia... African interiror... continued to operate within limits set by caravan and human portage...

p. 118: Al-Khwarizmi (780-850) introduced the idea [of zero and place value] to the Muslim world

p. 120: Chinghis Khan (1162-1227)... Black Death... Little Ice Age... Bu the "Dark Ages" that steppe raiding and epidemics had previously helped to provoke in China and Europe did not recur. Instead, these were precisely the parts of the world that recovered most successfully...

p. 121: Printing... widespread under the Tang, made... learning far more accessible... Acceptance of market behavior had even more significant effects. Buying and selling became more commonplace... modified the ancient Confucian suspicion of merchants.... Song... Chinese economy.. commercialized... collect taxes in cash... by the late eleventh century more than half of the government's income took monetary form... market relationships. Cities burgeoned, artisan skills improved... wealthy landlords and merchants... intensified agriculture... early-ripening rice... two crops a year... terraced fields... tea and cotton... washable cotton clothing... cheap and safe transport... Grand Canal.... All the benefits of specialization that Adam Smith was later to analyze so persuasively thus emerged in Song China... Government officials... qualified for office by passing written exams based on Confucian texts, presided over this transformation with a wary eye... mandarins... restrain the power of merchants... fixing prices, taxing excessive gains... outright confiscation... weaken generals by subdividing their commadns nad keeping the delivery of necessary supplies under civilian control. Such policies limited the mobilization of China's resoruces... made large-scale industrail enterprises evanescent... 125,000 tons of iron in 1078. But China did not launch itself on a self-sustaining industrial transformation.... No one knows for sure when or why the coke-fired furnaces... closed down...

p. 126: ...Ming... deliberately repudiated commercial-imperial expansion of the sort that brought the Portuguese inot the Indian Ocean... Why waste resources bringing tribute from overseas that China did not need when defense of the land frontier required such enormous effort?... Commercialization... remained firmly inplace. Offically supervised poroduction of silk, porcelain... increased. Large-scale enterprises were few an dofficial like the salt administration...

p. 128: climate change (probably) and pastoral expansion (certainly) hurt agriculture throughout the semiarid heartlands of Southwest Asia, and the Black Death was very costly.... Muslim governments did invent ingenious ways to subsidize caravan trade.... But this did not enable camels to carry heavier loads. High-cost luxuries therefore remained the staples of interregional commerce in Southwest Asia. Peasants, oppressed by rents and taxes in kind... harassed by nomads... could only enter marginally... limited capacity of overland caravans inhibited commercialization of the rural majority in Muslim lands on anything like the scale that China and parts of Europe witnessed...

p. 131: among Muslims privte mineral rights were never secure in law or in practice. This combined with limitations of overland transport, meant that mining and metallurgy failed to develop.

p. 135: Ottoman Empire... met the age-old problem of making sure that dispersed rural landholders would obey the summons for yet another campaign by creating a personal household of military slaves that was strong enough to overawe... local resistance... Janissary Corps.

p. 137: By 1500.. Western Europeans had acquired an impressive array of learning from their Byzantine and Muslim neighbors, and had imported an equally impressive array of technologies from distant China....

p. 139: By 1500 Europe's population was little if at all larger than in 1300, even though... transport and industry were far more efficient.... seaworthy ships... interregional specialization and exchange.... Western Europe thus replicated China's commercialization with a delay... but... European rulers and clerics failed to maintain control over the merchants and banker... sovereign city states.... Since moneyed men were continually on the lookout for anything that might turn a profit, a self-sustaining process of economic, social, and technological change gathered headway wherever poiltical conditions allowed it the freedom to operate.... Europe's urban self-government contrasted with the firm subordination of China's far larger urban populations to official control... Muslim urban elites stood in between... easily reduced to subservience by military upstarts... employed them as tax collectors... confiscated their... gains, just as mandarins did to merchants in China...

p. 141: Self-government could be aplied to common enterprises far afield... Shipbuilding and mining attained special vigor, thanks to this sort of risk sharing among multiple private investors. As a result, by 1500 the supply of base metals--especially iron--available to Europeans far surpassed what other peoples had at their command...

p. 142: ...array of sovereign city-states... had no analogue elsewhere... consolidation of... France and England also rested in large part on continual bargaining between kings and townsmen... taxes... royal administration agreed to protect towns... and allow townsfolk to conduct their internal affairs... Merchants, bankers, and poorer urban dwellers... played a far more prominent part in politics and war...

p. 145: ... credeping digitalization... arithmetical filter upon orgdinary sense experience... increasing the accuracy of communication... coordinate human activity more efficiently... more accurate navigation...

p. 145: Europe's commercialization... peripheral regions, ambitious entrepreneurs needed compulsory labor to bring goods profitably to market... principal urban centers... market prices for wage labor prevailed. Compulsory labor on the fringes of commercialized regions were as old as Sumer. What was new was the geographic range and scale of differentiation between core and periphery...

p. 166: Zheng He's ships could not have mounted cannon...

p. 169: 25 million enslaved from Africa... enslavement risk about five times that of today's risk of death from car crashes.

p. 171: Slave trading favored predatory over commerical and developmental states...

p. 180: 1500 236 towns had printing presses, had printed 30,000 titles, about 20 million books in all.

p. 180: ...the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire... the Ming... continued to rely on scribes...

p. 188: Scientific Revolution.. requried... political landscape that gave protected space to thinkers... [and] long-distance flow of ideas and information... political (and... religious) fragmentation of Europe... universities... [were the] requisite political landscape. The information flow came via the printing press and oceanic voyaging...

p. 195: Military Revolution... field cannon, artillery fortresses, infantry with firearms, close-order drill... oceanic, cannon-equipped navy...

p. 201: world economy between 1450 and 1800 grew... between two and threefold... more people.... Yet within this overall picture of glacial change, a closer look reveals some important shifts... globalization of trade... Columbian exchange...

p. 213: In the nineteenth century... such efficiency... great gains followed from erecting an economy based on massive daily flows of energy and materials over great distances...

mid nineteenth century submarine telegraph...

p. 219: A journal from Holland to Java in the spice trade took a year in 1650, three months... in 1850, and three weeks... in 1920...

p. 219: Long-distance trade before 1700... spices, sugar, and silks... By 1800... tobacco, opium, cotton, tea... by 1870... coal and grain...

p. 231 3.5 gigajoules per year = 1 manpower... average annual per capita energy use... hunter-gatherers 3-6 agraria 18-24 industria 70-80

p. 261: ...gigantic migrations from India, China, and Europe beween 1830 and 1914 involved more than 100 million people...

p 282: London in 1750 killed children and newcomers so quickly that it cancelled half of th enatural increase of all of England.... By the 1920s, Chinese city dwellers... outlived their country cousins...

p. 298: World War II killed about 3 percent of the world's 1940 population...

Posted by DeLong at April 18, 2003 11:32 AM | TrackBack

Comments

I read "Something New Under the Sun" a few months ago it was very entertaining. I will have to look this one up. Thanks.
My question of the day has to do with offset agreements.

Posted by: Bruce Ferguson on April 18, 2003 11:55 AM

This summary of McNeill's assessment of Mayan collapse fairly reflects the current Mayanist view.

(I wrote more but it's irrelevant, so I cut it.)

Posted by: Saam Barrager on April 18, 2003 01:08 PM

The scope seems similar to Diamond's excellent Guns, Germs and Steel.
(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393317552/)
How do the two books compare?

Posted by: Kimon on April 18, 2003 01:30 PM

I believe that McNeill sponsored Diamond, who as a non-historian probably wouldn't have gotten a hearing otherwise. McNeill's earlier book Plagues and Peoples led to Diamond's book, I think. We can be confident that McNeill has taken Diamond into consideration.

I find both stimulating but both have a reductionist bias (large social and historical events are always caused by epidemiological, technological or climatic change). Both also build big theories partially on speculative data.

Posted by: zizka on April 18, 2003 03:46 PM

Actually, the historiography is Plagues and peoples William H. McNeill Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor Press, 1976 followed by
Ecological imperialism : the biological expansion of Europe, 900-1900 Alfred W. Crosby
Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1986 followed by
Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies Jared Diamond
New York : W.W. Norton, c1997

with a bunch of others along the way but these three books are excellent. McNeill really broke ground on this topic as far as I know (not being a historian)

Posted by: Marc on April 18, 2003 07:08 PM

Zizka wrote, "I find both stimulating but both have a reductionist bias (large social and historical events are always caused by epidemiological, technological or climatic change)."

But remember that Diamond stressed that he's looking at *extremely* long time scales---on the order of millenia.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on April 19, 2003 08:57 AM

... and also in this vein, Walter Bagehot's Physics & Politics (1872).

Posted by: Dave Long on April 19, 2003 09:00 AM

"(Why didn't the Industrial Revolution happen in the Middle East, where merchants had even greater potential--Muhammed was a merchant, after all? A combination of (a) ecological degradation that eroded the possibility of dense populations, and (b) no rivers--hence trade is limited by what camels can carry.)"


It appears that somebody might need to read the brilliant works of Bernard Lewis. The reason why the Muslim world didn’t have an Industrial Revolution is most likely due to the reactionary choices of its leadership some 400-500 years ago. Modernity and progress of any kind was virtually condemned. This is probably the central reason for the current rage of the radical Muslims toward the West. They realized their second rate status and thus became bitter and envious of the Western nations' preeminent dominance. Sadly, suicidal nihilism now pervades the existential mindset of these very dangerous individuals.

Posted by: David Thomson on April 19, 2003 01:31 PM

lets not forget 200 years of european colonialism where human rights, democracy and freedom were denied to Muslims.

Posted by: duh on April 19, 2003 02:38 PM

Isn't the real mystery here how agriculture came into the picture? Would there really be an incentive to change from a birth-controlling hunter/collector economy to a maltheusian agrarian one?

My take: once there is a single agrarian village, it will agressively expand. To ensure cap.utilisation of owned land, birth rates are maximised (through opression of females). Low farm-production years following good ones thus means a shortage of land. Meaning more land will be cultivated. Meaning population will expand.

Ho,ho, political correctness AND reductionism explaining why nearly all populations were patriarch and agricultural before this industrial thing started!

Posted by: Mats on April 19, 2003 02:44 PM

I'M SERIOUS! If you can't quote any earlier work on my post above, quote me, or I'll go after you for research fraud
:-D

Posted by: Mats on April 19, 2003 02:57 PM

"lets not forget 200 years of european colonialism where human rights, democracy and freedom were denied to Muslims."

Please note that the decline began at least a few centuries before the European colonialists! You are definitely among those who need to read the works of Bernard Lewis. I strongly suggest that you start with his "The Muslim Discovery of Europe."

Posted by: David Thomson on April 19, 2003 03:51 PM

I thought Lewis's book was mistitled. It should have been "The Ottoman Discovery of Europe". Interesting earlier episodes (the Ilqans in Persia, and Muslim Andalusia) were virtually ignored.

Many Arab Muslims blame the Mongols, Ottomans, and Mamluks for the decline of Islam. Their case is not ridiculous. If you look at the areas ruled by various Mongol and Turkish empires during the period 1250-1900 A.D. -- most of the old Soviet Union, all of China, most of the Middle East, Egypt and neighboring areas -- all tend to be undemocratic and unprogressive.

When the Mongols and Turks took power, they were as a rule not Muslim yet, or only recently Islamicized. The political system they imposed was not Islamic.

Posted by: zizka on April 19, 2003 05:45 PM

"Many Arab Muslims blame the Mongols, Ottomans, and Mamluks for the decline of Islam."

The bottom line is this: the decline occurred! We can debate the exact reasons until the cows come home. Still, the Islamic territories turned reactionary and shunned progress in virtually every area of the soft and hard sciences. The West inevitably became dominant and the Muslims started to to suffer from an intense inferiority complex. Why did the God of Mohammed abandon us? Existential angst turned into self pitying bitterness and jealousy.

Posted by: David Thomson on April 19, 2003 06:36 PM

DT is right for once (somebody call 911...) though for the wrong reasons. The Muslim countries did take an anti-modernity stance in the later middle ages, but they did so primarily as a reaction to terrorist attacks--the Crusader sack of Jerusalem and the Mongol sack of Baghdad, both of which killed thousands of innocent civilians. After these events, Muslim countries became extremely xenophobic, militaristic, and distrustful of any ideas from outside which challenged established authority, including the sultans, the mullah/ayatollah hierarchy, and the large landowners who ran Middle Eastern agriculture.

What makes me sick to my stomach is that this appears to be exactly the direction in which the US is heading in the aftermath of 9/11. Of course, the resulting decline in American power, if this attitude continues, will only be felt long after our lifetimes. But it will happen unless US citizens can make a serious mental shift in their outlook to the rest of the world.

Posted by: andres on April 19, 2003 11:18 PM

I said what I said partly because this is a historically interesting question. However, I also was trying to defuse the current meme which tells us that Islam is bad because Islam has always been bad. As usual, Mr. Thompson's motives are diametrically opposed to mine.

"We can argue about X until the cows come home, but the bottom line is....." -- sounds sort of know-nothing, doesn't it? Let's not talk about anything that doesn't fit the agenda.

Posted by: zizka on April 19, 2003 11:42 PM

"Ho,ho, political correctness AND reductionism explaining why nearly all populations were patriarch and agricultural before this industrial thing started!"

Unfortunately Mats there is plenty of evidence that the oppression of females started way, way before agricultural society got going. Chimp females (for eg) are pretty much oppressed (as are Gorilla females, but not, of course, Bonobos - if in doubt see Wrangham and Peterson's 'Demonic Males').

On the productivity of the agricultural transition you could try Robert Lucas: 'the industrial revolution past and future' in his lectures on economic growth.

The really interesting question is whether the agricultural revolution expanded by diffusion or by waves of migration, unfortunately your model doesn't get to grips with this one. My feeling is that the process was not one of gentle transition but one of conquest and exclusion (what might count as evidence: eg the geographical distribution of the Dravidian population in India). I mean there is a real problem of a bad-equilibrium 'sink' here. On the margin why would anyone ever move over to the dreary hard work of agriculture when they could get away with hunting, drinking and sleeping. There is also a problem, after the arrival of the horse and boats, of briggandage. There is a good film with a Burt Lancaster 'tame' Apache on this, and, indeed Thucydides himself argues that the Greeks got going through piracy.

"I find both stimulating but both have a reductionist bias (large social and historical events are always caused by epidemiological, technological or climatic change)."

Of course this would be reductionism of the 'bad' sort, unlike all the economic reductionism (the 'good' sort) which is so fashionable these days. The climatic (following William Calvin) could be an interesting motor for evolution, but surely the interesting thing about this latest book is the word web in the title. Mightn't it help us a little to understand all this process if we looked structurally at history in terms of connectivity, how you add links, and how you remove them, and the consequences (since both technology and disease are about diffusion this would encompass them).

And mightn't we also be able to resolve all the interminable arguments about the dating of globalisation (Wallerstein, Braudel, Williamson etc) if we analysed it in terms of things like clusters and giant components. Maybe we could finally get hold of some serviceable metrics.

If I remember right, I think Diamond uses this kind of argument in his Edge piece.

Posted by: Edward Hugh on April 20, 2003 09:55 AM

“On the margin why would anyone ever move over to the dreary hard work of agriculture when they could get away with hunting, drinking and sleeping.”

This theory sounds very plausible. The first farmer may have been forced by more powerful individuals within the group to do this sort of labor. Hunting is basically an immediate rewards pursuit while farming demands patience and the virtue of delayed gratification. A higher degree of organization and trust seems to be required.

Farmers are obviously not permitted the luxury of moving from one place to another. The Neanderthal Jack Kerouac would have gone stark raving crazy! Also, one would guess that a “real man” in those days proved himself by hunting. Farming was probably only for wimps.

Posted by: David Thomson on April 20, 2003 01:59 PM

Edward:

"Unfortunately Mats there is plenty of evidence that the oppression of females started way, way before agricultural society got going." Some ape-species are opressive towards females.

Yes - but i was comparing hunter/collector cultures to farming-cultures were as i understand it, hunter/collector females seldom gave birth to same large number of kids as did framer's females.

BTW, don't think apes can afford the same level of opression as farming cultures - widow-burning, careless nursing of baby girls, vaginal maiming...

About the spreading of agriculture on the expense of hunting - wouldn't just burning down the forests, draining wetlands and other activities aimed at expanding farmland have been enough to move the frontier?

Posted by: Mats on April 20, 2003 02:53 PM

"Existential angst turned into self pitying bitterness and jealousy."

'The muslim world suffered from existential angst.' I just like the way that sentence looks.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on April 21, 2003 03:26 AM

"About the spreading of agriculture on the expense of hunting - wouldn't just burning down the forests, draining wetlands and other activities aimed at expanding farmland have been enough to move the frontier?"

The problem probably comes from the notion of frontier (in fact now I come to think of it I have the impression that even the US one didn't move at a slow crawl like a drop of oil on a smooth surface. Once you set up a model and build in a couple of generations, just how do the people at the centre get to the frontier?

You need a much more percolation-style cascade model I think, and this seems to fit in with some of our folk mythology on mass migratory movements and mini-empires. The point about burning forests and draining wetlands is who would do this Herculean work while there was still 'unclaimed' land to be found by emmigrating, in groups and with the right armament.

Posted by: Edward Hugh on April 21, 2003 09:40 AM

Edward:

"The point about burning forests and draining wetlands is who would do this Herculean work". Now burning forests is not Herculean, rather the reverse as you don't kneed heavy plows to get good returns from first year farming on burnt forest land.

I guess draining wetlands is really tough work, but it might anyway be competitive as it is far less risky than "emmigrating, in groups and with the right armament" to some probably unknown and hopefully "unclaimed" land.

Posted by: Mats on April 21, 2003 11:40 AM

“The point about burning forests and draining wetlands is who would do this Herculean work while there was still 'unclaimed' land to be found by emmigrating, in groups and with the right armament.”

You might wish to read about Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis. What happens when they rightly or wrongly, perceive that they have run out of territory? Perception often is all that matters. It may have been much easier to do a lot of “Herculean work” instead of fighting a much stronger foe. Also, the task is far easier if you have captured enough slaves to do the really dirty stuff.

Posted by: David Thomson on April 21, 2003 02:00 PM

Either Hobbes or Locke, or maybe both, as well as Han Fei Tzu in China, talk about the moment when all the good land was finally being cultivated as the big historical turning point. Suddenly you couldn't just go farm somewhere else if there were problems where you were. I believe that they find the origins of private property and the state here, but I can't reallt remember.

Posted by: zizka on April 21, 2003 02:19 PM

What of the "Deluge" as a reason to go from seminomadic hunter-gatherer to full sedentarism? At the end of the last glaciation the sea-level raised some 120 meters, flooding the Persian Gulf, a lot of land in the Egean sea, and some great expanse of land along the north of the Black Sea, the population of the submerged land and its neighbours had to accomodate to full agricultural sedentarism to avoid conflicts greater than those they already had.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 21, 2003 02:56 PM

I recall that Diamond describes the birth spacing of sedentary families as being half that of nomadic families. That's a whole lot of extra bodies to defend the fields, even before political organization of these larger populations allows for the establishment of warrior classes and organized armies far larger than hunter-gatherers can deploy.

When the hunter sees the farmers taking a field for planting, he can fight them off, or leave. The problem is that the hunter is nomadic - he cant afford to sit down and guard the field year round, because he needs to pursue prey. The hunter can also afford to stop hunting in the field, because it represents such a small portion of his total range. So if the hunter fights, he faces superior numbers, for a small gain. Worse, just because he has run off one farmer this year wont prevent another from coming back next year - the population pressure from an agricultural society is relentless.

The farmer, on the otber hand, is tied to his new field, and has a very large incentive to defend it. If the crop fails, or the field is lost to the hunter, the farmer starves. So the farmer will be much more dedicated in his defense of the field than the hunter will be in his attempt to take it. The farmer's kin will also be more numerous than the hunters', so if the hunter tries to stand and fight, odds are he loses.

This game has an equilibrium. Every time the hunter loses a field, the better choice is not to defend it. And so agrisulture expands, gradually, pushing the less productive activity to the margins.

Posted by: Ethan on April 22, 2003 08:30 AM

The hunter may settle for a seminomadic strategy, marrying with the farmers while going on extended hunting leaves, doing commerce and so on. The French proceeded in a similar way in Louisiana, even if from the other side: those who didn't feel at ease in farmwork, or town-life, took to themselves to go hunting and commercing with the indians, frequently taking indian wives if I am not wrong. At the beginning of the agrarian revolution there was almost no technological difference between hunters-gatherers and farmers, the mixing between them should have been frequent.

DSW

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 22, 2003 10:06 AM

I think Ethan illustrates my point of the Maltheusian force behind the farmer's expansion, a phenomenon not present in the hunter-gatherer culture.

The farming culture press the farmer's woman to have more children than optimal from her individual perspective - that's what brings the population-economic dynamic to manual agriculture.

Farmer-huter marriage as DSW points out would work between farming women and hunting man, but of course not vice versa as hunting women's kids might be of lesser help on the farm and of higher cost in the hunting.

Now, Hunting man would by these argument leave his kids with farming woman, thus adding to the population and eagerness for more land of the farming culture. Cross marriage would thus speed farmer's colonisation!

Posted by: Mats on April 22, 2003 12:56 PM

First a nitpicking, DSW means only "end of message" (from russian telegraphic abbreviation for Do SWedania Good Bye, which I retrieved from some obscure UNIX version utility to release lost "inode"-s)The name is Antoni.

What you describe is in fact a common description of the birth of agriculture, men would go on hunting expeditions while women and children remained in a favorable to gathering zone, since such zones would tend to be durable through the years, that would have lead to the deliberate use of seeding even if the group would leave during some time: the seeds would give fruits on the return a few months later.

Another observation is that in agrarian cultures it is quite frequent to have a matrilinear family. A rather spectacular case:

[...]The Mosuo [in China]... Women carry on the family name and run households, [in contrast with the rest of China]... Most unique, though, is the Mosuo tradition of "walking marriage." Arranged matches, for centuries the Chinese norm, are unheard of. Instead, women commonly take several lovers during lives of serial monogamy, without suffering scarlet letter opprobrium. The men visit the women's homes at night, often secretly; any resulting children are raised by the woman's family[...]
http://www.time.com/time/asia/features/china_cul_rev/minorities.html

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 22, 2003 02:28 PM

Sorry Antoni, I was actually convinced that DSW was your signature, my bad. Thanks for your point about the "birth of agriculture", really makes me feel less puzzled about what initially seemed to me as rather mysterious.

About the frequence of matrilinearity: I guess you mean it is frequent as compared to what is commonly expected when counting cultures, as opposed to counting individual members of cultures?

Posted by: Mats on April 23, 2003 12:47 AM
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