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UNIT 18: Rethinking the Rise of the West

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VIDEO SEGMENT: The "Great Divergence" and Comparative World History

This segment looks at the debates that have arisen in the last twenty-five years about the rise of the West. It begins with the opposing views of two eminent scholars, David Landes (author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations) and Andre Gunder Frank (author of Re-Orient). Landes argues that European global dominance resulted from inherent cultural characteristics within European society, such as a distinctive work ethic. Frank, on the other hand, argues that European global dominance only became obvious after 1800, and that until then China held the dominant role in the world economy.

The segment then moves to very recent comparative histories that place the rise of the West in an increasingly global context. These works emphasize three factors to contextualize the rise of the West. First, they argue that European dominance could only occur because Europeans were able to take advantage of slave labor and silver mines in the Americas. Europeans could then put the profits to use in global trade networks. Second, they argue that Europeans-especially the British-were able to industrialize early, primarily because they were fortunate enough to have a ready supply of coal deposits near large populations. Finally, the historians argue that the combination of early industrialization with the development of the nation-state and nationalism in Europe produced a particularly powerful expansionary response. Overall, the point of these studies is that European global dominance was not inevitable, and that issues of when, why, and how the West rose are still matters worthy of debate.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, BRADLEY COAL MINE, ENGLAND (c.1850). Courtesy of Northwind Picture Archives.

Utagawa Hiroshige, FOREIGNER'S SHIP: STEAMSHIP (1861). Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Yoshikazu Utagawa, TRUE PICTURE-DUTCH, CHINESE [TRADERS IN JAPAN] (1861). Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Anonymous, A TEA WAREHOUSE IN CANTON (1790). Courtesy of The British Library.



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