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UNIT 18: Rethinking the Rise of the West

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READINGS

Reading 1

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in World History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998). Selections from chapter 12, "Commerce and Change: The Creation of a Global Economy and the Expansion of Europe."

Abstract: This essay looks at Europe's growing role in the world economy in the context of shifting world systems. It points to Europe's commercial revolution in the sixteenth century as a motivating factor behind European expansion in that and succeeding centuries. This expansion occurred first in the Americas, then in the Indian Ocean region, and finally in the Pacific. It was the Atlantic expansion, however, that allowed Europeans to gain ever-increasing dominance within the world economy—dominated previously by China—through trade in sugar, slaves, and by the export of bullion. In contrast, China experienced changes in this period that caused its economy to slowly decline relative to Europe.

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Reading 2

McNeill, William H., "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years," Journal of World History 1, no. 1 (1990): 1–21.

Abstract: In this essay the author takes a retrospective look at his path-breaking book, The Rise of the West in light of the development of the field of world history since the book's publication in the 1960's. He argues that while the book still has many strong points, it also suffers from a lack of attention to the multiple connections that linked early societies. Instead, the author argues that he would now devote less attention to discrete civilizations and more attention to such connections.

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Reading 3

David Buck, "Was It Pluck or Luck that Made the West Grow Rich?" Journal of World History 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 413–30.

Abstract: New debates about political economy are enlivening the study of world history. David Landes and Andre Gunder Frank take diametrically opposed views in their new books. Landes upholds the well-established tradition of Euro-centered world history by arguing that the plucky Northern Europeans used their cultural values and technological superiority to dominate a world previously in the hands of cruel autocrats and inadequate bumblers; for Frank the avaricious Europeans just were lucky enough to have American gold and silver to buy a place in a flourishing Asian-centered world economy. Other less iconoclastic historians, such as R. Bin Wong, also challenge Eurocentric approaches by employing the logic of comparative history to limit the scope and duration of Western dominance. This renewed emphasis on questions of political economy signals a counter-trend in world history studies away from postmodern concerns with identity issues such as gender, class, race, and nation.

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Reading 4

Jack A. Goldstone, "Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the "Rise of the West" and the Industrial Revolution," Journal of World History 13, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 323–89.

Abstract: The "Rise of the West" has been treated by economic historians as stemming from the onset of rapid economic growth, driven by technological advances. In contrast, all premodern and non-Western economies have been treated as showing only slow or no growth, interrupted by periodic crises. This is an error. Examined closely, many premodern and non-Western economies show spurts or efflorescences of economic growth, including sustained increases in both population and living standards, in urbanization, and in underlying technological change. Medieval Europe, Golden Age Holland, and Qing China, among other cases, show such remarkable efflorescences of impressive economic growth. Yet these did not lead to modern industrialized societies. The distinctive feature of Western economies since 1800 has not been growth per se, but growth based on a specific set of elements: engines to extract motive power from fossil fuels, to a degree hitherto rarely appreciated by historians; the application of empirical science to understanding both nature and practical problems of production; and the marriage of empirically oriented science to a national culture of educated craftsmen and entrepreneurs broadly educated in basic principles of mechanics and experimental approaches to knowledge. This combination developed from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries only in Britain, and was unlikely to have developed anywhere else in world history.

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