Ian Morris’s Big Idea: When the West Falls BehindHistorians in the News
tags: Daily Beast, Ian Morris, West, civilization
What’s your big idea?
There are two sides to the story.
First, geography determines how societies develop. The world’s first complex societies appeared toward the Western end of the Old World (around 9000 BC), because, thanks to geography, more plants and animals that could be domesticated had evolved there than anywhere else on earth. Geography dictated that East Asia had fewer potentially domesticable plants and animals.
The second part of the story, however, is that social development determines what geography means. When societies developed to the point that it could organize irrigation systems (about 4000 BC), that changed geography’s meaning. Having access to great rivers now became all-important. Egypt and Mesopotamia turned into breadbaskets.
By about 500 BC, though, societies had developed far enough to master the sea. Greece’s and Rome’s access to the Mediterranean mattered more than access to great rivers.
By AD 1500, sailors could cross the Atlantic—but not the Pacific, which is twice as wide. The result: Europeans discovered and colonized the Americas. By 1800, Europe had had an industrial revolution and could project power globally.
By 1900, societies could master the Pacific too, drawing East Asia into the global economy. North America, with access to both oceans, soon replaced Europe at this economy’s core.
By 2000, social development had shrunk the Pacific. East Asia is moving from being a periphery to being a new core in its own right.
What geography gives, it can also take away....
comments powered by Disqus
- Trump visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture
- New Book Says Bob Woodward Burned Hillary Clinton’s Ghostwriter
- For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.
- In a Walt Whitman Novel, Lost for 165 Years, Clues to ‘Leaves of Grass’
- Veteran Congressman Still Pushing for Reparations in a Divided America
- Trump Chooses Historian H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser
- Holocaust Historian Deborah Lipstadt Explains Why People Believe Trump's Lies
- Princeton’s Harold James warns World War Three is now a "serious threat”
- Israeli schools' history lessons create good soldiers, says pundit
- Yuval Noah Harari foresees a god-like future for humans