Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400-1800

Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400-1800
Charles H. Parker
Cambridge University Press   268pp
£50 (hb) £16.99 (pb)

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World history is both relevant and fashionable but is not easy to do well. There is a tendency to find the onset of globalisation in the period in question and to emphasise the importance of global interactions at the expense of different or contrary tendencies, such as regional interactions. Thus it is unclear why the period selected by Charles Parker is at least initially more significant than the impact of the creation of the Mongol world. This point is underlined by demographics for, given the problems with assessing population, it was still the case that approximately a quarter of the world’s population in 1400 lived in China with another quarter in India. Once the populations of South-West Asia and (less significantly) South-East Asia are included, it seems apparent that interactions in Asia were more significant than the longer range; while direct Mongol power extended into Eastern Europe.

On the contrary, the standard narrative and that offered by Parker, privileges trans-oceanic maritime activity, which was certainly crucial to the fate of the Americas from the 16th century, but less so for other regions. For example, the Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean greatly affected the spice trade, but merchants from the East Indies and Gujarat were able to re-establish former routes to the Near East. For India, the spread of Mughal power in the 16th and 17th centuries proved more significant than the littoral activities of the Europeans.

This book provides an interesting discussion of trade, migration, disease and religion, bringing together and summarising existing knowledge, for example of maps. It works as the introductory text it is designed to be. It leaves open the challenge of how best to reconcile the emphasis on global interactions with the significance of other levels of activity and perception.

Jeremy Black is the author of Beyond the Military Revolution: Warfare in the Seventeenth-Century World (Palgrave, 2011).

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