New Directions in World History, 1500-PresentUntil about twenty years ago, the studies of most historians on different parts of the world were largely kept separate. This made it possible for us to think that the making of the modern world was principally a European story, the story of Europeans going out and exploring the rest of the world. We have understood the dynamism and the construction of the modern world to be the product of European motives, efforts, and intentions.
The Eurocentric View of History [VIDEO]
TRANSCRIPT: Our histories of the world in economic terms, from, say, roughly 1500 forward, used to be based principally on the explorations and expansion of European power and influence throughout the world. So that for instance, we expect that within Europe, there were a series of European dynamics that involved markets and expansion of markets, specialization of crops, the development of crafts. That these happened within Europe and were tied to the expansion of European trade overseas, and that that expansion then is what stimulated the economic activities of other parts of the world. So in other words, it's when Europeans landed on the shores of Southeast Asia, or landed at Canton, Guangzhou, in China, that they brought with them new products, new ideas, and a stimulus for these areas to begin commercial changes of their own and productive changes of their own. That's been the storyline.
And that storyline was very important to our understanding of economic history because it said, "Europe has been the center of an economic dynamism that goes back many, many centuries." And what it did was it prepared us to understand the emergence of an industrial revolution in the late eighteenth century as a sensible or logical outcome from developments that were taking place within Europe preceding that time, and that those developments were connected to what happens economically in the rest of the world.
The story, then, is based principally on a notion of dynamism, uniqueness, special qualities in Europe. For centuries it has assumed then that the rest of the world, be they in Asia, Africa, or the New World, were backward, were stagnant, were ignorant, had simple and primitive economies
Read an excerpt from the Far Eastern Economic Review on China's place in world history in the last millenium, 1000-2000.