For Teachers: Lessons

Rethinking the rise of the West: The Great Divergence Debate

Konstantin Georgidis, Canterbury School, Ft. Myers, Florida



This unit focuses on historiography. It traces the ways in which historians view the rise of the west during the period from 1450 to 1850. In the past, historians have explained Europe's rise-as expressed in European global dominance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - by focusing on maritime achievements in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This interpretation has also generally viewed Europe's rise as a result of unique European cultural factors.

More recent interpretations, however, have been critical of Western dominance and have attempted to place that dominance in a global historical context. In the 1970s, for example, world systems theory sought to view European dominance as a product of the expansionary nature of capitalism. In the last decade, scholars with opposing views about when, how, and why the West rose have hotly debated new interpretations. Even more recently, new comparative scholarship has sought to locate Europe's rise within a global trade network long dominated by China. Taken as a whole, this recent work within the field of world history has revised the interpretation and meaning of the rise of the West.