Georgia Institute of Technology The Webs of Humankind Essay

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300 words over John McNeill, The Webs of Humankind: A World History, vol. 2, chapters 20

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The First Global
1500 to 1800
AKOB FUGGER (1459-1525) and Virji Vora (ca. 1590-1670) knew how
to make money. When Fugger died, his net worth was equivalent to
ing partners reckoned he was the richest man in the world. Both men had
acquired the knowledge and contacts to take full advantage of two recent
changes that came with the formation of a truly global web: rulers’ growing
need to borrow money for wars (discussed in Chapter 19) and the expanding
scale of long-distance trade.
Fugger was the tenth of eleven children in a merchant family in Augsburg
in southern Germany. At age 14 he was sent to represent his family’s business
in Venice, and he ended up living there for 14 years. Most of his older brothers
died young, and he took over the family business, shifting its focus from tex-
tiles to mining. He invested in copper and silver mines all over central Europe
and traded copper to markets as far away as Russia and India. He also invested
in a successful voyage from Portugal to India that returned with cargoes of
spices. But his core business was mining, and he eventually controlled most of
Europe’s copper output.
Global Trade Set within the Dutch East India Company’s fort in its capital, Batavia (present-day
Jakarta, Indonesia), this 1661 painting by a Dutch artist shows a market of global goods.
Merchants from China, Bengal, Europe, and Batavia itself meet to buy and sell-just one of
countless instances in which trade knitted the Global web closer together.
438 million
556 million
950 million
to their local environments that had not been available GLOBAL POPULATION GROWTH, 1500-1800
before, such as maize in Africa or wheat in the Ameri-
cas. Minor improvements in agricultural technology or
practice in some parts of the world also helped. But there
were no transformative technical breakthroughs in food 1500
production anywhere.
603 million
A second reason for the surge was what one historian
has called the “microbial unification of the world.” As
travelers spread pathogens around the globe, the resulting
Source Anger Mads The World Economista Soon
diseases at first had terrible consequences, most notably
in the Americas. But over time, populations developed
resistance to a wider array of infections than before. More resulting in more epidemics (worsened by malnutrition
infections became childhood diseases, endemic in com- and more warfare than normal. Political violence spike
munities and only rarely sparking epidemics. No one in China, where the invading Manchus battled the col
understood it at the time, but this process of biological lapsing Ming dynasty; in Ottoman lands, unsettled by
adjustment was speeding up by 1700 or 1750.
internal rebellions, and in Europe, with its bloody ra
As more infections became endemic, they killed chil- gious wars and rebellions. In Gujarat and the Deccan
dren without immunities even if antibodies now protected in India, an official Mughal chronicle described severe
more disease-experienced adults. As before, families had famines:
to expect about half their children would die of disease
before reaching adulthood. So they did their best to pro-
… [A] perfect drought prevailed…. [H]igh and low
duce plenty of them, and fertility rates stayed high in
were damouring for their bread and dying from sheer
exhaustion…. the streets and marketplaces were so
most societies. Globally, mortality diminished slightly
thronged by the immense number of corpses that one
between 1500 and 1800. Before 1800, medical improve-
could scarcely make (one’s] way through them.
ments remained trivial everywhere in their demographic
More broadly, infanticide and suicide apparently peaked
The table above gives a rough idea of the trajectory of in several societies around the world during the seven
world population growth over these three centuries teenth century. On a global basis, the 1640s were prob-
in mind the figures are educated guesswork.
ably the worst decade for humankind since the plague
as we have seen, was cata- pandemic of the 1340s.
strophic for many Amerindian peoples. But elsewhere,
as best we can judge, populations grew despite repeated
epidemics and famines. In Europe and China, where the
estimates are more reliable than elsewhere, that was clearly The eighteenth century, in contrast, brought faster popular
true Population levels recovered from the losses of the tion growth than our species had ever before experienced.
fourteenth-century plague pandemic and kept growing China more than doubled its population, a result partly af
the spread of American food crops such as sweet potatoes
But the seventeenth century saw slower growth due
mainly to enormous disasters. In the Americas, the effects
and political violence. In the Americas, the
of imported and unfamiliar diseases such as smallpox,
introduced diseases abated and millions of immigrants
, influenza, and malaria were still making them-
selves felt. More broadly, the seventeenth century brought increased by roughly 50 percent, with Ireland’s growing
mostly enslaved Africans-arrived. Europe’s population
the chilliest and driest years of the Little Ice Age. The
the fastest. It more than doubled to about 5 million, fucked
years between 1618 and 1697 were ones of recurrent crisis by the introduction of the potato from the Americas, a
in food supplies, the result mainly of a cluster of vol-
canic eruptions and their “dust veils.” Sharp cold snaps
crop that suited Irish conditions well and allowed a family
and repeated droughts led to crop failures and starvation,
to survive-in poverty-on a small patch of land. The
populations of India, Southwest Asia, and Africa grem
in Africa’s case, probably by very little com-
for goods that others produced. After 1900, long-distance
pued to China, the Americas, and Europe. Nobody knew
trade flourished as never before, quickened by the gradual
ir ar the time, but in the eighteenth century the world
extension of the Global web into almost every nook and
began its modern rise of population that is still ongoing.
cranny of the globe.
From about 150, if not a decade or two before, growth
rates tied upward at steeper and steeper rates through
hebrerwentieth century, as we will see.
The size of the world economy, the total value of goods
and services produced, is called the gross world product,
But the gains from expansion of trade and technical
or GWP. We have only educated guesses of GWP, but by
improvements mainly benefited a fortunate few. There
are several ways to estimate how well off people were in
1300 chose estimates become more reliable.
So let’s look at the numbers. The table below uses index heights and incomes. They suggest that although societ
the past. Two of the better methods use data on people’s
numbers, with GWP in 1500 set at 100. (GWP in later ies in the aggregate grew slightly richer between 1500 and
years is presented relative to GWP in 1500—so a value of
1800, most people did not.
150 in the year 1700 means the economy was half again as
large as in 1900.) In today’s money, the size of the world
conomy in 1500 was about U.S. $250 billion,
to that of Louisiana or Finland or Bangladesh in 2018.
The world economy more than doubled in size between
Changes in the average heights of populations are a good
igo0 and 1800. It grew by about one-third in the sixteenth
indication of changes in the childhood nutrition and dis-
ease burden in a society. Well-fed and healthy children
a record at that time. The seventeenth
reach their genetic height potential. Malnourished ones
century, marked by crop failures, epidemics, and mass vio- ravaged by chronic disease don’t. The raw data on stature
lence, posted a far weaker rate, but the eighteenth century generally come from archeology (skeletons) or, more often,
showed resurgent growth.
records of military recruits. Let’s consider some data from
The growth rates in global population resemble those around the world on average heights.
of GWP, as they should: most economic growth was The largest sample available comes from northern
merely the result of more people living and working. But Europe: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Britain. These
some of it derived from small technical advances in farm-
data in the table on page 582 show that ton average north-
ones in textile manufactur-
ern Europeans shrank from medieval times until the late
ing, mining, and other arenas. A larger spur to economic eighteenth century by nearly 3 inches (75 cm), with the
growth came from the efficiencies of specialization and
exchange, whereby more people than before were doing centuries
. By 1800, northern Europeans
were smaller than
what they did best and trading the fruits of their labor
at any time before or since. This loss of stature is extreme
in the annals of human height histe
southern Germany (Bavaria), the Habsburg Empire, and
northern Italy also shrank a bit between 1730 and 1780.
We don’t have earlier data for them.
In Russia, matters were apparently similar. The aver-
age height of military recruits, most of whom would not
(1500-1600) have come up to Peter the Great’s armpit, fell during the
(1600-1700) eighteenth century by 2 inches (5 cm). These were glo-
rious times for Russia’s rulers and its elites, who man-
Post Started from Angus Medion. The World Economy Historical Shetanics
aged to corral the benefits of a growing economy and
territorial expansion, but times of grinding hunger and
century, probably a
The sixteenth
ing, and from more important one
and maize, but also of a reduction in
in deadly

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300 Words



Making Money

Diversified investment

increased trades

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