GIT The Webs of Humankind A World History Discussion

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I’m working on a economics question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

300 word paper over John McNeill’s “The webs of humankind: A world history, vol 2 chapter 16

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CHAPTER 16 Convergence: The Discovery or
Comparing Currencies Strange as it seems, both these images show money. The coins at left come from the Southeast Asian kingdom
of Srivijaya (seventh to thirteenth centuries) and look a good deal like money in circulation across the Old World web, where several
centuries previously millions of people came to agree that small discs of gold, silver, or copper were valuable. The giant limestone
disc at right served as money in the Caroline Islands of the western Pacific, especially the island of Yap, where money was used only
for major transactions. The stones themselves, which might weigh a few tons, did not need to move. Instead, everyone agreed the
stones had new owners after a transaction. Srivijayan society was much more trade- and market-oriented than Yap’s.
Both these emerging maritime worlds drew additional or Tonga and Fiji, hosted constant interactions among
traffic from networks of navigable rivers. In Europe, the hundreds of thousands of people. In the Caroline Islands
big rivers flow fairly evenly throughout the year and per- of Micronesia by 1400 or 1450, a well-integrated exchange
mit ship or barge traffic well inland. In East and South- network had grown up, using big stone discs as money-
east Asia, the big rivers are more seasonal because of the some of them heavier than a car. But this little web prob-
pattern of summer monsoon rain. But with painstaking ably involved at most tens of thousands of people. In
construction of canals, dikes, and dams, these rivers too demographic terms, these Oceanic networks were tiny
served as reliable avenues of commerce, linking interior compared to the Old World web.
regions with the sea.
So, in 1400, the eastern and western edges of the Old
World web were humming with riverine and seaborne
trade. Knowledge of geography, winds, and currents, of In the Americas, as we saw in Chapter 15, much larger
ship design, cartography, and navigation, of goods, mar- webs had developed around the dense populations in the
kets, and prices was growing at ever faster rates. Both Andes and in Mesoamerica. In 1400, perhaps 40 to 70
regions were developing a more maritime and commercial million people lived in the Americas, and about half were
culture. Populations were recovering from the disease and in either the Andes or Mesoamerica. Most Amerindians,
climate disasters of the fourteenth century, and cities were and all those in the Andes or Mesoamerica, took part in
expanding rapidly.
interactive webs. In the absence of pack animals (outside
of llamas and alpacas in the high Andes), goods could
travel only by watercraft or human porters in the Ameri-
can webs. Canoes and rafts linked peoples on riverbanks
In 1400, some 60 to 120 million people in Oceania, the and shorelines. Elsewhere, people had to carry everything
Americas, and the southern third of Africa lived outside themselves.
the Old World web altogether. They too, of course, took So the character of the American webs was slightly
part in trade networks, military conquests, and the same different from that of the Old World web, with less bulk
sorts of activities as people in the Old World web. But commerce in transit. Crops such as maize diffused widely
their scales of operations were smaller. In Oceania, people within this web, and so did some cultural practices such
in Polynesia and Micronesia had built their own small as ball games and mound building. But the volume and
webs of interaction. Archipelagoes like that of Hawaii, intensity of the exchanges of goods over long distances
were modest compared to what occurred in the Old World
and to its most formidable states and societies. It alone
web with its caravans and shipping. Buzzing markets did had sailing ships capable of carrying hundreds of tons of
exist, but mainly on the local level—as in the Basin of
Mexico, the region around today’s Mexico City. As in the
cargo. It alone had many kinds of pack animals suited
Old World web, those societies enmeshed in the American
to almost any terrain. It alone had wheeled vehicles. By
web featured more specialization and exchange, greater
1400, it had fewer obstacles to interaction, especially to
trade, than did the other, smaller webs around the world.
wealth, greater inequality, greater military power, than The Old World web was not necessarily a pleasant place
those societies outside the web.
to live-certainly not if life expectancy or social equality
Like its counterparts, the American webs left some are the measures—but it is where people had built the most
people out entirely. In the far south of South America powerful militaries, the most efficient communications
and in the northern reaches of North America, scattered networks, and the most sophisticated technologies. There-
populations lived essentially subsistence lives. In pockets fore, it comes as no surprise that the people who brought
of Central American or Amazonian rain forest too, there the world’s webs together, who forged the first truly global
were some people living substantially in isolation.
web, came from the edges of the Old World web.
Most of the northern half of Africa, by 1400, lay within THE DISCOVERY OF
the Old World web. Egypt had long been one of its linch- THE OPEN SEA
pins. Trade and cultural exchange, most notably the
spread of Islam, tied the East African coast as far south Before 1400, as earlier chapters explained, several peoples
as Kilwa and Sofala, the Mediterranean lands, and the had developed maritime cultures. The most extraordi-
West African Sahel firmly to the rest of the Old World nary of these was the Polynesian, which carried colonists
web. Where rivers made travel easy, as along the Nile and throughout the archipelagoes of the tropical Pacific and
Niger, tendrils of the Old World web reached further still. as far south as New Zealand. However, by 1400 its far-
But the southern third of Africa, like sizeable parts of thest outposts had become cut off and sea traffic took
the Americas, or Siberia, stood apart from any big web. place mainly within archipelagoes. The Vikings, too, had
People there were not importing shiploads of luxury a seafaring history several centuries long, although by
goods from Egypt or India; they were not sending young 1400 they had stopped exploring the North Atlantic and
men to study Islam in Cairo or Baghdad. They were not their Greenland colony was on the verge of extinction.
experimenting with Indian Ocean world technology such Many other peoples sailed routinely on more protected
as sugar mills or lateen-rigged sails. Instead, they were seas, such as the Mediterranean, the Arabian Gulf, the
producing food and clothing for themselves or for local Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea, or the Sea of Japan.
use, they were following their own religions, and they The islands of Indonesia, and adjacent coasts of Southeast
were using the same technologies—perhaps with minor Asia, hosted sizeable regular traffic by 1000 CE. The traffic
alterations—that their ancestors had employed for many in all these seas was much thicker and more regular than
generations. They lived outside the Old World web, but in the Polynesian Pacific or the Viking North Atlantic.
within much smaller webs of their own making. The vessels were often larger, and some could carry hun-
As in the Americas, these little webs in southern Africa dreds of tons of cargo. The routes were well established
were better for circulating ideas than goods. Without pack and studded with commercial seaports. Those who plied
animals, wheeled vehicles, or ships, people here had to these routes usually hugged the shores, although certain
move everything on their backs, on their heads, or in passages, such as from East Africa to India and back, took
sailors far from land for a week or two.
So in 1400 the world included one giant interactive
Sailors had accumulated a considerable, if fragmented,
web in Eurasia and the northern half of Africa, a large knowledge of winds and currents. Polynesians knew how
to ride the currents and the trade winds of the Pacific.
one in the Americas, and small, local ones elsewhere. The
Old World web was home to most of the world’s people, People all around the Indian Ocean knew how to use
CHAPTER 16 Convergence: The Discovery of the Oceans and Biological Globalization
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