1. What have been the main debates in historiography over the rise of the West? Describe how two historians have approached these ideas. Compare and evaluate their claims.
The main debates in the historiography over the rise of the West include whether the West imitating the East proves superiority or inferiority over other civilizations, whether the main ideas; events, and innovations that shaped world history and our world today emerged from the West or the East, how much did other civilizations contribute to the West and to their rise, whether the West really did rise to the top by its own means or whether it used violence and imperialism to do so. This essay will discuss how two authors, Ricardo Duchesne and John M. Hobson have approached these ideas. Their claims will also be compared and evaluated. The main sources that will be used in this essay are Ricardo Duchesne’s Journal article ‘Asia First?’ and John M. Hobson’s journal article ‘Explaining the Rise of the West: A Reply to Ricardo Duchesne’. Other secondary sources will also be discussed.
One of the points that Duchesne and Hobson disagreed on regarding the rise of the west was whether Europe imitating or copying the East proves how they were not as innovative as them or if it proves their ability to adapt and take something and renovate it making it better than it was. Duchesne said, ‘A distinctive trait shown by Europeans was precisely their willingness to imitate inventions made by foreigners, in contrast to the Chinese who ceased to be as inventive after the Sung era, and showed little enthusiasm for outside ideas and inventions.’ This quote illustrates how in Duchesne’s point of view the European’s ability to imitate and improve on Eastern inventions has led them to become superior and rise to the top. While Hobson said, ‘The sixteenth century in European history saw not the rise of Europe to the top (as Duchesne concedes), since Europe was still far behind China, India, Islamic West Asia, and an emergent Japan under the Tokugawa (after 1600), but the rapid rise of a new aggressive European identity.’ This illustrates his opposing point of view, and that, unlike Duchesne, he does not believe that the European’s ability to imitate inventions makes them better than others. Furthermore, he clearly mentions his belief that the Easterners including the Muslims and Asians were far superior than the Europeans who actually used violence, aggression, colonization, and imperialism to rise and become on top.
Drawing further on the point from the first body paragraph, Duchesne discusses even further how the Europeans improved on Eastern inventions and ideas. ‘It must also be noted that when Europe absorbed new ideas from outside, it did not do so in a purely passive and imitative manner, but often adapted them to local conditions or to new uses with distinct elements of originality.’ This quote suggests how Duchesne believes that when it came to inventions that were imported, as opposed to the ones that were entirely created within the West, they were further improved on or adapted to a more suitable manner by the Europeans. These changes or adaptations considered things such as their needs, geographical areas, climate, or other conditions that differ from the East. When discussing whether Gutenberg in Germany invented the first printing press or whether it was the Chinese and the Koreans years before, Duchesne says ‘The Chinese script (and by extension the Korean script) could not be readily adapted to mechanical use’. This further illustrates Duchesne’s point of view that the Europeans were able to find the problems or issues with Eastern inventions and worked on improving them.
Duchesne discusses how by the end of the thirteenth century, the Islamic and Chinese were well beyond their peak while Europe was just starting their journey to the top and that they did so without conforming to the Islamic culture and emulating Chinese inventions. He also mentions that there are many sources that focus on discussing this but that they have been ignored by historians Hobson, Andre Gunder Frank, Jack Goldstone, and Kenneth Pomeranz. He then uses the quote ‘Persian, Byzantine, Chinese, Indian, African, and Islamic cultures were essential ingredients in Europe’s ascendancy. Affirming the uniqueness of Western civilization in no way implies the idea that Europe can be viewed as a self-contained civilization. A major secret of European creativeness is precisely its multicultural inheritance and its wider geographical linkages with the peoples of the world’ to show that while his main argument may be Eurocentric, he does admit that the East greatly helped Europe rise to the top and that the West took many ideas and inventions from the East. Though at some point in his article, he does ignore some of the Eastern contributions to the Western civilization. He mentions a quote from historian David Landes ‘from about 750 to 1100 … Islam was Europe’s teacher’. Hobson answers this by saying ‘In response, I argue that in this context Landes deploys the standard Islamic Oriental Clause which asserts that the Muslims were simply passive holders or translators of the Ancient Greek texts and that all the Muslims did was simply return them unchanged to the Europeans once the latter had emerged out of the Dark Age “interlude”’. Through this quote, Hobson points out how such thoughts like Landes’s, Duchesne’s, and Margaret Wertheim’s completely ignore how even though Islam might have imitated the sciences and ideas of Ancient Greece, they worked on improving them even more and did not return them back to the Europeans as they came to them. Furthermore, Duchesne discusses how he believes that China contributed the most in terms of innovations, ideas, and technologies during the Sung era and that everything that came after was not very valuable or worthwhile. Duchesne said this to refute Hobson’s claim that the great events and ideas of the West such as the Renaissance, the age of Oceanic exploration, the European military revolution, and even the British industrial revolution were all established long before in the East, especially in China.
Continuing on from the discussion of oceanic exploration, Duchesne mentions Hobson’s belief that the Chinese were more innovative than the Europeans in terms of their ships and sailing techniques for as late as 1800. He also points out how many Scholars have been enthralled for a long time by the series of voyages that were conducted by Cheng Ho between 1405 and 1433. He mentions that the reasons that drove both of these civilizations into the oceans were extremely different. According to Landes, the Chinese did not voyage for reasons of trade or exploration but for want to show themselves and establish their presence, as well as, to receive homage and payment. This differs from the Europeans who went on voyages for trade and imperialistic means among others. When discussing the enlightenment, Hobson mentions how many of the Chinese ideas such as rationality and laissez-faire which had existed for nearly 2,000 years in China started becoming more well known in Europe by the eighteenth century. Many of the philosophers of the enlightenment, such as Voltaire and Quesnay, gave full credit to the Chinese for their ideas. It was the oceanic explorations of the Europeans especially the visiting friars to China that led to this sharing of ideas. one of these friars who visited China during the thirteenth century was the infamous Marco Polo. Within the previous paragraph, the European Military Revolution was also discussed. Between 1550 and 1660, this revolution focused on the distribution of guns, gunpowder, and cannon which helped in Europe’s expansion of military power. Hobson actually alleges that these were not invented during that time by the Europeans, but long before during China’s Military Revolution (c. 850–c.1290). These were then later assimilated and further improved on as the Europeans became fixated on colonizing different parts of the world.
This paragraph will discuss how Hobson used the work of other historians to prove his ideas. Both Janet Abu Lughod and Andre Gunder Frank argue that the rise of the West occurred because the East suffered from low-wage economies while the Europeans high-cost labor permitted industrial advancement as it made it essential for them to develop labor-saving technologies in order to adjust to the global recession. Still Abu Lughod and Frank maintain that this would not have been achievable without the money that poured into Europe in the form of silver and gold that was imperially looted from the Americas. They believe that without this non-European help, time would have gone by and the East would have remained in the lead. Another major approach is established on a “contingency perspective” and is reinforced by two distinguished scholars James M. Blaut and Kenneth Pomeranz. Blaut’s argument is that before 1492 Europe and Asia were on the same developmental level. The divergence happened when the Europeans came across an unplanned contingency and that is that Europe was closer to the Americas than it was to any other continent. Accordingly, having stumbled by chance on the Americas, where they unexpectedly found gold and silver that they ended up robbing helped provide them with the money that was required to trigger the capitalist expansion in Europe. Europeans also benefited from this as the Native population of the Americas were not resistant to the diseases that the Europeans carried along with them. These natives were also not united. Both of these reasons that were not established or controlled by the Europeans ended up helping them significantly. Another point of advantage was that the African slaves who the Europeans used for labour were not immune to the European diseases as well. The African slave’s labour was exploited greatly hence providing the resources that were used to power Britain’s industrialization. The transfer of land-saving items from the Americas was also an important contributor to the British Industrial Revolution.
This essay discussed the main debates that surround the historiography over the rise of the West, these include the West imitating the East, where the main ideas and innovations that shaped world history emerged from, the contribution of other civilizations to the West and to their rise, whether the West rose to the top by itself or used violence to do so. Ricardo Duchesne’s journal article ‘Asia First?’ and John M. Hobson’s journal article ‘Explaining the Rise of the West: A Reply to Ricardo Duchesne’ were used to illustrate how two historians have approached this topic. Duchesne and Hobson had many disagreements in the way they viewed things as Duchesne’s could be seen as Eurocentric while Hobson’s seems to favour the East more. Other historians and their ideas were also discussed in this essay. Both of the main texts were written as a response to each other and to their differing ideas and opposing viewpoints. When evaluating both of their work, it seems like they both lack certain things. These include that they have specifically picked scholars who agree with their ideas, and their interaction seems very hostile as it is obvious that they are both attacking each other because of their disagreements.