Globalization | Jürgen Osterhammel

Summary of: Globalization: A Short History
By: Jürgen Osterhammel


Dive into the intriguing world of Jürgen Osterhammel’s ‘Globalization: A Short History’, which examines globalization through various historical lenses. This book takes the reader on a captivating journey to explore the non-simultaneous processes that define globalization across different parts of the world. Witness the fascinating tale of its origin, stretching back to the era of barbarians and the Mongol Empire. Discover the first truly global trading network fueled by the silver-mined Spanish colonies in America. As you venture through this book summary, be prepared to gain a clearer understanding of the underlying concepts of globalization, and discover the political, religious, and economic forces that have shaped it over time.

Understanding Globalization

Globalization is not a new phenomenon, but a complex process that has been occurring for centuries. It has gone through various phases, from the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century to the emergence of Soviet communism and US capitalism blocs after WWII. The current global order is not unprecedented, but rather a continuation of historical patterns of networks that surpass national boundaries. To understand globalization, we need to define it in a clear and concise way that avoids being too academic or too vague. The nation-states of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were an exception to this pattern.

The Four Traits of Enduring Empires

The success of an empire largely depends on four key factors that help keep it intact. Firstly, a monarchic political structure with a common ideology and military power that can be projected across long distances. Secondly, a religious ecumene that spreads beyond the political or military reach of the empire, unifying believers through pilgrimage, rituals, and common life rules. Thirdly, trade routes that allow for the exchange of people, goods, and ideas. Lastly, migration that can both facilitate disease spread and aid the travels of explorers. The Mongol empire linked together several cultural worlds, including the Christians, Muslims, and Chinese. However, due to a lack of a common ideology and other essentials, the smaller entities within the empire were not integrated and it swiftly fell apart. To preserve an empire, it must uphold a sense of values and religious standing, wield and project military power, have strong trade networks, and control migration.

The Global Trade Revolution

The Portuguese made history in the late 15th century by establishing a European presence in Asia, opening up the Pacific to Europe, and spreading European military technology. As a result, guns and artillery expertise were traded across the world, leading to the simultaneous expansion of the Islamic and European empires. In addition, the exchange of crops and technologies between Europe and the Americas followed, introducing horses and guns to the New World and potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers to Europe. The integration of different civilizations strengthened during this period, but mostly within already existing empires, religious ecumenes, and trading networks. Only the Europeans aggressively sent traders to learn about other civilizations. Shipping became a major sector of the economy, encouraging the development of a nascent global economy. Finally, the linking of the world’s economic cycles was established, with the Great Depression of 1873 having worldwide effects.

Industrial Revolution: A Slow-Moving Controversy

The Industrial Revolution is a controversial term in modern historical studies and may not have been a revolution at all. When it began, Britain was already an important center of economic innovation. The Industrial Revolution was not a single global process but instead many processes, and it proceeded through creative adaptation in each country’s models of industrialization. Though it was a slow-moving revolution over decades before affecting every aspect of life, industrialization had an undeniable impact, especially in the transportation and military sectors. Demand grew globally for Western goods, and rail development helped integrate remote areas. But by the mid-19th century, telegraph cables became even more powerful than railroads as a force for global integration.

Utopian Ideologies of the 19th Century

In the 19th century, two utopian political ideologies emerged: free trade liberalism and Marxism. Free traders envisioned a world of peace and prosperity achieved by the elimination of state intervention in individual agreements. Meanwhile, Marxists believed that the communist dream could be achieved once the state’s control had withered away. By the decades leading to World War I, the world had become the frame of reference for an increasing percentage of the world’s population. The free-traders achieved their objective when Britain abolished tariffs in 1846, culminating in Western Europe becoming a large free-trade zone by 1870. However, non-European empires had not joined this movement except under duress. The United States remained in the shadow of Great Britain throughout the 19th century, whereas Japan spearheaded modernization and became a constitutional state. World War I shook the international economy to the core and marked the end of Europe’s global domination.

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