When Did Globalization Begin?

For the final part of Intro-to-Anthropology 2017 we tackled big and controversial questions anthropology has attempted to answer. Here’s one: When Did Globalization Begin?

The readings:

This material was for Anthropology 2017. For related material in Cultural Anthropology 2020 using the textbook Essentials of Cultural Anthropology and Trouillot’s Global Transformations see:

When did globalization begin? Since 1989?

Diversity, Evolution, & Biological Anthropology

Diversity & Archaeology

When did globalization begin? Since 15,000 years ago?

When did globalization begin? Thousands of years ago?

It is important to emphasize that the regions of the world have been involved in regional trade–often over quite long distances–for thousands of years. For example, the idea that a separate Europe and Christian world developed without interchange from the Arab and Islamic world is false. See The roots of modern Europe’s links to classical antiquity through the Arabs in The Memory Bank (2017).

Or in the Americas, see Transcontinental Travel–2,000 Years Ago by Stephen E. Nash (2018) in Sapiens. Nash writes that the presence of obsidian artifacts in what is now Ohio is not so much from trade: “The evidence strongly suggests the Hopewell made epic collecting trips.”

Globalization Begins: The 1490s

Charles Mann’s article on “The Real Story of Globalization” endorses the 1490s as the real beginning of globalization:

Before Columbus sailed the Atlantic, only a few venturesome land creatures, mostly insects and birds, had crossed the oceans and established themselves. Otherwise, the world was sliced into separate ecological domains. Columbus’s signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of the historian Alfred W. Crosby, to reknit the seams of Pangaea.
After 1492, the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian Exchange, as Mr. Crosby called it, is why we came to have tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolate in Switzerland and chili peppers in Thailand.

Globalization Booms: The Nineteenth Century

Although globalization began in the 1490s, there was a globalization boom in the nineteenth century.

One important fact: the globalization of the 15th through the 19th centuries did not bring pre-existing nations and ethnicities into contact. Many of the feelings about nationalism and ethnicity are later creations, of the 19th and 20th century. During this time, there were many global, cosmopolitan cities, where people of many different backgrounds worked, lived, and traded with each other. One interesting example is the vision outlined by Michael E. Harkin and Elly-Maria Papamichael in their Anthropology in Dangerous Times (2018). Harkin and Papamichael trace the life of Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark:

Peter was an ardent anti-Nazi. He fought against them as a soldier in the Greek army. But it was through anthropology that he sought to fight fascism most directly. The ideas of blood and soil could be replaced by the scientific study of culture and race. In his book The Science of Anthropology, based on lectures delivered in Athens in 1961–62, he sets forth a vision of a four-field anthropology as the scientific underpinning of a modern liberal democracy. Based in part in a nostalgia for the imagined Hellenic diaspora (it is noteworthy that he and Peristiany made an expedition to retrace the footsteps of Alexander the Great), a tolerant multi-ethnic world epitomized by cities such as Smyrna and Alexandria.

Of course, if diversity is essential to evolution, and if the processes of globalization are quite old this leads to the next question: Why does globalization and diversity feel so new?

Living Anthropologically means documenting history, interconnection, and power during a time of global transformation. We need to care for others as we attempt to build a world together. This blog is a personal project of Jason Antrosio, author of Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy. For updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow on Twitter.

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