Monday, July 14, 2008

Globalization Didn't Happen Yesterday

The 7th Century Islamic ascendancy cut off European access to the Indian ocean. This ended direct East-West trade until Vasco da Gama rounded the southern Cape of Africa and sailed into Calicut, India, in May, 1498. Thereafter, the Portuguese swiftly expanded their empire. Their most important possessions were in today's Indonesia and Malaysia, location of the fabled "spice islands", the source of nutmeg, cloves and mace. In only a few years, Portugal's virtual monopoly on spices made it rich.

The importance of spice is evidenced by the fact that the first Portuguese ambassador to China Tomé Pires, was an apothecary. In India and Malacca between 1512-15, Pires wrote a path-breaking manuscript on Europe-Asian trade, the Suma Oriental: An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to China. Apart from a brief excerpt, it was thought lost until re-discovered by Armando Cortesão in a Paris library in the mid-20th Century.

Pires was among the first to witness globalization--and to understand that, once established, international trade creates inexorable expectations. This line is from volume II, page 87 of his Suma:
Whoever is the lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.
My point? Don't think that alarm over the balance of trade, or fretting dependence on foreign energy, are unique to America or the Post-WWII world.


Priyanka said...

I find it a bit odd that you are citing imperialism as the first steps towards globalization.
Since globalization is result of intercultural business relations while initial trades were quite aggressive and violent towards different cultures.


Carl said...


1) The fact that initial inter-cultural experiences were often unfortunate doesn't necessarily undermine the current outcome of globalization. As an analogy, the fact that most of the world formerly employed slavery doesn't necessarily mean the world is irredeemably wicked today.

2) I think you missed the point of the quote: what you might call "imperial" Venice was at the mercy of whoever controlled Indonesian spices. That concept is, in an sense, anti-imperialist.

Anonymous said...

Islam is a threat to human life and liberty everywhere. It is as much a political movement, more threatening than other political movements, then a religion. Even as a religion it enslaves and limits rather than enhances the lives of people who call themselves Islamic. Globalization is healthy where there is heterogeneity of thought and belief. Islam seeks to destroy all people, ideas, beliefs, actions that are not stipulated in the Koran, the document that reduces women to slaves, recommends killing all nonIslamic people and advocates lying and sadistic practices such as cutting off body parts.