When did globalization begin? The answer might surprise you

globalization 2019

Vancouver, Canada (Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Vanshica Kant, Young Professional, United Nations Resident Coordinator Office (UNRC)


“Globalization” is the 21st century’s favourite buzzword. It is part of our current zeitgeist: we are witnessing an unparalleled compression of time and space, as goods, services, people and information move more quickly than ever before. Yet, instead of being a modern-day concept, globalization has been around since the beginning. In recognition of the theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 at Davos – Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – I’d like to turn back the pages of history and take a closer look at how human beings have travelled, migrated and traded through the ages.

The obsession with globalization in its contemporary form has meant that the entire debate around it lacks awareness of its previous forms across time and space. This has led to the simplistic assumptions that globalization, firstly, entails the rise of the West and the fall of the East and, secondly, has been mainly driven by technology. Taking my lead from E.H. Carr, who described history as “an unending dialogue between past and present”, I will here attempt to reclaim the lost depth in the globalization narrative.

Visualizing 4,000 years of globalization

Globalization is as old as mankind itself. Since the beginning of recorded time, key actors such as rulers, adventurers, traders and preachers have travelled in a bid to expand their political power, enhance their quality of life, proselytize their faiths or simply quenching the human thirst for curiosity. Through myriad encounters, interactions and clashes, they exchanged four key ingredients: people, ideas, commodities and capital. Through the lens of four globalization stories, we will deconstruct and decode the link between these different stakeholders and factors.

The survival of the fittest (10,000–2000BC)

Our DNA reflects our ancestral expeditions, beginning as early as when Homo sapiens first set foot outside the African continent. Almost every continent, over time, has become home to modern man in his search for better food, secure shelter and more land. This quest ultimately led to us to shift from foot to wheel, from open skies to roofs and from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled agricultural existences. In an unconquered and borderless world, sapiens explored the unexplored and charted the uncharted.

Everything was trial and error, from discovering fire to inventing the wheel to creating written scripts. The coming of iron, in particular, was one of the biggest breakthroughs, as new geographies and demographies were colonized and domesticated. These string of “accidental forwards” – the cognitive, agricultural and written revolution – led to a series of events, simultaneous and subsequent, carrying humanity into the future.

As cropping patterns diversified, agricultural surplus laid the foundation for the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, leading to the rise of cities, occupational specialists and social stratification. This historical narrative of mankind reflects our collective experience of primitive globalism.

Coffee comes full circle (1800BC–AD1750)

Sipping a cappuccino at Starbucks, little might Negasi, a 21-year-old Ethiopian-American student studying at New York University, know that the origins of coffee, a favourite drink of the civilized world, lie in his very own country. The world’s most cosmopolitan beverage, coffee has travelled through territories as diverse as South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

Legend has it that it was first discovered by a Sufi goatherd, Kaldi, after some magic beans energized his goats. As word moved east, coffee reached the Arabian peninsula. With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from around the world, knowledge of the “wine of Araby” spread further.

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe. Some reacted to this new beverage with suspicion, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan”. Nevertheless, it was so satisfying that Pope Clement VIII allegedly gave it papal approval in Venice. Coffee houses quickly became centres of social and political activity in major cities in England, Austria and France.

In the mid 1600s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam – later called New York by the British. Tea continued to be the favoured drink in the New World until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The event, known as the Boston Tea Party, forever changed drinking preferences to coffee in the United States.

By the end of the 18th century, new nations were established on coffee economies. Missionaries, travellers and colonists continued carrying coffee seeds to new lands. The commodity came full circle when the British brought back coffee as a plantation crop to its home country, Ethiopia.

Islam beyond borders (600BC–AD1980)

A third factor in discussing early globalization is the spread of religion. Over a period of a few hundred years, Islam expanded from its place of origin in the Arabian peninsula all the way to modern Spain in the West, and northern India in the East. Sometimes, it was carried in great caravans and sea vessels traversing vast trade networks on land and sea; at other times, it was transferred through military conquest and the work of missionaries. As Islamic ideas travelled along various trade and pilgrimage routes, they mingled with local cultures and took on new forms.

As with all factors of globalization, their spread is attributed to multiple agents, not simply a monolithic driving force. Rulers doubled up as preachers and traders as missionaries. This has made Islam a religious and cultural force for 14 centuries.

It is important to note the trajectory of Islam. The Rashidun caliphate, the reign of the first four caliphs, from AD632–661, is credited with the military expansion of the religion. However, significant cultural exchange and complex political institutions had not developed at this point. It was only during the Umayyad dynasty, AD661–750, that Islamic and Arabic culture began to truly spread.

The medieval period was the era of the great Islamic empires. The Ottoman Empire in the Middle East emerged as a major military and political force by the 15th century. The other great dynasty overseeing remarkable artistic and architectural output was the Mughals. Founded by Babur, the Mughal dynasty ruled over the largest Islamic state in the history of the Indian subcontinent, from 1526 to 1858.

This case exemplifies how all major world religions spread from a core origin area to new peripheral lands. This has ensured that even the remotest corners of the world have a mosque, church or temple now.

The sun never sets on the British Empire (1600–1950)

Last but not least, we come to capital. The age of empires can be divided into old and new imperialism. The former refers to early expeditions undertaken by western nations between 1450 and 1750, undertaken for “God, gold and glory”, and focusing mainly on systems of trade. New or high imperialism, which came afterwards, was the search for fresh lands to conquer in the late 19th century. Britain’s colonies in Africa, Asia and South America provided neverending supplies of men, money and raw material for fuelling their domestic industries, and ready-made markets for their manufactured goods. It was no coincidence then that Britain’s industrial revolution occurred during its imperial expansion; they were two sides of the same coin.

This “age of gadgets” was a result of myriad causes. Processes such as the Renaissance and scientific revolution provided the perfect setting domestically. Inventions by the Arabs and Chinese in the East – printing, gunpowder, porcelain, spinning machines, the compass, the stirrup and the blast furnace – were being perfected in the West. Nevertheless, there were three Cs – the discovery of coal, the creation of colonies and the production of cotton – that disproportionately tilted the geopolitical and economic balance towards the West. Rather than European exceptionalism, the events revolving around these three empowering Cs were pivotal for the British Empire’s primitive accumulation of capital.

By weaving together a selection of globalization stories, this article has attempted to provide a peep into the history of the phenomenon. Each example is different in spirit or form. After all, history is, as the philosopher Paul Valéry once claimed, the science of what never happens twice. As we have seen, globalization has not merely been the flow of goods, capital, ideas and people from the “West” to the “rest”. Exchanges have always been a mutual and layered process.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Benefits of rural migration effect often overlooked, new UN report suggests

Politicization of migrant ‘crisis’ in Hungary making them scapegoats, independent UN human rights expert warns

What do the economic woes of Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia have in common?

Latvian economy is thriving, but boosting productivity, improving social protection and transitioning to a low-carbon productive model are vital for sustainable and inclusive growth

EU elections: The louder the threats and the doomsaying the heavier the weight of the vote

Bundestag kick starts the next episode of the Greek tragedy

The Europe we want: Just, Sustainable, Democratic and Inclusive

Blockchain can change the face of renewable energy in Africa. Here’s how

FROM THE FIELD: Weather reports come to aid of Uganda’s farmers

Concern rising over fate of Rohingya refugees sent home by India: UNHCR

The MWC14 Sting Special Edition

We don’t need to ban plastic. We just need to start using it properly

Huawei answers allegations about its selling prices

How telehealth can get healthcare to more people

Eurozone stuck in a high risk deflation area; Draghi expects further price plunge

EU-Japan trade agreement enters into force

UN agency chief calls Ethiopia’s revised refugee law ‘one of most progressive’ in Africa

Digital transformation and the rise of the ‘superjob’

The next Google in biotech: will it be Chinese?

DR Congo: efforts to control Ebola epidemic continue, UN food relief agency doubles assistance to affected people

Amsterdam is getting a 3D-printed bridge

I cycled over 6,000km across the United States to document climate change. Here’s what I learned

3 ways to fight stress at work

Germany’s strong anti-bribery enforcement against individuals needs to be matched by comparably strong enforcement against companies

We all have a ‘hierarchy of needs’. But is technology meeting them?

Technology can help us end the scourge of modern slavery. Here’s how

Saudi Arabia, China, among 14 nations under UN human rights spotlight: what you need to know

European Parliament and Eurovision sign partnership for European Elections

France is building a village for people with Alzheimer’s

Greece’s last Eurogroup or the beginning of a new solid European Union?

UN ‘prioritizing needs’, ramping up aid, as Hurricane Dorian continues to batter the Bahamas

Gender equality and medicine in the 21st century

“Leaked” TTIP document breaks post 8th negotiations round silence and opens door to critics

‘Crippling to our credibility’ that number of women peacekeepers is so low: UN chief

Women must be at ‘centre of peacekeeping decision-making’, UN chief tells Security Council

This app lets you plant trees to fight deforestation

Africa Forum aims to boost business, reduce costs, help countries trade out of poverty

EU–US: What is the real exchange in a Free Trade Agreement?

Eurozone: Even good statistics mean deeper recession

The EU Commission vies to screen Chinese investment in Europe

With security improving in DR Congo’s Kasai, thousands of refugees head home from Angola

Partnerships key to taking landlocked countries out of poverty: UN Chief

These are the world’s 20 most dynamic cities

Biggest London City Banks ready to move core European operations to Frankfurt or Dublin?

New Erasmus: more opportunities for disadvantaged youth

What is digital equality? An interview with Nanjira Sambuli

‘Race against time’ to help women who bore brunt of Cyclone Idai: UN reproductive health agency

At UN, Cuba slams US ‘criminal’ practices undermining country’s development

UN chief hopes for new agreement after Israel concludes international observation mission

Migrant workers sent more money to India than any other country last year

Security Council condemns ‘heinous and cowardly’ attack in Iran

Opening – Parliament expresses support for victims of Fuego volcano in Guatemala

Kenya wants to run entirely on green energy by 2020

A Sting Exclusive: “The Digital Economy and Industry are no longer opposing terms”, Commissioner Oettinger underlines live from European Business Summit 2015

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

This is what the world’s CEOs really think of AI

COP21 Breaking News: “We must accelerate the process”, Laurent Fabius cries out from Paris

Migrant caravan: UN agency helping ‘exhausted’ people home

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Mandatory food labelling Non-Vegetarian / Vegetarian / Vegan’ initiative’

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s