World System 1450-1750 CE

The classic formulation of the modern world system was put forth in Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776). In modern historiography and sociology the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System (Four Volumes) was highly influential in postulating the relation of the West and the Rest, and in positing how the West imposed its hegemony and economic structures onto the Third World.  Wallerstein's  first volume The Modern World-System I:  Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (1974) set forth his larger project.  Wallerstein argued that in the late 15th and early 16th century a European world-economy was created based on its economic linkages with political arrangements and structures.  This model superseded the empire system as a more efficient system of economic exchange, domination and exploitation of resources and labor.  While there are many critics of the extent of Wallerstein's conclusions his study requires serious consideration and responses to the questions and method of this system.  

In this course we shall use a brief study by John Wills, The World from 1450-1700 (Oxford, Our author John Wills attempts to continue this inquiry by de-centering the focus on Europe.   His approach compares various regional encounters with the new world economy that was emerging.  In separate chapters he discusses the experience of the Ottoman empire which arose as one of the largest and most powerful of empires during this period.  Wills compares the Ottoman position with that of two other Muslim empires that emerged, the Safavi in Iran and the Mughal in India, with their relative position and state monopolization of key commodities, cotton in the Ottoman empire, silk in Iran, and jute in India.  

The European discoveries of the New World led to dynamic and tragic transformations in what was labeled by Alfred Crosby, as the Columbian Exchange. The initial conquest of the Caribbean, Central America and parts of South America afforded the Spanish immense revenues in gold and especially silver bullion.  It came at the price of extermination of the indigenous population through smallpox and other diseases brought by the European settlers.  Crops and livestock were exchanged and new tropical plants were introduced into Europe for the first time, including corn, and the tomato and potato.   

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