Saylor.org's Early Globalizations: East Meets West (1200s-1600s)/Globalization: Meanings and Historical Contexts
The concept of "Globalization" has become a popular buzzword in contemporary parlance. Since the end of the cold war, public commentators have talked extensively about how the globe has been and continues to be "shrinking," or in the words of Thomas Friedman, how the "Earth is flat." Without a doubt, at the beginning of the 21st century, changes in communications technology (particularly the internet) and production technology, along with fewer barriers to international trade and finance have made interdependence between nations central to the way we think economically. Along with these developments, "Globalization" entails a number of other factors including not limited to: large scale migration of individuals to new nations, cultural interaction/blending/homogenization, and environmental degradation in the wake of increased industrialization.
However, "Globalization" isn't new, we only think it is. History shows us that this isn't the first time that one could speak of a "global economy." Historians often point out that there was a "First Age of Globalization" from the late 19th century to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. In the words of the famous economist, John Maynard Keynes, before the war:
" The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice."---from The Economic Consequences of the Peace
This kind of language is quite reminiscent about the way the global economy works in the 21st century. The period Keynes speaks of roughly correlates with the 19th century Age of Imperialism, an era which the British Empire dominated the globe, so as to extract material to bring back to their industrial centers back home and to export finished products to new, colonial markets. However, to truly appreciate the rise of the global economy, one really has to understand the history of global interactions before the Industrial Revolution. It is during the early modern era (roughly coinciding with the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 to the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789) in which cross-cultural commercial and political events began to "flatten" the Earth. The early modern era, in no small part due to the European overseas explorations and conquests, began the first truly global age. However, it would be a completely Euro-centric view of history not to give credit to the remarkable cross-cultural exchanges made possible by the Mongol Empire, the Silk Road, Chinese, Arab and Indian scholars and merchants and so on. This era of global interaction truly was an era of interaction; the tools, knowledge and materials with which Europeans used to spread power and influence to overseas markets largely had origins outside of Europe. Thus, as European contact with the wider world increased, the means by which Europeans might interact with the rest of the world increased as well.