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Journal of World History 7.2 (1996) 307-309



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World Trade since 1431: Geography, Technology, and Capitalism. By Peter J. Hugill. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Pp. xxiii + 376. $59.95.

World Trade since 1431 is not confined, as the title may suggest, to discussion of the areal expansion of trade; the work is much wider in its scope. Using the progress of technology as the organizing theme, Peter Hugill integrates technical, geographic, political, and military factors to trace and explain the evolution of the modern, global economic structure. The work offers an exploration of the implications of the axiom that "human interaction with the environment is always mediated by technology" (p. xvii).

While the spatial scope of the study is global, its focus is on the "Atlantic economy." This may be fully justified by the growing technical and economic, and consequently military, superiority of Western Europe and the United States in the period covered by the book. However, the brilliance of achievement in one part of the world can dim perceptions of achievement elsewhere. The great episodes of South Asian, Islamic, and later Chinese inventiveness are of course excluded by the time frame of the book. More recently, however, the Japanese, in particular, have shown ingenuity not only in adapting to advanced technology, but also in developing it—as the Allies found in World War II when confronted by the Mitsubishi "Zero" fighter. Or again, although bicycles may have been of value to the British in the Boer War (p. 210), their military use was of much greater significance to the course of world history forty years later when bicycles, six thousand to a division, were used by the Imperial Japanese Army to transport infantry with devastating effect in the Malayan campaign.

Hugill's temporal framework of analysis rests on Lewis Mumford's three-part periodization: the Eotechnic (divided into "early" and "commercial" phases), in which manufacturing largely depended on rural production; the Paleotechnic, based on iron, steam, and textiles, which encompasses the Industrial Revolution; and the Neotechnic, based on chemicals, electricity, and the internal combustion engine, when capitalism came to full flower. Hugill explores the interaction of resources, location, and technology in each of the phases, and he examines the development of the unprecedentedly productive system of capitalism. What might perhaps come to be called the "Post-technic," the information revolution, is likely to have a lengthier treatment in a future edition of the book.

Chapters 1 and 2 contain useful notes on schools of historical and [End Page 307] geographical thought, followed by a lucid historical overview of the last six hundred years, with the concept of "world leadership cycles" asÝan organizing device. Following chapters deal in detail with the development of shipping and its implications; the nature and con-sequences of the development of forms of transport termed "overland" (so as to include the once-important inland waterways); and aviation, which ushers in the first "truly global system" (p. 249). A final chapter reviews the expansion of productivity over the period and offers some thoughtful forecasts prudently couched in terms of possibilities and probabilities.

Hugill's thinking is not dominated by any one paradigm; he uses critically and usefully the insights of theorists ranging from Adam Smith to Immanuel Wallerstein. It is not his purpose to delve deeply into economic or sociological theories of innovation, but even so, some omissions are surprising, such as reference to Nathan Rosenberg's specialist works on technology. Similarly, Daniel Headrick's studies of the technology of empire and P.K.O'Brien's seminal article on Europe's (limited) gains from trade with the periphery seem to merit at least a place in the bibliography of a book such as this. However, such lacunae do not weaken the general structure of the work or lessen its usefulness.

Hugill displays a remarkable breadth of knowledge of time, place, disciplines, and technologies, though in any work of such scope there are invariably points that individual readers might question. However, this reviewer, coming to world history from a background...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 307-309
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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