Technology and European Overseas Enterprise: Diffusion, Adaption, and Adoption
Technology and European Overseas Enterprise is a frustrating book to review. Michael Adas, with his usual acuity, has assembled eighteen stimulating articles. Students would find it an excellent reader for graduate and undergraduate courses in world history, European colonization, and the history of technology. Variorum, however, has priced the book so expensively as to make it unaffordable for most libraries, not to mention faculty—and forget the students.
This is the seventh in a planned series of thirty-one volumes covering the European impact on world history from 1450 to 1800. Indicative of the recent interest in the area, the articles were written between 1948 and 1993, with the majority in the 1970s and 1980s. By region, six articles each deal with Asia and Latin America, three with Africa, and one with the Middle East.
While the articles do provide excellent forays into the many roles of technology in European colonial exploration and exploitation, the reader will find only a short introduction and short bibliography by Adas, not an overarching framework or exposition of the articles. An index does provide some connecting links among them.
As a rule, the articles themselves are quite good, the sign of a thoughtful editor. Adas has divided them into three reasonable sections: technologies of exploration, domination, and conquest; technological and cultural transfers and change; and melding and competition of European and indigenous technologies and economies.
The first section, unsurprisingly, primarily focuses on weapons and warfare before the nineteenth century. H. Inalcik looks at the Ottoman Empire, P. J. Marshall at maritime Asia, Delmer Brown at sixteenth-century Japanese warfare, and R. A. Kea at the Gold and Slave Coasts. Graham Irwin examines the significance and structure of Malacca Fort, as does Pierre Chaunu for shipping and navigation during the early period of discovery. As subsequent research has made abundantly clear, indigenous societies followed a wide range of trajectories in responding to Western weapons and warfare.
The second section concerns technological and cultural transfers and change. Interestingly, four of the six Latin American articles appear in this section. The two most interesting essays—one by the [End Page 462] duo of H. A. Gemery and J. S. Hogendorn, and the other by A. J. R. Russell-Wood—concern how technology shaped slavery in the New World economically and politically. Charles Verlinden examines antecedents to this unprecedented exploitation of slaves for colonization. Reflecting the Iberian interest, extractive industries form the bulk of the section: Mervyn Ratekin on the sugar industry in Española, D. A. Brading and Harry Cross on Mexican and Peruvian silver mining, and Russell-Wood on Brazilian gold mining. The complex worlds of textiles are covered by Jan Bazant (Puebla, Mexico) and Theodore Nicholas Foss (China).
The last section, on melding and competition of European and indigenous technologies and economies, features two fascinating articles on the decline and survival of West African ironmaking by Candice Goucher and L. M. Pole. Latin American textiles are again scrutinized by Margaret Villanueva, while K. N. Chaudhuri explores the Indian textile industry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As in the previous sections, the articles individually are stimulating but lack an accompanying contextual and comparative framework.
The rise of electronic communications and the increasing access to computer-based information may make such expensive collections obsolete. But print is not yet dead. Terry Reynolds and Stephen Cutcliffe have edited a similar work, Technology and the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), which is aimed at the student market. Although more limited because it is confined to articles from Technology & Culture, their work will diffuse more in the academic world because of its affordability. It is frustrating that Variorum did not learn from the subtitle of Adas’s collection. Consequently, the main value of this work will be for use by teachers for lectures or for assigned reserve readings. The loss is significant.