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  • First Globalization: The Eurasian Exchange, 1500-1800
  • Scott Levi
First Globalization: The Eurasian Exchange, 1500-1800 Geoffrey C. Gunn Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003xviii + 341 pp., $29.95 (paper)

Geoffrey Gunn is professor of international relations in the faculty of economics at Nagasaki University and a prolific author on subjects relating to Southeast Asian studies, with monographs on Cambodia, Macau, Brunei, Japan, Timor, and "the Malay World." With this volume, Gunn broadens his academic scope and endeavors to join the ranks of world historians such as R. Bin Wong, Kenneth Pomeranz, and the late Andre Gunder Frank in looking to European interactions with Asian societies for key factors that led to the "rise of the West." Gunn argues that, by focusing on economic factors in early modern Europeans' contacts with Asia, others have overlooked the equally important exchange of ideas. The result of this exchange was more than just "Westernization" in parts of Asia; Gunn locates the rise of the West in the unequal intellectual exchange between Europe and Asia ("the Eurasian exchange"). This is what Gunn refers to as the "first globalization": the "creolization" of Eurasian cultures brought about by the unprecedented global mobility of the early modern age.

Gunn's introduction clearly establishes the ambitious goals of this volume. He seeks to address a number of important questions, such as how ideas moved between the East and the West, who were the primary agents in their dissemination, and why some peoples, especially those in Europe, eagerly incorporated Asian knowledge, while Asians were more selective in their willingness to accept new ideas. He argues that European cosmology was irrevocably transformed following Galileo's successful challenge of the geocentric model. This left European thinkers eager to investigate the new ideas presented in the growing canon of European travel literature, a genre that, as Gunn effectively demonstrates, became increasingly popular in early modern European literary circles. In contrast, Asian thinkers were less tempted to embrace, study, or even write about the cultural heritage of the relatively small number of European sailors to make their way to Asian shores between 1500 and 1800.

Gunn has sifted through an impressive body of early modern European travel literature in his quest for evidence of the Eurasian intellectual exchange, and he has presented his findings in ten chapters, organized by subject. Chapter themes vary widely and include "The Discovery Canon," "Historical Confabulators and Literary Geographers," "Observations on Nature," "Catholic Cosmologies," "Mapping Eurasia," "Enlightenment Views of Asian [End Page 482] Governance," "Civilizational Encounters," "Livelihoods," "Language, Power, and Hegemony in European Oriental Studies," and "A Theory of Global Culturalization." Each of these chapters is divided into numerous short discussions, some of which are considerably more useful than others. For example, in chapter 4, Gunn delivers a short but interesting summary of the Jesuits' establishment of printing presses in various parts of Asia and the role these presses played in the production and dissemination of knowledge (86–94). But elsewhere Gunn's discussion is more superficial, and many important subjects receive little more than one page ("The Rise of a European Map Culture," "The Mongol Exchange," "The Sinic View of the Universe," and "Chinese Rejection of Western Science," to mention just a few). It might have been useful to offer a critical analysis of the impact that this travel literature had on early modern European scientific and cultural achievements, such as how "Asian knowledge" contributed to the development of European fields of study. For example, the chapter "Enlightenment Views of Asian Governance" mentions that the philosophes employed their understandings of Asia to further their own social and political agendas in Europe, but it establishes little more than that the philosophes were familiar with the European travel canon. Thus, "Montesquieu used both Tavernier and Chardin as source material, especially in the preparation of Letters of a Persian. Rousseau, likewise, had recourse to these sources" (155). Instead Gunn tends to assess the importance of particular volumes by counting the number of editions and translations issued.

Despite the title, this volume is not global in scope, nor is it concerned with all, or even most, of Eurasia. Gunn's examples only infrequently venture from maritime Southeast Asia, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-226X
Print ISSN
1089-201X
Pages
pp. 482-483
Launched on MUSE
2007-09-18
Open Access
No
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