- Science and Technology in World History: An Introductionby James E. McClellan, Harold Dorn, and: Silk and Tea in the North: Scandinavian Trade and the Market for Asian Goods in Eighteenth-Century Europeby Hanna Hodacs, and: The Great Knowledge Transcendence: The Rise of Western Science and Technology Reframedby Dengjian Jin, and: The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern Worlded. by Anne Gerritsen, Giorgio Riello
World Histories of Science and Material Exchange
At least since the publication of Harold Cook’s monumental study Matters of Exchangein 2007, histories of science and material exchange have developed into one of the most vibrant fields of global and world historical scholarship. By zooming in on the daily practices of merchants, gardeners, physicians, grocers, and apothecaries near harbors in the Low Countries, Asia, and the Caribbean, Cook illustrated how the exchange and management of spices, exotic plants, and texts tacitly shaped a new experimental philosophy in the early modern period. However, Cook’s study has also shown that writing a nuanced world history of science and material exchange also confronts historians with tremendous challenges. Next to the pitfall of privileging Europe—or any other part of the world—as the main motor of technological, material, and social development, authors in this field have to find a way to sensitize their analyses to unequal distributions of political power and capital as they appeared over time. Marginalizing such imbalances can be avoided only if authors weave their reconstructions of local dynamics into wider narratives of the global movement of people, goods, and expertise. One of the preconditions for such an approach is the willingness to critically engage with rigid analytical categories such as “the market,” “technology,” and “science.”
Each of the four studies discussed in this cumulative review responds to these challenges in a different way. As in previous editions, the third [End Page 178]edition of Science and Technology in World Historyoffers undergraduate students a panoptic but thoughtful overview of the evolution of science and technology from the Paleolithic era to the present. The handbook, which is authored by James E. McClellan and Harold Dorn, both affiliated with the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, is divided into twenty chapters. 10In the opening chapters, readers learn about the technological and intellectual tools humans in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras used to manage their lives and the environment. Follow-up chapters deal with natural inquiry in the Greek, Roman, Byzantine Empires, India, China, and the Americas and Europe in the early modern and modern period. All of these chapters are very readable and are based on a synthesis of historical scholarship. The large number of carefully selected illustrations and maps help students and other readers navigate through the text and digest content. Readers who wish to deepen their study will find a thematic bibliography at the end of the textbook.
However, taken together, the authors succeed only partially in providing a balanced survey that does not take historical developments in the Western world as yardstick. The chapter on East Asia (chapter 7), for instance, ends with reflections on why the scientific revolution happened in Europe and not in China, as if developments in Europe have to be considered the historical norm. By exploring how Europe transformed itself from a backward economy to a “civilization that came to lead the world in the development of science and industry,” the chapters on science in early modern Europe (chapters...