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Red Group abstract on
The fates of Human Societies: A Review of recent macro histories by Gale Stokes
Stokes looks at the question ‘Why Europe’, she starts by stating that she will look at
this idea from a macro historical perspective, looking at the broad history of the world
rather than from a particular perspective, as really this question addresses world
history. As ‘a system of interactions and encounters in which humanity as a whole
participated’ lead to the development or decline of specific countries. She states that
there are two main contrasting theories in this field and they are epitomised by Landes
and Frank. Landes argues from a more Eurocentric perspective, Europeans he says
have nonmaterial and unique aspects that lead to growth and therefore prosperity. The
development of science as an ‘autonomous method of enquiry free from social
constraints’ was crucial to Europe’s development and the fact Latin was used a
universal language of science enabled it to diffuse and develop across Europe. We
also ‘learned rather greedily’ travelling to different countries and taking from them
ideas and materials that benefitted us and could be used to develop technology,
production, artillery etc. In contrast Frank argues that ‘Europeans didn’t do anythinglet alone modernise’ we had good luck which lead to colonisation and control of the
world’s economic system. Where as he feels China were far superior to the west, they
were a highly innovative and accomplished society who sent out larger fleets for
exploration than the Europeans and had mastered tools of agriculture, language and
industry before the west. Yet they didn’t utilise these advantages like the west, for
example Chinese people had a refined the technique of spinning thread yet this never
lead to the large scale production of cotton. Stokes seems to value both of these
theories yet looks to put them into the perspective of world history stating that ‘you
do not have to choose’ one theory or another as each continents development directly
affected the other, we can criticise each individually but it doesn’t tell us about history
as a whole. So we should aim to look at these issues from a ‘Humanocentric’
perspective as ‘success is not permanent’.