Friday, October 30, 2009

A Historical Example of Globalization?

A review of C. Antunes's Globalisation in the Early Modern Period: The Economic Relationship between Amsterdam and Lisbon, 1640-1705 (Amsterdam: Aksant, 2004. Illustrations + index. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-90-5260-164-9)
Reviewed by Susan R. Boettcher (Department of History, University of Texas at Austin)Published on H-Low-Countries (November, 2006)

Globalization has been a much-abused term for approximately the last decade, and it has often been remarked that historians have been relatively late in examining a concept that sociologists, political scientists and cultural studies scholars monopolized until quite recently. The present volume understands itself as a contribution to the historical study of globalization, first to test the utility of the idea, and secondly to consider out the applicability of a series of theories typically associated with the term. It treats the Amsterdam-Lisbon trade in the second half of the seventeenth century on the basis of very thin archival sources from Lisbon and a tiny sample of the available sources for Amsterdam; in chapter 1, the author justifies this selection in a rational way, but of course the small proportion of sources from Amsterdam does suggest that the results are provisional. The detailed discussion of trade and financial networks based on this archival sample is nonetheless convincingly presented.
Chapter 2 discusses the available models of historical globalization, focusing particularly on Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein (and their critics) as a model for a history informed by global themes. Conceding the inadequacy of Wallerstein in particular, Antunes turns to the definition of historical globalization in one of the most well-known textbook surveys of the phenomenon, Global Transformations (1999).[1] Held et al. is a valuable for resource for historians seeking to come to terms with the mass of literature on this topic; the book divides world history programmatically into four parts: medieval (or "thin"), early modern ("expansive"), nineteenth-century (thick) and twentieth-century (diffused) globalization. Antune indicates the probability of reconsidering the spatio-temporal aspects of these models, a crucial moment in her argument to be discussed further below. Antunes isolates five factors relevant to early modern globalization: geography, trade, producer-market relationships, capital and people, and her chapters are organized to follow this framework. Chapter 3 treats the respective demographic, urban and geographical structures of the two cities; it is unclear, in the absence of comparisons to other port cities that might have been greater or lesser poles of globalization, why this discussion, which is reproduced primarily on the basis of secondary literature, is necessary to the book. Chapter 4 moves us onto the territory of globalization proper by considering the two metropoles as locations of urban trade networks. Antunes traces the central location of these cities in regional networks (as mobilizers of goods, transportation, and communication), showing that Amsterdam was a stronger partner in its regional economy than was Lisbon. This is interesting information, but tells us relatively little about the character of the Amsterdam-Lisbon relationship as an example of globalization; in order to understand the significance of this data, it would have been more useful to see a comparison to other cities of similar financial power but lesser globalizing reach. Antunes concludes that these cities entered into international trade at least to some extent in order to bolster the efficiency of their regional trade networks. Chapter 5 moves the book's analysis into the nitty-gritty of archival sources and provides a discussion of financial networks. Here Antunes affirms Held et al., with the exception of one crucial matter: the question of the intensity of early modern globalization. Chapter 6 deals with human capital and the personnel networks of globalization. The conclusions from these chapters are woven together in a narrative in chapter 7 that explains how considering these factors as aspects of globalization enhances our knowledge of the period's history. (Here she mourns the lack of a study of the sort of personal relationships that constituted Dutch trade networks; the studies of Julia Adams might have been helpful).[2] In this chapter, Antunes unfolds a true narrative gift, skillfully weaving her narrative of globalization into the high diplomacy and international relationships of the period. Chapter 8 then returns to the evaluation of Held et al. as a model for understanding this specific case of historical globalization.
The question of the utility of globalization models for understanding history has been forcefully argued, and in the minds of leading scholars, definitely established in broader studies that preceded this one, as have critiques of world-systems theory, so Antunes's assertion that "it [is] useful to use the concept of historical globalization to explain the way historical processes develop" (p. 187) is not especially significant as a programmatic move.[3] It remains interesting as a test case of the quadripartite model of globalization postulated by Held et al., which is the one that non-historians are most familiar with, so that Antunes's study potentially provides a bridge between history and the vocabulary of the other disciplines. Held et al. describe early modern globalization as characterized by high extensity, low intensity, low velocity and high impact. Antunes objects that her study shows a high intensity of trade, which she believes can be measured in absolute terms. The problem is that the model given by Held et al. is clearly comparative (intensity was higher than in the medieval world but lower than the nineteenth century), and Antunes concedes this point. She also objects to the characterization of velocity as low, although here she is willing to accept that velocity of exchange cannot be measured absolutely, stating that "the necessary gradation in the use of the adjectives 'high' and 'low' calls for a serious revision of the model" (p. 189). This statement appears paradoxical to me in light of her earlier support for the model. Globalization as Held et al. formulate it is inherently comparative; Antunes reformulates their definition of globalization as "the increasing world interconnectedness of all aspects of social life" (p.1). Consequently spatio-temporal adjectives are inherent to the model, which is precisely the matter that makes it so difficult for historian to use it. Historians are suspicious of models oriented toward anything that looks like "progress," which globalization does; and they like best to measure clear changes and transformations over time rather than gradations, for, as Antunes would agree, the notion of "more" or "less" is inherently slippery and difficult to establish in absolute terms. If Held et al. is to work as model for historians, either the model will have to abandon its insistence on relative gradations, or historians will have to abandon their reservations about the large-scale teleology of the model, which postulates a constantly growing interconnection (with hiccoughs now and then) in the development of the world. In light of the insights from her study, then, it would be just as easy to argue on the basis of Antunes's evidence that globalization is not an adequate model for the conceptualization of historical developments. What use is a definition if we throw out one of the primary terms it uses to establish a model?
The strengths of this book lie in its proximity to the sources, its consideration of a particular historical case along the lines of widely-known theoretical models, as well as in its discrete chapters. It is strongly and commandingly narrated. Although the story it tells about Amsterdam fits within the general picture of Dutch commercial enterprise in this period, it does make a contribution to the relatively thin secondary literature in English on early modern Portuguese economic history. Its weaknesses lie in its understanding of its own significance, as well as its often overly formulaic style and its inability to make a true rejoinder to the theoretical model with which it most closely engages, or to move from a critique of that model to a truly interesting intervention. It is simply not clear how considering this material under the aegis of globalization leads to any different story from the one that would have been told by conventional economic history of the Amsterdam-Lisbon trade. Finally, the schematics will be difficult for anyone not already initiated into the sort of diagrams that appear in books on globalization to understand; they are poorly captioned. Unfortunately, the book also suffers from inadequate copyediting. Some readers will find themselves distracted by frequent errors of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation.
[1]. David Held, Anthony G. McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathon Perraton, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).
[2]. Julia Adams, "Trading States, Trading Places: The Role of Patrimonialism in Early Modern Dutch Development," Comparative Studies in Society and History 36 (1994): pp. 319-355; Julia Adams, "The Familial State," Theory and Society 23 (1994): pp. 505-539, and now her book summarizing this research, The Familial State (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).
[3]. Two works that anticipated Antunes's claims are A.G. Hopkins, ed., Globalization in World History (London: Pimloco, 2002) and Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson, Geschichte der Globalisierung (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2003). See now also the forthcoming volume: A.G. Hopkins, ed., Global History: Interactions between the Universal and the Local (New York: Palgrave, 2006).

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