The shape of the world system in the thirteenth century (Abu-Lughod, 1987)

by cominsitu


by Janet Abu-Lughod (1987) PDF

BY the middle of the thirteenth century the Occident (Western Europe) and the Orient (as far as China) were linked together through a system of trade and, to a much lesser extent, production that had begun to form into what might be termed a “world system” rather than a set of imperial systems. Not unlike today, the nodes that were linked together were central places and port cities, rather than whole countries. The geographic nexus of this system was the Muslim heartland through which items of exchange had to move, either overland across the great so-called silk route or primarily via the sea, transiting the region from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and then beyond, via either the Arab/Persian Gulf or the Red Sea.

By then, goods originating in the Middle and Far East were being sold in European fairs, and Europe was exporting in exchange raw materials, metals, and woolen textiles. Such trade was being conducted by merchants from highly diverse regions, speaking quite different languages and in touch with one another not only physically but by written instruments. “Capitalistic” institutions were well established in the sense that: (1) there existed conventional ways for credit to be extended and then paid off; (2) there were developed techniques for pooling capital and risks and for sharing profits and losses; and (3) production for export had begun to reorganize the way goods were produced and exchanged in the domestic economies of East and West. Significantly, this development was considerably more advanced in China and the Arab world than it was in Europe.

source: Studies in Comparative International Development volume 22, pages 3–25 (1987)