The Origins of the Modern World

The book, The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative by Robert Marks presents a comprehensive and balanced description of the origin of the modern world from the year 1400 to current civilization. The book focuses on Asia, the New World, and Africa, as they emerged rather than the rise of the West. Marks defines the modern world as being full of industries, a massive gap between the rich and the poor, warfare and change from the biological old regime. The book clearly outlines the manner in which the USA comes to power in the twentieth century. Even though most of the American history is told from the Eurocentric Angle, in the book in question, Robert Marks courageously redesigned and dissected the world’s regions and pitched the origins of the American civilization in Asia.

In the introduction, the author claims that between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, global power shifted from China and India to Europe. Marks, just like numerous other scholars believes that the change was inevitable. The usual narrative about the rise of the West to dominance is the fact that the West was able to develop itself in numerous ways. To begin with, the West was able to have better economic and political integrations, which forced the formation of one system of trade and international exchange. In addition to that, the Western World went through numerous technological advancements, the industrial revolution, and transportation, especially in the sea. In support of the usual narrative of the Raise of the West, some people claim that the West was able to pay considerable attention to the cultural and intellectual developments of their people. It reformed historical opinions about the West and brought about its rise. Marks believes that the West was able to rise not because of their material possession but because of the cultural practices (34).

The reason for saying this is he believes that China and India would also rise, but they had to change their cultural practices, which served as obstacles to capitalist development. Unlike the societies in China and India, Europe had a culture that encouraged modernization because of its Protestantism. By using the terms contingency, accident, and conjunction, the writer refers to the fact that the events, which lead to industrial revolution, were not accidental, since they resulted in the advancement of different nations through interactions. The author’s alternative narrative is that Europe was able to rise because of the huge demands of silver needed in Asia in exchange for other goods. The author states that Europe had luck finding silver, which was highly needed by the Indians and Chinese because it was the currency they used. The one thing however that made Europe grow fastest was the use of steam instead of coal.

The biological old regime is the material and natural condition, in which numerous people lived in. Some of individuals were ruling elites, with others living as peasants. According to Marks, the ecology is significant in determining whether the population may increase or decrease. It is evident that the climatic changes mostly affect the human society in numerous ways. To begin with, positive climate changes make the world population to increase at large because there is plenty of food. Poor climatic conditions on, the other hand, reduces human population because of the limited supply of food (Marks 15). Some scientists believe that the global warming will have a huge effect on the world’s population. The ecological elements of human society intersected with other kinds of phenomena such as availability of surplus food. The food surplus led to the establishment of social groups and classes such as the elite and the peasants. Food surplus also meant that individuals could afford food without having to toil in the lands while others would take what was not theirs by force. It also leads to the development of cities and writing. The fact that the rulers and priests were able to isolate themselves and live in their private compounds. They also managed to hire artisans to make their weapons, clothes or build their houses.

Some of the results of the human society intersect include the development of accounting and taxation. The rulers, priests and other rich people could have systems where they account for the food that has been produced. In addition to that, it leads to the development of empires because the elite was able to trade with nomads for other products and grow their cities. The biological new regime is the environment that we live in now, and it is evident that ecological factors affect this administration. It helped countries break out of the limitations of the biological old regime through industrialization (Marks 26). An obvious example is the fact that the use of fossil fuel and increases with an increase in population and industrialization. Some of its effects include energy constraints especially on fuel, shortage of resources and uncertainty about sustainable future.

Before Columbus accidentally discovered the Western Hemisphere or Americas, the Portuguese ruled, and they had slave-based sugarcane plantations. They took their slaves from Africa, where they had conquered in their quest to find to Asia. After the discovery of the Western Hemisphere, the Portuguese quickly took over because of their experience in managing slave-based plantations. The system used by the Portuguese was approximately 100 years because they invaded Brazil from the 1500’s to the end of that Century. Europe, like many other places, had a population of individuals who established different economic and social systems from developed agrarians to hunters and gatherers. Although Europe did not have an empire, the Europeans had dreams of a united Empire. The one thing that blocked the area from expansion to the east was the fact that the part of the country was relatively poor. In as much as it may have wanted to expand, most of the people and the lands that surrounded them was poor.

The expansion would mean acquiring liabilities instead of assets. In addition to that, European countries did not expand to the East because it had no control over trade with Asia. The reason was the fact that in as much as it needed salt and paper, Europe had nothing to offer Asia in return. The countries dominant in this world system include China and India. They became powerful because of some reasons. To start with, India and China had advance technology, which enables them to produce better and cheaper silk, cotton and porcelain. Secondly, the climatic and geographic conditions limited the availability of certain commodities to specific places such as spices in Indonesia, Gold and Ivory in Africa and silver in Japan. Lastly, these regions become necessary because of the customers tastes and the social convections (Marks 102).

This shaped the demand for luxury goods which India and China would only afford such as raw gems, pearls, silk, and spices just to mention a few. Accidents, conjunctions, and contingencies influenced the rises and falls of dominant regions through interaction and taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Some areas were lucky to find resources and develop themselves through interaction with other regions that have resources as well. Others were not lucky enough, and become subjects to the wealthy areas. Similarly, availability of labor was a challenge, not because there limited employment opportunities, but because the working conditions and the labor situation in general was deplorable. Laborers did not have rights and they worked at the whims of their employer. Chinese and Indian merchants were very cruel to their employers in the sense that they expected their employees to produce more at minimal costs. The living conditions were bad and in most cases, employees lived in squalid conditions.

The one thing that changed the global relations system after 1500 was the expansion of several regions such as China, Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman Expansion. There is a strong interrelationship between the Columbian Exchange, the Great Dying, labor problems, silver, sugar, slavery, nation-state building, and mercantilism. Firstly, the Great Dying led to the labor shortage problems because numerous people died from diseases such as smallpox, bubonic plague, among other. Spaniards were unable to get people to work for them and at the same time, they could not enslave Indians because the Catholic Church warned them against such actions. They had to look for laborers from Africans to come and work for them. Slavery and silver, on the other hand, had an interrelationship. The Spaniards rushed to India after Columbus discovered it. They enslaved them and forced them to mine as much silver as they could. In addition to that, the establishment of the sugar plantation in Brazil also led to the slavery of both Indians, and Africans. The nation-state building, however, has a close relationship with mercantilism. The reason is the fact that Europe was able to grow that it practices mercantilism, which is the emergence of powerful nations through immersing as much wealth as possible, which in this case was silver and gold (Marks 167).

European wars led to establishment of new institutions due to the formation of armies, taxation of the urban to rural trade, development of banking systems, and the balance of power. Marks sees the seven years Wars of 1756-63 as the global fight because affected the entire world although it was a war between France and Britain. In addition to that, the war had a tremendous impact on America’s independence. In addition to that, French fought the British within their different colonies, such as Canada, Africa, India and America, a war which the lost.

Marks advancing his analogy by stating that the industrial revolution did not happen because of scientific revolution but because of the discovery of coal and steam as alternative sources of energy. Correspondingly, the scholar maintains that Britain may never have been able to make any strides had it not discovered coal. The reason is the fact that it had filled all its potential lactations for expansion with water-powered mills. The author reveals that Britain’s economy had stagnated, and the textile industry on its own would not have boosted any economic growth. For such a reason, Robert Marks believes that the presence of coal led to the significant transformation in Britain. Moreover, the author argues that in as much as steam was an alternative source of energy, Britain did not have a vast forest to run its activities. The discovery of coal, however, helped Britain in producing iron that was then used to build railroads.

In the same manner, Britain needed colonies to maintain its people and activities. The author urges that without acquiring colonies in Africa, Britain may never have been able to spearhead industrial revolution. Britain without colonies would not have been able to produce food to feed its people. Lack of food would have limited further growth and economic expansion. Marks views on scientific revolution are that it beginning does not have any ties with European science or the technologies that fueled it. He argues that were it not for coal and colonies; China would have been the first nation to attain industrialization. It is because most of the technologies used in the Industrial Revolution were well known in China as compared to Britain.

The true convergence between the East and West was caused by trade. The reason the West and East converged is because they both knew that they needed something from each other. After the colonization of Africa, Britain was able to get raw materials from the East, which is Africa, and export it back to its countries. It would later bring back the raw materials as finish products such as clothes needed by the colonized Africans. The East knew that it needed finished products while the West needed raw materials. This led to the creation of the Trans-Atlantic tread (Marks 189). The one thing that caused divergence between the East and the West is slave trade, and it happened in the 19th century. Some of the divergences that existed within the West include the rise of colonial empires, commercial revolution, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution. It is correct to say that most of Europe and North America are industrialized. China and India attempted to join the industrialization race, with different consequences than European countries. Unlike England, China tried industrialization, but it did not focus on alternative energy sources such as coal, but I rather suck to the biological old regime. Another major dissimilarity between the other states and Europe is the fact that England focused on utilizing resources from their colonies while others focused on changing the agrarian systems.

The industrial revolution had significant effects on the western nations socially because it destroyed the empires and the powers of the Europeans and Japanese. In addition to that, it led to the two world wars, which caused numerous social problems and finally affected people’s living standards through the Great Depression. Industrialization led to the used steam before the discovery of coal. It resulted in the destruction of large chunks of forest in Europe as they managed to run their economy on steam. The development of coal extraction industry reduced the number of trees fell for steam production. The discovery of coal also increased the rates at which people used iron because using coal to melt it was easier that using wood. In addition to that, coal boosted the railway transportation. The discovery of oil brought about massive changes in Europe because it speeded up the process of industrialization. The use of coal, steam and oil all led to the production of high levels of nitrogen into the environment.

Industrialization had huge impacts on both the West and other countries that were not part of the west. Some effects of industrialization on the west are as follows. Firstly, industrialization gave the West the ability to transport raw materials from the East. Secondly, it shifted rural and agricultural activities to urban industrialization. Industrialization led to the formation of cities, which promoted overcrowding, and the spread of diseases. Another effect of industrialization was urbanization and the creation of job opportunities for the people in the west. The first state in the East to industrialize was India. Industrialization also affected the non-Western countries in some ways. In fact, it promoted the growth of export crops and boosted the living standards of people from the sale of their crops. Industrialization also facilitated the development of social classes because people are able to group themselves as poor and rich.

It also encouraged trade and the development of other sectors such as mining. Industrialization is related to imperialism in the fact that it facilitated the creation of a system in countries, which later brought about independence and nationality among the counties in the East. India did not follow the English model industrialization because of some reasons. As a matter of fact, unlike Europe, India had limited technological resources. In as much as it may have wanted to use coal, there were not right facilities to harvest the coal. For such reason, India had cut down a significant percentage of its forest, which late led to famine and the El Niño rains. In addition to that, the Indian government unlike those in Europe did not have upright structure and mostly they did not have enough machinery to process certain products. As such, it remained depended on Europe for products for a very long time.

The other transformative developments for both Western and non-Western societies include globalization and nationalization. There are notable dissimilarities between globalization and nationalization. Globalization is the situation where technologies or businesses spread in different parts of the world. Nationalization, on the other hand, represents the situation where people from the same nation have their pride because of the things or features that make them stand out from the rest of the other countries. Another difference between nationalization and globalization is that globalization is international while nationalization focuses on single or particular nations. One of the similarities between the two transformative developments is the fact that both of them aim at promoting human life in one way or another. Nationalization and Globalization influenced societies within the West and beyond it in some ways (Marks 190).

To begin with, globalization fostered trade among different nations by getting resources that satisfy the needs of other people. Globalization is also vital to the success of every country, which means it closely related to to nationalization. If people can compete internally, then they can also compete globally with other nations. Tea silver and opium were commodities that had high demand. China, for example, had a high demand for opium which it used as a painkiller, and Britain seized the opportunity to establish a monopoly for the product. Britain, on the other hand, needed tea, which China was willing and able to supply. In exchange for the tea, China received silver, which Britain had in plenty. Such trading schemes led to new developments because it established trade between China and Britain.

According to Marks, the term ruralization means making people change from working with machines or the industry to the production of the raw material (108). It happened in India after Britain accepted to import raw material and especially cotton and sugarcane from the farmers. Consequently, it lead to the closure of all local cotton weavers and some of them emigrated while others turned to farming. The reason is the fact that they needed money to pay tax, and this could only happen if they exported raw materials. The bust and boom cycle, on the contrary, was the process of expansion and contraction, which repeatedly occurred in Britain’s economy. The rise of the modern states is the condition where people living in a nation were no longer subjects but as citizens. The ruling powers in the contemporary states ruled through salaried bureaucrats but not through intermediaries. The modern nation-state, on the other hand, comprises countries brought together by forces of nationalism (Marks 201). Biological Darwinism is Charles Darwin’s idea of natural selection and the description of a human with apelike features. Social Darwinism, in turn, is his attempts to explain why some people are poor, and other are rich. Eugenics is the selective breeding of animals and plants with the aim of getting the best stock. According to humans, it aimed at improving the human genetics by missing significant human traits in the North Europe with poor non-white. Accordingly, Mexicans and Brazilians encouraged Europeans to immigrate to their countries so at to ‘lighten’ their countries.


The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative by Robert Marks provides a detailed information on the origin of the modem world. In his book, the author is keen on refuting some of the theories known to men such as what exactly lead to the raise of the West. Robert Marks was successful in shading light on Asia, the New World and Africa as they emerged rather than the rise of the West. In other words, through this book, Marks narrated the world history through the prism of Asia specifically China and India. It was a rare and courageous move given that the world’s civilization is always associated with the West or Europe. Mark’s balanced analysis of the origins of American civilization in this book brings forth the question of who are the true owners of the current civilization. Obviously, the question of who pioneered the entire civilization that dominates the world currently is a question that many historians and researchers in general will keep exploring as the world disintegrates into globalization. The greatest strength of the literary piece in question is the author’s ability to analyze and rewrite the source of the American civilization from a completely unfamiliar perspective without demeaning the contrary views of his counterparts in the same field. Even though some may dispute Mark’s point of view or main theme of the work, his overall viewpoint on civilization is something that many historians will be keen to explore further in future.

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