What Explains the Rise of the West? The California School in Context

Graduate Seminar, 15 students

Are we living at the dawn of the Chinese century? Does the expansion of the Chinese economy spell the end of the European dominance, or is it merely a matter of the adaptation of East Asia to a European model of development? Recent trends have renewed historiographic interest in the rise of the West. What led to the social, political, and technological power imbalances that made the European domination of the globe possible? In the past, this story was told as one of a unique European culture (delayed marriage), religion (Christianity), political form (representative democracy), legal system (Roman law), or economic system (capitalism). The “California School” has attempted to overturn this orthodoxy, to tell the story of the rise of the West as a world history marked by (1) contact between cultures, (2) highly specific historical conjunctures, and (3) the contingency of, for example, the location of easily accessible coal deposits.

This course is divided into three parts. In the first part, we read classic accounts of the rise of the West. In the second, we read critiques of this perspective associated with the California School. Finally, we look at other recent accounts, which partly agree with the California School and partly seek to restore aspects of the old orthodoxy. We finish with a reading Niall Ferguson’s book on the “Killer Apps” of the West, if only to demonstrate the enduring legacy of Eurocentric perspectives. Students are not expected to read all of these books in their entirety; selections will made in advance. Final research projects should draw the balance sheet of the California School’s interventions, with regard to a region and time period in which students have expertise.

Week 1. Introduction

The Rise of the West as a Central Question of World History

Week 2. David Landes

Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

Week 3. Douglass North and Robert Paul Thomas

North and Thomas, The Rise of the Western World

Week 4. Robert Brenner

“Property and Progress: Where Adam Smith Went Wrong”
“The Low Countries in the Transition to Capitalism”

Week 5. Margaret Jacobs

Jacobs, Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West

Week 6. Immanuel Wallerstein

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, Volume One

Week 7. J.M. Blaut

Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World

Week 8. Janet Abu-Lughod

Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony

Week 9. Andre Gunder Frank

Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age

Week 10. R. Bin Wong

Wong, China Transformed

Week 11. Kenneth Pomeranz

Pomeranz, The Great Divergence

Week 12. Prasannan Parthasarathi

Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not

Week 13. Robert Allen

Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective

Week 14. Robert Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke

Findlay and O'Rourke, Power and Plenty

Week 15. Niall Ferguson

Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest