The year 1000 : when explorers connected the world -- and globalization began

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “globalization” is not that old a word and refers to:

“The action, process, or fact of making global; esp. (in later use) the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale, widely considered to be at the expense of national identity.” 

When we speak about globalization today, it is usually about international trade and the legal documents that formalize it. The concept of globalization existed centuries ago, and Valerie Hansen, scholar, writer and professor in the History Department at Yale University, writes about it in this work that is the culmination of thirty years of scholarly research. A major goal was to bring this history to everyone, and her enthusiasm is infectious and compelling.

Hansen begins her journey in modern Quanzhou, China, but writes about cities and places, whose influences are still with us today: Quanzhou, Cairo, Constantinople (today, Istanbul), and many other places. Centuries ago, these were centers of commerce, power, and highly evolved civilizations. Very much like today, the interaction between different peoples had it pros and cons, “The blazing of global pathways caused fertilization and infection, intellectual enrichment and cultural fragmentation, the spread of new technologies and the extinction of traditional crafts.” And she reminds us that, “Power came from people, animals, water and wind.” No planes, trains, cars, and still people moved about this huge planet.

She examines many factors that influenced the remarkable achievements of leaders in the year 1000, and proves this was more pivotal than 1492. Europe was a backwater in comparison to China and the Middle East, with civilizations that were replete with flaws that sometimes outweighed their accomplishments.  Almost all of them were dependent on slave labor and were involved in the business of slavery, anywhere they could find it, initially first from Europe and Central Asia. Hansen takes us all over the globe, writing about people and places I have never heard of, but want to read more about, which is covered in an appendix, “Want to Learn More?”

For the most part this is not revisionist history, it is new history based on the passionate interests and thorough research of scholars all over the world, on every continent, as archaeologists unearth artifacts and documents that reveal new information. The research takes us to the places where the explorers and traders went, and there is the documentation to validate it all.

Reading history educates all of us, and it can provide reasons as to why things took place in the past, and it can give us reasons to think about the present. It can give us insights into human motivation and actions, so that we can begin to imagine different ways of doing things, perhaps even better than the past and the present.

Hansen’s other book, The Silk Road: a new history with documents, is just as fascinating and should whet a reader’s appetite to read more. The name Silk Road was a modern invention around 1877, and silk was not the main commodity.

Both of these books would be terrific for book clubs, and especially for young adult readers, who think history is dull, dry and fixed. If there were a real Indiana Jones, he would be no match for Professor Valerie Hansen.