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Per altres autors anomenats Robert B. Marks, vegeu la pàgina de desambiguació.

3 obres 292 Membres 1 crítiques

Sobre l'autor

Robert B. Marks is professor of history and environmental studies at Whittier College.

Obres de Robert B. Marks


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Nom oficial
Marks, Robert B.
Data de naixement
Lloc de naixement
Rhinelander, Wisconsin, USA
University of Wisconsin-Madison (PhD|1978)
Whittier College



This brief book looks at the origins of the modern world through two lenses. The first is through "the old biological regime", which is the limits placed on population and economic growth in traditional agrarian societies. Marks looks at that regime from 1400-1800 and comes to the conclusion that Indian and China were the dominant forces because their agriculture was most advanced, as evidenced by their population. The second lens is fighting against a "Euro-centric" narrative of the modern world. By this, Marks means the story that India and China were backward while Europe was progressive, making the dominance of Europe inevitable. Marks argues against this by showing that a) India and China were the engines of the world economy up to 1800 and perhaps as late as 1850, b) Europe was "fortunate enough" (his favorite phrase) to have a series of advantages and accidental contingencies that allowed it to industrialize first. After industrializing, it proceeded to dominate the world and set up an international system that favored it while keeping the rest of the world impoverished, essentially creating the "Third World".

Overall, Marks makes a good case. There is little doubt that China in particular was much stronger economically in 1800, with a very sophisticated economy. There is also little doubt that Europe benefited from some nice contingencies, such as accessible coal and raw materials from colonies in the New World. He makes some reference to the economic systems that developed, particularly in Britain and the Netherlands, that allowed the government to extract greater revenue for use in war and to the competition between European states that drove that sort of innovation. All in all, his narrative is convincing.

The problems come from his insistence on fighting the Euro-centric viewpoint. He argues that there was nothing "better" or more deserving about Europe's system, nor was there anything inevitable about Europe's rise. I haven't heard any serious scholar make those claims in decades, so he is either creating a straw man to knock down or he is arguing against pop "historians". It's frustrating because it is a nice synthesis of the subject, but he makes no attempt to be balanced (which he admits early on).

He also doesn't touch on intellectual property rights, which were a significant part of industrialization in Britain. It's hard to compare Britain and China without mentioning that. I can't think of a good reason for that, except that it wouldn't fit into his argument.

Overall, this was well worth reading. It is concise (perhaps too much so) and easy to read. I would consider using it in my modern World Civilizations class except that his argument against Euro-centricism is completely lacking objectivity. If he toned it down a bit, the book would still show that Asia was the dominant region in the early modern world and that Europe had some very good luck to allow industrialization to happen. But I want my students to learn to make a balanced and nuanced argument and this is a bad example. So I'll use the ideas, including the "Old Biological Regime", and I'll mention Marks as the source, but I won't ask them to read it.
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Scapegoats | Nov 8, 2013 |

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