31 January 2004

First Southernization, Then Westernization

The West began to have an impact on the rest of the globe from about the fifteenth century. According to the historian Lynda Shaffer in a seminal article in the Journal of World History in 1994, the South began to have a similar impact a millennium earlier. "The term southernization is meant to be analogous to westernization."
A process called southernization first began in Southern Asia. By the fifth century C.E. [= A.D.], developments associated with southernization were present in India, whence they spread to China and then to the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. After 1200 they began to have an impact on southern Europe. These developments included the discovery of bullion sources, the emergence of a new mathematics, the pioneering of trade routes, the trade in tropical spices, the cultivation of southern crops such as sugar and cotton, and the invention of various technologies.
Cotton was first domesticated in the Indus River valley and Indian cotton virtually clothed the world until Britain's Industrial Revolution.

During the Mauryan Empire (321-185 B.C.E), Siberia had been India's main source for gold bullion, but when that route was disrupted, Indians began to look for gold in the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos, and then in East Africa. By the fifth century C.E., Indian traders and Malay sailors had established sea routes all the way from the Red Sea to China, and even into the Pacific.

Until 1621 C.E., the Moluccas (Maluku) was the only place on earth able to produce commercial quantities of cloves, nutmeg, and mace. Sugar may have been first domesticated in New Guinea, but the Indians were the first to discover how to turn it into granulated crystals that could be easily stored and transported.

Indians also invented the concept of zero, which the Arabs eventually conveyed to the Europeans. What the West called Arabic numerals, the Arabs called Hindi numerals.

During the period of Southernization in Sui, Tang, and Song China (6th to 13th centuries C.E.), Buddhism and rice agriculture spread from south to north, and the north became less dominant intellectually, socially, and politically.

During the early Muslim Caliphates, sugar, cotton, and citrus fruits spread north. The Arabs were the first to import large numbers of East African (Zanj) slaves to work sugar plantations near Basra at the north end of the Persian Gulf. By 1000, sugar and cotton had become important crops from Iran to Spain. Arabs also pioneered new trade routes and discovered new sources of silver in Tashkent and in Afghanistan that rivaled the later discoveries near Potosi in the New World. After silver became relatively abundant, Arabs sought new sources of gold in East and West Africa.

"By 1200 the process of southernization had created a prosperous south from China to the Muslim Mediterranean." The Mongol conquests then helped to southernize northern regions across Eurasia. "Southernization was not overtaken by westernization until the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century…. Only after the northwestern Europeans had added to their own repertoire every one of the elements of southernization did the world become divided into a powerful, prestigious, and rich north and an impoverished south perceived to be in need of development."

SOURCE: Linda Shaffer, "Southernization," Journal of World History 5:1-21.