Pomeranz, Kenneth and Topik, Steven. The World that Trade Created: Society,
Culture, and the World Economy, 1400 to the Present, 2nd
edition (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2006). 287 pp, $66.95 (cloth $22.95).
The case studies that comprise The World
that Trade Created began as articles written by Pomeranz and Topik (with
several essays contributed by Julia Topik and Dennis Kortheuer) for a column
entitled "Looking Back" published in the business magazine World Trade.
The first edition collected, revised and added to these essays. The just-published
second edition includes yet another eighteen essays, substantially expanding
temporal and spatial coverage. An epilogue explores continuity and change
in the 21st century world economy. Pomeranz and Topik argue that
growing networks of exchange have linked the world's regions for at least
the last five hundred years. Although globalization and the globalization
debate may more intense than in the past, Pomeranz and Topik argue that
"there is really nothing new about the New World Order."
The book's eighty case studies are organized
into six chapters. Three explore the structural of international trade ("The
Making of Market Conventions," "The Tactics of Transport," and "Making Modern
Market"), while the remainder tackle thematic issues ("The Economic Culture
of Drugs," Transplanting: Commodities in World Trade," and "The Economics
of Violence"). Each chapter begins with an an essay introducing relevant
themes and debates.
Both Topik's The Global Coffee Economy in Africa,
Asia, and Latin America and Pomeranz's The Great Divergence: China,
Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy moved memorably between
regional and global scales to shed light on the global economy. No surprise,
then, that The World that Trade Created achieves its ambition: to
"wed the insights of world systems analysis – that the local must
be understood in its global context – with the perspective of local
studies that see variation and local agency shaping the global environment."
Taken together, these essays argue that markets
have always been "socially constructed and socially embedded" – in
short, that local conditions matter. Cultural idiosyncrasies have influenced
trade practices, goods, and tastes as much as the market's "invisible hand."
The contact (or in some cases, collision) between cultural expectations
shaped the outcome of trade in often unanticipated ways. The potato, for
instance, is nutritious, easily cultivated and safely stored. But this does
not fully explain its reception among Europeans new to this American plant.
While early modern European elites welcomed the potato as an aphrodisiac,
the working poor associated the potato with Indian slaves laboring in the
Spain's Peruvian mines. By investigating the cultural story behind economic
exchange, Topik and Pomeranz offer a nuanced understanding of the emergent
The World That Trade Created also challenges
the view that Europe was the source and center of world trade networks.
A case in point: the vitality and sophistication of Southeast Asian trade
in (see, for example, "When Asia was the World Economy"). Conducted by sea,
Southeast Asia was by the 17th century a critical node in a dense
commercial matrix linking East Asia (particularly China), South Asia, and
the Middle East. Other essays investigate pre-Columbian trading networks;
Aztecs, for instance, maintained a network facilitating the exchange of
silver from New Mexico, Jaguar pelts from the Yucatán, and cacao from Honduras.
In short, The World that Trade Created
reveals unexpected and provocative connections, both between the local and
the global and between culture and economy. In the classroom, these eighty
case studies can be divvied up for short, focused assignments, allocated
among student groups, or excerpted selectively in course readers. However
they reach students, these short and well-written essays deserve a large
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