world, and the Islamic and European empires expanded simultaneously in Eurasia and the
Americas. Crops and technologies moved back and forth between Europe and the Americas.
Europeans brought horses and guns to the New World, making the Plains buffalo culture of
the Sioux, Kiowa and other tribes possible. Diseases also moved from the Old to the New
World, and may have been the most effective weapon the Europeans deployed against the
native population. Meanwhile, plants such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers traveled to
During this period, integration was strengthening, but usually within already existing empires,
religious ecumenes and trading networks. The world had numerous “centers” in addition to
Western Europe, such as the Ottoman Empire and China, which were autonomous and self-
contained. Only the Europeans aggressively sent travelers to learn about the other centers.
The Sultan and the Chinese court had little interest in events in Europe or elsewhere.
1750 to 1880: The Expansion of Trade
Revolutions in the Americas did not break the New World’s connections with the Old World
but rather reshaped them. For example, the colonies that revolted against Spain sought new
links with Britain. The revolutionaries of Britain’s North American colonies did not terminate
relations with Britain but instead developed a “special relationship” that continues today. In
the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, navies and merchant marines became
essential components of the modern state. Some of the best minds applied themselves to
naval and merchant marine affairs, such as managing the British East India Company and
the British Royal Navy. Naval organizations became centers of creativity, innovation and
technology. Shipping became a major sector of the economy.
Advances in shipping encouraged the development of a nascent global economy. As people
migrated and settled in frontier areas, they established new economic enterprises and
imported goods from home. Perhaps no indicator of global economic integration was clearer
than the linking of the world’s economic cycles. The great depression of 1873 was
The So-Called Industrial Revolution
The term “Industrial Revolution” is one of the most controversial in modern historical studies.
It may not have been a revolution at all. When it began, Britain was already an important
center of economic innovation, and its textile sector was already global. Furthermore, the
Industrial Revolution was not a single global process but instead many processes. It did not
proceed by imitation but rather through creative adaptation, as each country developed its
own patterns and models of industrialization. If it was a revolution, it was a slow-moving one.
Decades passed before industrial production became the norm and affected every aspect of
life. Yet industrialization had an undeniable impact, especially in the transportation and
military sectors. Using steamships on existing sailing-ship trading networks reduced costs.
Throughout the world, demand grew for Western goods, especially the heavy artillery
produced by European arms manufacturers. These weapons gave colonial rulers an
insuperable advantage over indigenous people. Rail development, often encouraged for
military purposes, helped integrate the remotest regions – although by the midnineteenth
century, the telegraph cable became even more powerful than the railroad as a force for
Free Trade and Marxist Utopians
The nineteenth century gave rise to two great, utopian political ideologies: free trade
liberalism and Marxism. Free traders envisioned a world of prosperity and peace that would
arrive when states stopped intervening in agreements between individuals. Marxists, too,
believed that the state’s withering would mark the achievement of the communist dream.
The free traders achieved an important part of their objective when Britain abolished tariffs in
1846. By 1870, enough states had followed that all of Western Europe was one large free-
trade zone, although non-European empires did not join this movement except under
duress. Even within the British Empire, Canada and Australia retained common and
protective tariffs, although they tended to be more politically modern than Britain itself.
Beyond Europe, Japan led modernization. Although it was not a democracy, Japan was, by
the 1880s, a constitutional state. The United States remained in the shadow of Great Britain
throughout the nineteenth century. Its slavery and civil strife made it anything but a model for
The invention of the printing press in the 1400s made possible an information revolution in
which ideas spread with unprecedented facility and with a speed that increased over the
centuries. In 1851, Paul Julius Reuter founded the fi rst news agency, and within 10 years
his network spanned six continents. By the 1870s, Egypt, China and Japan all had the
beginings of a modern press. From 1880 onward, the spread of literacy made information
and ideas accessible throughout the world. Journalism emerged as a profession, and
educated classes everywhere were able to read reports of world events in their own
An international agreement in 1884 established a worldwide system of time-keeping, with the
zero meridian passing through Greenwich, England, and numerous time zones. Pocket
watches became commonplace. A worldwide network of weather stations enabled people to
see climate linkages. Global environmental awareness made its fi rst appearance during the
turn of the century “timber famine,” when people began to criticize economies based on
environmental exploitation and degradation.
Public attitudes toward time and distance changed. Steamship travel became not only an
indulgence of the elite but an economic necessity for ordinary people, including Chinese
economic migrants among others. The bicycle, the automobile and, eventually, the airplane
seemed to shrink the globe. Indeed, people begin to think of the globe as their “frame of
Labor, capital and goods fl owed among continents. British citizens invested in foreign
securities, exporting capital to meet the demand for European industrial products,
technology and labor. Between 1870 and 1914, trading networks and the multilateral
settlement of trade and payment balances consolidated. States undertook initiatives to
support the infrastructure of transportation and communication, such as rail, post and
telegraph. The gold standard removed most currency and infl ation risk, and in turn dictated
decisions about economic policy. Although global developments scarcely affected some
remote enclaves, in others, such as Argentina, exports became the foundation of the entire
Globalization – although no one called it that – became a contentious political issue. To be a
serious player in the world, a state had to project its power globally. Distance was no longer
a barrier. The European powers partitioned Africa without consulting the Africans and might
well have done the same in China if the complexity of European interests there hadn’t made
achieving a neat division impossible.
World War I would never have happened without globalization. It affected people
everywhere and ultimately ended Europe’s world domination. However, microbes may have
been an even more dramatic manifestation of globalization than the war, trade or politics.
The great infl uenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people than the world war. After World
War I, the great powers attempted to build a new political order. U.S. President Woodrow
Wilson’s 14-point plan for peace did not seem impossible initially. However, suspicion and
hostility among the nations killed it. Efforts to reconstruct the prewar global economy also
encountered opposition in such forms as demand stagnation, government control of
economies and the collapse of the gold standard. The 1929 Wall Street crash and the
ensuing Great Depression turned people against globalization and in favor of regionalism.
The World Split in Two
The two nineteenth-century ideologies of free trade and Marxism developed into the
twentieth-century division of the world into the Soviet bloc, essentially a zone of military
security; and the Western bloc, which aimed to contain communism and to build a global
capitalist economy. This required economic and political coordination. Neither bloc could
achieve military supremacy over the other, and ultimately, the Cold War forced the West, at
least, to recognize the two blocs’ mutual dependence.
About The Authors
Jürgen Osterhammel is a professor of modern and contemporary history at the University of
Konstanz, where Niels P. Peterson is a lecturer in history.