Comparing Eastern vs Western Civilizational Cores Across Global History

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Ian Morris:

"I define “East” and “West” as the societies that have developed from the original core areas in the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and between the Yellow and Yangzi Rivers where agriculture began developing after the end of the Ice Age . Both regions have expanded spectacularly in the last ten thousand years, and as Kenneth Pomeranz (2000: 310) points out, comparing inappropriate parts of these areas will produce misleading results. It is therefore crucial to be consistent about comparisons. One solution would be to look at the whole of the Eastern and Western zones, although that would mean that the Western score for, say, 1900 CE would bundle together industrialized England with Russia’s serfs, Mexico’s peons, and Australia’s ranchers. We would then have to calculate an average development score for the whole Western region, then do it again for the East, and repeat the process for every earlier point in history. This would get so complicated as to become impractical, violating criterion 7, and would probably be rather pointless anyway. When it comes to explaining why the West rules, the most important information normally comes from comparing the most highly developed parts of each region, the cores that were tied together by the densest political, economic, social, and cultural interactions.

An index of social development needs to measure and compare changes within these cores.

The shifting locations of the Eastern and Western cores (map by Michele Angel) As I explain in Why the West Rules — For Now (Morris 2010: 15860), these core areas have shifted and changed across time (Map 2). The Western core was geographically very stable from 11,000 BCE until about 1400 CE, remaining firmly at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea except for the 500 years between about 250 BCE and 250 CE, when the Roman Empire drew it westward to include Italy. Otherwise, it always lay within a triangle between what are now Iraq, Egypt, and Greece. Since 1400 CE it has moved relentlessly north and west , first to northern Italy, then to Spain and France, then broadening to include Britain, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. By 1900 it straddled the Atlantic and by 2000 was firmly planted in North America. In the East the core remained in the original Yellow Yangzi River zone right up till 1850 CE, although its center of gravity shifted northward toward the Yellow River’s Central Plain after about 4000 BCE, back south to the Yangzi valley after 500 CE, and gradually north again after 1400. It expanded to include Japan by 1900 and southeast China too by 2000. There will inevitably be at least some disagreement between specialists over the precise boundaries of the Eastern and Western cores at any given moment in time."


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