How Old Is the World System

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* Book: The World System: Five hundred years or five thousand? Edited by Andre Gander Frank and Barry K. Gills. Routledge, 1993


Contextual Quote

"Andre Gunder Frank .. contends that we should speak only about one World System (and he prefers to denote it using initial capital letters). According to Frank, the World System originated in the Near East many millennia before the ‘long 16th century’. This idea is expressed rather explicitly in the title of the famous volume he edited in cooperation with Barry Gills – The World System: Five Hundred Years of Five Thousand? (Frank and Gills 1993). This World System had gone through a long series of expansion and contraction phases until in the 19th century it encompassed the whole world."

- Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev [1]


"The historic long-term economic interconnections of the world are now universally accepted. The idea of the 'world system' advanced by Immanuel Wallerstein has set the period of linkage in the early modern period. But some academics think this date is much too late and denies a much longer interconnection going back as much as five thousand years. Reframing the chronology of the world system exercises powerful influences on the writing of history. It integrates the areas of Asia and the East which were marginalized by Wallerstein into the heart of the debate and provides a much more convincing account of developments which cannot otherwise be explained. It undermines the primacy claimed for Europe as the major agent of economic change, an issue with implications far beyond the realm of history."


Part I Introduction

1 THE 5,000-YEAR WORLD SYSTEM An interdisciplinary introduction Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills

Part II Building blocks of theory and analysis

  • 3 THE CUMULATION OF ACCUMULATION Barry K. Gills and Andre Gunder Frank

Part III Using the theory to reanalyze history

  • 5 WORLD SYSTEM CYCLES, CRISES, AND HEGEMONIC SHIFTS, 1700 BC to 1700 AD Barry K. Gills and Andre Gunder Frank
  • 6 TRANSITIONAL IDEOLOGICAL MODES Feudalism, capitalism, socialism Andre Gunder Frank

Part IV The world system: 500 years or 5,000? Discussing the theoretical, historical, and political issues

  • 9 DISCONTINUITIES AND PERSISTENCE One world system or a succession of systems? Janet Abu-Lughod
  • 10 WORLD SYSTEM VERSUS WORLD-SYSTEMS A critique Immanuel Wallerstein
  • 11 REJOINDER AND CONCLUSIONS Andre Gander Frank and Barry K. Gills



William H. McNeill 25 May 1992:

There is no doubt that world-historians and would-be world-historians have proliferated in recent decades, and this book constitutes a notable contribution to the resulting discourse. This foreword ought therefore to suggest how the thought of the two editors and of the other authors represented here fits into that discourse. Their diversity makes the task more difficult than it would be were a single mind at work. Still, all the contributors have a good deal in common since they subscribe to the notion that a transcivilizational entity, in exactly dubbed "world system," existed in ancient and medieval as well as in modem times.

How to understand human history as a whole is problematic. Indeed some historians even deny that the subject is a proper object of attention since it is not possible to know the personalities, institutions, and other relevant facts about the history of every pan of the inhabited earth. Such an observation about the unmanageable bulk of historical information is accurate, but irrelevant. If it were relevant, national and all other forms of history would also be impossible because personalities and other facts of local history of each part of a nation, not to mention the fleeting states of consciousness of individuals which constitute the ultimate ground of all history, are also too numerous for anyone to know.

Words, however, can extricate us from an excess of data by generalizing experience. Using words appropriately we habitually and as a matter of course understand whatever it is that confronts us by fixing attention on whatever matters most. In this fashion, words quite literally blind us to irrelevant dimensions of reality, and guide our action by turning the buzzing, blooming confusion that surrounds us into something intelligible. The whole trick is to exclude meaningless information from consciousness, even, or especially, when it is readily accessible.

This characteristic of human intelligence makes historical study and writing possible. Each scale of history has an appropriate set of terms and concepts for excluding irrelevancies. As a result, world history is as feasible as national or local history - no more, no less - as long as appropriate terms and concepts for each scale of history are employed.

But do appropriate terms for writing world history exist? And how can would-be world-historians cope with the diversity of tongues and concepts that different human groups have used to guide their conduct and understanding of the world? This is not a trivial question, nor is it likely to be resolved unambiguously and to universal satisfaction. As long as different peoples use different languages and subscribe to different outlooks on the world, terms of historical discourse that seem appropriate to some will repel others. Intensified communication across linguistic and cultural boundaries will not alter this situation, and is likely to reinforce conscious divergences.

Yet the rich diversity of human behavior guided by words of different languages operates within the same natural world. This means that words and actions that come closest to matching consequences with expectation have positive survival value for those using them; while words and actions that lead to disappointment and confusion have a contrary effect, hampering collective action by dividing a community between those who want to adjust the old, ineffective words and actions and those who wish to reaffirm the ancient verities more strenuously than ever just because they seem to be faltering.

Over time, natural selection for terms more nearly adequate to reality certainly does occur in technology and the physical sciences. In the social sciences, however, the pattern of selection is more complex because words that generate enthusiastic agreement and inspire energetic adhesion to collective courses of action often prevail in ambiguous situations, whether or not the words in question match any external or natural reality. Indeed, a sufficiently energetic faith can often create its object. Modem nations have been created from local, peasant diversity by bands of zealots; and many other groups - youth gangs, religious sects, secret societies, and the like -also affect behavior solely because their members agree among themselves. Indeed, all human society is founded very largely on agreements, expressed in words and ceremonies, that become ends in themselves and are almost independent of external reality.

Hence the stubborn diversity of human society persists. Ever since Herodotus, historians have noticed this fact. In modern times, a few historians, anthropologists, and other students of society have even attempted to pull away from naive attachment to the pieties and practices of their own local community - whatever it may be - seeking to understand what happened among the different peoples of the earth by using terms that try to take account of the diversity of local outlooks and behavior without subscribing wholeheartedly to any one of them. Whether the enterprise can be successful - and for whom - remains problematic.

For many but not for all of the contributors to this volume the conception of "world system" derived from a Marxist tradition, emphasizing the economic exploitation of marginal peoples by a capitalist core. But Marx's vision of the uniqueness of modem capitalism falls to the ground if one affirms, with the editors, that a capital-accumulating core has existed (though not always in the same location) for some five thousand years. This constitutes revisionism expected in liberal discourse but repugnant to dogmatic upholders of Marxist Truth. The volume will be judged accordingly. It may even signify for the history of ideas the confluence of Marxist with more inchoate liberal ideas about world history. Whether it will constitute such a landmark or not depends on the future of Marxism on the one hand and of the literary and intellectual enterprise of world history on the other.

That enterprise, in its inchoate, multiplex, and vaguely liberal form, seems fully capable of absorbing and profiting from a Marxist (or ex-Marxist) stream. It derives, like Marxism, from the west-European civilizational tradition, having absorbed data but no organizing concepts from encounters with the other cultural traditions of the earth, whether great or small. Within the west-European tradition, two incompatible models of universal or world history coexisted for many centuries. One was pagan and cyclical - a pattern of rise and fall that repeated itself in essentials among different communities at different times becahuman nature was everywhere the same. The other was Christian and linear, beginning with Adam and ending with the second coming of Christ as set forth in sacred scripture.

These models still lurk behind the scenes in the pages that follow. The world system as described by Frank and Gills is, after all, unique and linear, yet passes through a series of repetitive cycles. Other recent efforts at world history also combine linear and cyclical patterns, though where the emphasis is placed varies with every author.

The first notable departure from the Christian unitary and linear vision of the human past took form in the eighteenth century, when Vico, Herder, and others started to speak of separate civilizations or cultures, each with a language and life cycle of its own. Their vision of the rise and fall of separate peoples and cultures was focused almost entirely within the bounds of the ancient Mediterranean and medieval and modem Europe. Only in the twentieth century did the rest of the world enter seriously into the picture when Spengler first applied the notion of separate and equivalent civilizations to all of Eurasia and Toynbee then extended the scheme completely around the globe.

From the point of view of Spengler and Toynbee, differences among the peoples and languages of the classical Mediterranean lands and of medieval and modem Europe, which had loomed so large for Vico and Herder, became trivial. Instead, all the classical peoples belonged together in one civilization, and despite their differences medieval and modem Europeans shared another. Thus the civilizational building blocks for world history took on far larger proportions in their hands, and others, including myself, who came after, have continued to think and speak of multiple civilizations that embrace all of western Europe, all of China, and comparably massive groupings in India, the Middle East, and pre-Columbian America.

The idea that humankind had developed a number of comparable civilizations, whose rise and fall followed approximately parallel lines, constituted a notable departure from the naively ethnocentric vision of the past that treated any departure from local norms as deplorable error and corruption of right and truth. But by treating a plurality of civilizations as separate entities this vision of human reality minimized the importance of outside encounters and overlooked transcivilizational processes and relationships.

The historians represented in this book seek to correct this defect, affirming that interactions among the principal civilizations of Eurasia-Africa in the centuries before 1500 constituted a world system. This enlargement of scale resembles the shift Spengler and Toynbee achieved in the first half of the twentieth century, locating the most important entity of world history in a transcivilizational pattern of relationships that expanded geographically through time from an initial core in Mesopotamia.

It is undoubtedly true that some dimensions of human affairs transcended civilizational boundaries in ancient as well as in modern times. Traders, soldiers, and missionaries often operated among strangers of different linguistic and cultural traditions from themselves. Resulting contacts sometimes led one or both parties to alter their behavior by modifying old practices in the light of new information. Even in ancient and medieval times, a few really useful innovations spread very rapidly within the circuit of Old World mercantile, military, and missionary contact. Thus, the stirrup seems to appear simultaneously throughout Eurasia so that it is impossible to tell for sure where it was first invented. On the other hand, we know that the place value system of numerical notation originated in Indian mathematical treatises, where it remained safely encapsulated for many centuries before its sudden propagation throughout the Eurasian world for commercial calculations in the eleventh century.

Mere logical superiority could also provoke widespread alteration of belief and practice, though propagation of logically convincing ideas took longer. Nonetheless, the seven-day week, invented in ancient Sumer, proved contagious throughout Eurasia in very ancient times because it fitted obvious heavenly phenomena (the phases of the moon, and the seven movable lights of the firmament) so well. For similar reasons, Newtonian astronomy and the Gregorian calendar met with worldwide success in far more recent times.

All the same, commonalties that ran across the entire civilized world in ancient and medieval times remained exceptional. Differences of institutions, ideas, customs, and techniques, were far more apparent, within as well as across civilizational lines. Is, then, the world system these authors explicate really significant? Equally, is the term "civilization," as used by Spengler and Toynbee or by Vico and Herder, really meaningful in the light of all the local variability it overlooks? These are capital questions for world-historians, arid deserve the most careful consideration by anyone who seeks to understand the human past as a whole, since these are the key terms currently available for the purpose.

To some degree the choice between the rival concepts of "world system" and "civilization" as building blocks for human history as a whole depends .oo whether one reckons that material life is more important than ideas and ideals. World-system thinkers are especially conscious of material exchanges arid assert (or perhaps rather assume) that the accumulation of wealth in privileged centers through trade and the exercise of force conformed to a common norm regardless of local, cultural differences. Those who speak of "civilizations" tend to emphasize religious and other ideas, arguing that actual behavior in the pursuit of wealth and other human goals was subordinated to, or at least affected by, the ideals professed by the ruling elites of each civilization.

Even if one takes the view that pursuit of wealth was everywhere the same, regardless of religious and other professed ideals, the question remains whether long-distance trading and raiding were really massive enough to affect ancient societies in more than superficial ways. No one doubts that most people lived as cultivators and consumed little or nothing that was not produced within the local community itself. But luxury and .strategic goods mattered for politics and war; and such goods often came from afar, delivered by merchants who systematically weighed local variations in price against local variations in security for their goods and person.

Such calculations established a market that extended as far as merchants traveled and exchanged information about the potential gains and risks of their profession. And this in turn, if we believe what the authors of this book have to tell us, established wealthy centers and dependent peripheries, even in ancient times when the physical volume of long-distance trade exchanges was comparatively small.

Incidentally, the phrase "world system" for such relationships is obviously a misnomer for ancient and medieval times inasmuch as large parts of the globe then remained outside the limits of the largest and most active transcivilizational market, which was based in Eurasia. Presumably, though the authors here assembled do not address the issue, smaller and less closely articulated "world systems" also existed in the Americas and elsewhere. A market that actually embraced the globe could only arise after 1500 when the opening of the world's oceans to regular shipping allowed the Eurasian world system to engulf all of humanity - a process that took some centuries but is virtually complete today.

But this awkwardness of terminology does not really matter if the reality of human interrelatedness which "world system" expresses really shaped the human past. This is the critical question for the architecture and arguments of this book, and it can only be answered individually and subjectively.

Across the past thirty years or so, my own view has been evolving away from "civilization" and toward "world system" as the best available framework for World hist; but I have also concluded that both terms can best be understood as pan of a far more inclusive spectrum of "communications nets," which are what really matter in denying human communities at every level of size, from biological family on up to the human race in its entirety.

Thus I agree with the authors of this book in thinking that the rise of specialized occupations producing goods for distant markets was a critical dimension of the deeper human past. Resulting alterations in everyday lives were among the most persistent and effective paths of innovation in ancient times as well as more recently. Yet markets and trade .constituted only part of the communications network that crossed political, civilizational and linguistic boundaries. Soldiers and missionaries as well as refugees and wanderers also linked alien populations together, and carried information that sometimes altered local ways of life as profoundly as entry into market relationships did.

I conclude, therefore, that if the notion of a world system were tied more explicitly to a communications network and if more attention were paid to changes in that network as new means of transport and communication came into use, the notion of a "world system" would gain greater clarity and power. Moreover, the polarity between the terms "civilization" and "world system" would disappear and the language of world-historians might gain greater precision if communications networks were to become the focus of attention. For what we commonly mean by a "civilization" is a population whose ruling elite, together with at least some segments of the people they govern, shares norms of conduct, expressed through ceremonial and literary canons which are accepted in principle, however far actual conduct may fall short of the ideal prescriptions of the canon. Such agreement on norms of behavior is, of course, the result of communication across the generations as well as among contemporaries. It resembles the communication merchants and artisans engage in when learning the skills of their trade and the state of the market.

Indeed, norms of conduct shared with others - whether rulers, equals, or subordinates - constitute an essential ingredient of all social life, and are always established by communication. Communication is what makes us human; and if history were written with this simple notion in mind, networks of communication would become the center of attention, and a more satisfactory history of the world (and of all the innumerable subordinate groupings of humankind) might emerge.

World system history, exemplified here, is a step in that direction. At any rate, it seems so to me. But more explicit attention to communications networks, and a serious effort to understand how human activity altered the natural environments of the earth throughout the past must be added to the conceptions explored in this book before historians of the twenty-first century can be expected to produce a more nearly satisfactory world history."


Andre Gunder Frank, Amsterdam Barry K. Gills, Newcastle 16 May 1992:

"How did this book come into being?... I think authors ought to look back and give us some record -of how their work developed, not because their works; are important (they may turn out to be unimportant) but because we need to know more of the process of history-writing. Writers of history are not just observers. They are themselves part of the act and need to observe themselves in action. Their view of what "really" happened is filtered first through spotty and often hit-or-miss'screens of available evidence, and second through the prisms of their own interest, selection, and interpretation of the evidence they see.... Once an author looks back at what he thought he was trying to do, many perspectives emerge. Foremost is that of ignorance... -. Fortunately, no one has to regard it as the last word.

(John King Fairbank [1969] Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, Stanford: Stanford University Press)

We emphatically agree with what the above-cited late dean of China historians at Harvard had to say. However, to relate the whole Entstehungsgeschichte of the present hook might require still another one. It may be as long as the five thousand years of our topic itself! Our principal "prisms" of. interpretation are center-periphery structures, hegemony/rivalry within them, the process of capital accumulation, cycles in all of these, and the world system in which they operate. They may be our modem prisms, but there is evidence that at least the first three, also had their counterpart both in world reality and in the consciousness and expression of the same by the Akkadian King Sargon in 2450 bc.

Our guiding non-Eurocentrist idea of the unity and indivisibility of Afro-Eurasian history is at least as old as even the European "father of history" Herodotus, who already insisted on the same in and for his own time. The fact, but also the sociopolitical acceptance, of multicultural diversity within this unity is older than that. We suggest that racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and other diversity has .repeatedly been accepted and accommodated, at least in periods of (economic?) expansion. The affirmation and defense of separate identities, like today, has historically been the stuff of intermittent but recurrent political-economic crisis. Indeed, also like today, rallying) around this or that alternative flag has historically been an attempt to defend shares of livelihood of a shrinking or more slowly growing economic pie during times of crisis. Historical materialism, both as a fact of life and as a "philosophical" reflection of and on it, has accompanied all history, and indeed also prehistory. Such materialism competes less than it complements idealism, both in history and among the historians who reflect (on) it. Complementary also are determinism or determination and (not or) free will in the age-old dilemma of "structure" and "agency" in new-fangled social-"scientific" terminology. In other words, regarding all three of these historical and contemporary dimensions, the varieties and alternatives of identity, the material limitations of idealism, and the challenge of women making their own history but only in the historical conditions that they inherit, there is "unity in diversity." These more cultural and philosophical perspectives now emerge more clearly for the editors as we look back in this preface at what we thought we were trying to do with our (only?) apparently more structural analysis in the book itself.

It is not easy to follow Fairbank and say where and how this unity in diversity emerged and developed for each of the authors who contribute their diverse visions of it to this book. For, among the contributors, there is certainly much diversity both in their own histories and in their present-as-history rendition of history itself. Nonetheless, the contributors' unity about this historical unity is great enough at least to make this book possible, and indeed something of a common enterprise. As editors and principal contributors, it is both proper and easier to start with some record of how our own work developed and how it was and is related to that of other contributors to this book.

Frank has set on unity and structure for a long time, unity at least since high school and struat least since studying social anthropology (extra-curricularly to his economics studies) in graduate school at the University of Chicago in the mid-1950s. Then, also, Frank shared an apartment with Marshall Hodgson, who told him of an article he was then writing on eastern "Hemispheric interregional history as an approach to world history" for Unesco's Journal of World History, from which we quote in this book. Unfortunately, it would take Frank another three decades to understand what Hodgson was talking about. Nonetheless, Frank's writings in and on Latin America in the early 1960s not only featured dimensions of unity and structure, they also analyzed the history and present of Latin America and the "Third World" as part and parcel of a single "world system," to which he referred already in 1965 if not earlier. His reference then, however, was only to the capitalist world system during the past 500 years. Following les evenements of May 1968 in Paris various common concerns put him in personal, political, and intellectual contact with Samir Amin, who had been writing his like-minded Accumulation on a World Scale and Unequal Development. Amin and Frank published three different books together in French, Italian, and Norwegian originals. Now Amin contributes chapter 8 in the present book, which both concurs with and dissents from the latest perspective of Frank.

In the early 1970s, Frank wrote a book on World Accumulation, which featured its long cyclical history since 1492. On then receiving the manuscript of Immanuel Wallerstein's The Modem World-System, Frank wrote a note that it would become an "instant classic." This note appeared as one of the three blurbs on the dust cover of the first edition (the other two were by Fernand Braudel and Eric Wolf). Since then, two Joint books have appeared by Amin, Arrighi, Frank, and Wallerstein, in 1982 and 1990. Now Wallerstein also contributes a rejoinder to Frank and Gills in chapter 10 of this book. For Frank began tracing economic cycles backward through history and observing them also in the present "socialist system," which he increasingly regarded as part of the same world system. That far, Wallerstein agrees. However, both observations fed Frank's doubts about the uniqueness of the "modern capitalist world-system," on which Wallerstein continues to insist. An editor invited Frank among others to comment on an early version of our co-contributor Janet Abu-Lughod's "thirteenth-century world-system." That gave occasion to enquire if the long economic cycles and the world system in which they occur may not extend much farther back even than that. Frank was more and more persuaded .that one should "never try to begin at the beginning. Historical research proceeds backward, not forward," as per another rule of Fairbank in the same preface already cited in our epigraph above. The result was a sort of critique of received theory under the title "A theoretical introduction to 5,000 years of world system history," which was graciously published in Review by Immanuel Wallerstein, who was one of the principal authors Frank subjected to critique. Successively less critique and more approval were "bestowed" on our present co-contributors Amin, Abu-Lughod, Ekholm and Friedman, McNeill, and Wilkinson. The article opened with an epigraph taken from Ranke: "no history can be written but universal history."

Gills read and during many hours in Frank's garden in spring 1989 critiqued a draft of that first article on the 5,000-year world system. Gills was earning his daily bread teaching contemporary international relations and Korean studies. Discussing the Frank manuscript offered him a welcome opportunity to return (alas on his own time) to his burning interest in, and to draw on, in many a desk drawer, aging manuscripts on his vision of synchronic timing, core-periphery relations, and hegemonic transitions in world history since ancient times. Gills's personal journey began in the ecology movement. In pursuit of a critical understanding of the nature of the modem ecological crisis. Gills turned to study of the origins of the state and civilization in order to understand the historical roots of the crisis. By 1982 in Hawaii, Gills was convinced that the patterns of the modem world system existed much earlier and in a real historical continuum. He even challenged Wallerstein, who was visiting Honolulu at the time, to extend his analysis backward in time; but Wallerstein answered that for the time being five hundred years was more than enough to work on. In 1984-5 at Oxford, Gills began systematic historical research into cycles of hegemony from a world-historical, comparative perspective. This work remained dormant and unfinished until spring 1989, when Gills produced his first paper on his general ideas on synchronization of cycles, which was publicly presented at a professional conference. There, Gills and Frank met and noted their general agreement of views that enabled their subsequent collaboration, which is now presented in this book.

Gills's and Frank's co-authored chapters, and indeed this book itself, are the fruit of collaboration that emerged from Frank's initial manuscript and Gills's critique thereof, which was in turn based in pan on Gills's own old manuscripts. "The cumulation of accumulation," now chapter 3, was the "Theses and research agenda for 5000 years of world system history," which they proposed as their theoretical alternative to the received wisdom that Frank had critiqued. Gills also turned an earlier manuscript on "Hegemonic transitions" into chapter 4. Chapter 5 on "World system cycles, crises, and hegemonial shifts" represents their first joint attempt to apply their theoretical guidelines in chapter 4 to the reinterpretation of world (system) history. It presents the preliminary identification of system-wide, long economic cycles and their corresponding hegemonic shifts between 1700 bc and 1700 ad. Co-contributor David Wilkinson thas begun to subject the identification of these cycles to empirical testing based on changes in city sizes (see the epilogue to chapter 5). Chapter 6 represents an application by Frank of the common theoretical categories to the long-standing question and particularly of co-contributor Immanuel Wallerstein's reading of "the transition from feudalism to capitalism." Frank has made individual attempts, not included here, to apply the same theory to the historical place of Central Asia and Latin America respectively in the history of the world system. Gills has done so for other Eurasian regions and especially East Asia. All of these, of course, are no more than initial steps, to be pursued by further study especially of the long cycles and also many shorter ones within them, which are set out in Gills's and Frank's chapter 5. In the meantime, as Fairbank suggested, the perspective that stands out foremost is that of our ignorance.

The historian William McNeill, who now graciously contributes a foreword here, is incomparably more erudite. He was writing his magisterial and now classic The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community at the University of Chicago at the same time as the above-cited Marshall Hodgson worked there. The latter was writing his posthumously published, also magisterial three-volume The Venture of Islam and a manuscript on the ecumenical unity of world history (Hodgson 1993). Both stressed the word oikumene, and in their respective prefaces each acknowledged the influence of the other. McNeill went on to write many other books within the scope of his vision of one-world history. Then, returning to "The Rise of the West after twenty-five years," McNeill came to consider "the central methodological weakness" of his earlier emphasis on "interactions across civilizational boundaries and inadequate attention to the emergence of the ecumenical world system within which we live today." As he was so writing, McNeill and Frank met at 1989 meetings of the World History Association.

The political scientist David Wilkinson still speaks in terms of "civilization." However, he stresses the emergence and develoof a single "Central civilization," which was formed out of the relations between Egypt and Mesopotamia around 1500 bc and then spread successively to incorporate au other "civilizations" within the "Central" one, which has been dominant long since. In so doing, Wilkinson debated with all other "civilizationists" and drew a line that was first de facto parallel and then asymptotic to that of Frank and Gills - until they were joined in the present book. Like them, he denies that the "civilization" or "system" is necessarily the same as their "mode[s] of production." So do Chase-Dunn and Hall, who also suggest that Frank and Gills should rename what they are talking about as "the Central world system." Wilkinson leans increasingly in their direction and tests some of their hypotheses (see the epilogue to chapter 5 below). Nonetheless, in chapter 7 below he still maintains his more political and civilizational outlook and of course his reservations per contra Frank and Gills. Wilkinson and Frank first met at the 1989 meetings of the International Society for Comparative Study of Civilizations, of which Wilkinson is a very active member and to which Chase-Dunn had invited Frank in part to present his world-system ideas and to meet Wilkinson, The same year, Gills and he met at the International Studies Association (ISA) and discussed the idea of forming a group there to study world-historical systems.

Kajsa Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman work in anthropology and archaeology, among other fields. In the postscript, republished here as chapter 2, of their 1982 article, they stress how they sought to counter the then dominant received wisdom of the Karl Polanyi school in anthropology and of Moses Finley and others in classical history. These writers deny any significant influences of Trade and Markets in the Early Empires (Polanyi et al. 1957). Per contra, Ekholm and Friedman trace the same, and indeed the capital accumulation and core-periphery relations that later reappear in Frank and Gills, back even much further than Wilkinson's Central civilization. Like these three, Ekholm and Friedman also deny the equi-parity of "system" and "mode" of production. However, with most anthropologists, they stress greater multistructuraliry and multiculturality and, with some anthropologists, that ethnicity is circumstantial and relational rather than essentialist. There, however, they coincide with Frank and Gills, as they did in 1979, when they wrote that the so-called transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe was essentially a shift in the center of capital accumulation from East to West. Friedman and Frank met at the former's university in Sweden and also with Gills at ISA.

The urban sociologist Janet Abu-Lughod returns to this theme in her Before European Hegemony in which she stresses that "the Decline of the East preceded the Rise of the West." As a long-time student of cities in contemporary times, she describes a chain of city-centered regions that were interlinked all the way across Eurasia in what she calls a "thirteenth-century world-system" from 1250 to 1350. However, she regards this world system as discrete and different from any previous ones and from the "modem world-system" described by Wallerstein. It was Frank's above-mentioned critique thereof that led to a meeting with Abu-Lughod. In her contribution here in chapter 9, she reconsiders the extent and timing of the development of the "world system" and explicates her agreements and disagreements with both Frank and Gills on the one hand and Wallerstein on the other.

The sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein comes from an Africanist background. His study of a region in the Third World was influenced by its dependence in and on the "world-system" and by the writings on the same by, among others, Frank and Amin. This influence and his subsequent book on The Modem World-System has led many commentators and critics, both friendly and unfriendly, to put "dependence" and "world-system" theory into he same bag. Brenner, Brewer, and many others speak of a single Franx-Wallerstein theoretical bag, into which some also throw Paul Sweezy and/or Samir Amin and others who publish in Monthly Review. However that may be with regard to dependence. The Modem World-System of Wallerstein and World Accumulation 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment by Frank did refer to essentially the same historical unit, structure, and process during the past five hundred years. However, Wallerstein and Frank have since then come to a partial parting of the ways on earlier history. That has not prevented them from co-authoring in 1990 a book on social movements in the contemporary system, together with Amin. In his contribution to the present book in chapter 10, Wallerstein emphasizes the essential conceptual or theoretical difference between his 500-year modem and other earlier, and for a time also contemporaneous, "world-systems" (with a hyphen), on the one hand, and Prank and Gills's "world system," which extends at least 5,000 years back (without a hyphen). The former arc characterized by a particular "mode of production," which is "capitalist" in the "modem" world-system. The latter exists prior to and independently of any particular mode of production or combination thereof, be they supposedly feudal or other tributary, capitalist, or socialist.

Samir Amin, per contra, considers these differences to have been and to continue to be of both paramount scientific and political importance. The Egyptian-born and French-educated political economist wrote a draft of \as Accumulation on a World Scale as his doctoral dissertation in Paris in the mid-1950s. Literally countless books and articles later and also in his contribution to this book in chapter 8, Amin still emphasizes the important difference between "politics and ideology in command" that he sees in precapitalist tributary systems and the economic "law of value," which is in command in the "modem world-capitalist system." Wallerstein also affirms this difference, wording it slightly differently. He asserts that what distinguishes capitalism as a mode of production and therefore the modem world-system is the priority given to the "ceaseless accumulation of capital," whereas in the other historical systems, the accumulation of capital is subordinated to other politicocultural objectives. Frank and Gills, as well as Ekholm and Friedman and Wilkinson, dispute this difference and the related, supposedly fundamental break between the past and the "modern world capitalist system" around 1500. Abu-Lughod takes an intermediary position.

This book is devoted to elucidating this debate, and the introductory chapter 1 that follows details its far-reaching theoretical, political, and policy implications for some dozen-and-a-half social-scientific disciplines and philosophical positions ranging from archaeology and anthropology, via international and gender relations, to world systems theory. The introduction also supplies ample documentation of and detailed references to the above-mentioned discussions and publications, with which we did not wish to encumber this preface, seeking rather to focus on people and their ideas. The publication of this book is meant to solicit and encourage the individual and collaborative work that we hope will diminish in the future the "foremost perspective, which is of ignorance." Our co-contributors, already named and introduced above, evidently have pride of place among the many people whose influence and help we would like to acknowledge in this enterprise. We are grateful also for their readiness once again to write or revise chapters of "discussion" for publication in this book.

A related step toward altering the perspective of ignorance was the recent founding of, and already very encouraging collaboration in, the World Historical Systems (WHS) Sub-Section of the International Political Economy Section of the International Studies Association, which emerged from the meeting between Gills and Wilkinson at ISA. Some of our co-contributors as well as we editors have been active members, and our agreements and dissare set out below. WHS has been organizing conference panels on which several of the chapters in this book have been presented and discussed. WHS has served as well as a forum of discussion of alternative and complementary perspectives of other friends and colleagues, with whose work ours and others' in this book also interact. Some of these friends in turn helped us along the way in the preparation and revision of one or another of the chapters below, and we wish to acknowledge their cooperation on both counts. These include especially the above-mentioned Christopher Chase-Dunn and Tom Hall, and Robert Denemark. Moreover, their own comparative work on world systems and on trade-generated linkages respectively is very much related to our own. George Modelski and William Thompson merit special mention here for their work on "political" long waves since 1494 and their current interest both in relating them more to economic ones and in extending them further back through history. They also served as panelists or discussants in WHS sessions. In addition to all these, Albert Bergesen, John Fitzpatrick, Mogens Larsen, K.P. Moseley, and Matthew Robertson have given complementary papers at WHS sessions. In turn, Michael Doyle, Joshua Goldstein, Frank Klink, and Mary Ann Tetreault have served as formal discussants on our WHS panels. We and some of our co-contributors have benefited from their insights and critiques. We would like to thank Sing Chew, Paulo Frank, Ronen Palan, and Peter Taylor who commented on one or more article manuscripts included as chapters here. We would also like to thank Sarah-Jane Woolley at Routledge for her constant assistance and Andrew Wheatcroft for his support. Of course, we have also benefited from the influence and help of many other people, known to us personally or not, too many to be able properly to acknowledge them here."


Andre Gander Frank and Barry K. Gills:

"Our thesis is that the contemporary world system has a history of at least 5,000 years. The rise to dominance of Europe and the West in this world system is only a recent - and perhaps a passing - event. Thus, our thesis poses a more humanocentric challenge to Eurocentrism. Our main theoretical categories are:

1 The world system itself. Per contra Wallerstein (1974), we believe that the existence of the same world system in which we live stretches back at least 5,000 years (Frank 1990a, 1991 a, chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapters 3 and 5 below). Wallerstein emphasizes the difference a hyphen makes. Unlike our nearly world (wide) system, world-systems are in a "world" of their own, which need not be even nearly worldwide. However, the "New World" in the "Americas" was of course home to some world-systems of its own before its incorporation into our (preexisting) world system after 1492.

2 The process of capital accumulation as the motor force of (world system) history. Wallerstein and others regard continuous capital accumulation as the differentiae specificae of the "modern world-system." We have argued elsewhere that in this regard the "modem" world system is not so different and that this same process of capital accumulation has played a, it not the, central role in the world system for several millennia (Frank chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapter 3 below). Amin (chapter 8 below) and Wallerstein (chapter 10 below) disagree. They argue that previous world-systems were what Amin calls "tributary" or Wallerstein "world empires." In these, Amin claims, politics and ideology were in command, not the economic law of value in the accumulation of capital. Wallerstein seems to agree.

3 The center-periphery structure in and of the world (system). This structure is familiar to analysts of dependence in the "modern" world system and especially in Latin America since 1492. It includes but is not limited to the transfer of surplus between zones of the world system. Frank (1967, 1969) wrote about this among others. However, we now find that this analytical category is also applicable to the world system before 1492.

4 The alternation between hegemony and rivalry. In this process, regional hegemonies and rivalries succeed the previous period of hegemony. World system and international-relations literature has recently produced many good analyses of alternation between hegemonic leadership and rivalry for hegemony in the world system since 1492, for instance by Wallerstein (1984), or since 1494 by Modelski (1987) and by Modelski and Thompson (1988). However, hegemony and rivalry also mark world (system) history long before that (Gills and Frank, chapters 3, 5 below).

5 Long (and short) economic cycles of alternating ascending (sometimes denominated "A") phases and descending (sometimes denominated "B") phases. In the real world-historical process and in its analysis by students of the "modern" world system, these long cycles are also associated with each of the previous categories. That is, an important characteristic of the "modern" world system is that the process of capital accumulation, changes in center-periphery position within it, and world system hegemony and rivalry are all cyclical and occur in tandem with each other. Frank analyzed the same for the "modem" world system under the titles World Accumulation 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment (Frank 1978a, b). However, we now find that this (same) world system cycle and its features also extend back many centuries before 1492.

In this book, our thesis is introduced by the contribution of Kajsa Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman (chapter 2). It is extended by David Wilkinson (chapter 7) who argues that in 1500 bc relations between Egypt and Mesopotamia gave rise to what he calls "Central civilization," which has incessantly spread out through the world ever since. The "one world system" thesis is elaborated in our chapters, Amin and Wallerstein critique this thesis and defend their own thesis that the "modem world-system" began 500 years ago. They argue in particular that its capitalist mode of production distinguishes it fundamentally from "world empires" and all previous world-systems, which Amin calls "tributary." In his critical reply to us, Wallerstein emphasizes the above-mentioned distinction between his plural "world-systems" with a hyphen and our singular "world system" without a hyphen. Janet Abu-Lughod, whose work we also review below, contributes a critical discussion of these issues and defends the existence of a "thirteenth-century world system," which she regards as distinguishable as it was distinguished (chapter 9).

Our thesis speaks to several disciplines or concerns and participates in long-standing controversies within and between them. Among these fields and concerns, beyond world-systems theory itself, we here note our challenge to Eurocentrism. Then we outline the connections of our thesis with historiography, civilizationism, archaeology, classicism in ancient history, medievalism, modern history, economic history, macro-historical sociology, political geography, international relations, development studies, ecology, anthropology, race and ethnic relations and their study, gender relations and their study, etc. Our thesis, its similarities and differences with others, and the discussions of the same also have some important philosophical, social-scientific, and political implications, which we may briefly note in conclusion.


We ask whether the principal systemic features of the "modern world system" can also be identified earlier than 1500 or not. Wallerstein (1974, 1984, 1989a, b, chapter 10 below), Modelski (1987), and Amin (chapter 8 below) argue that the differentiae specificae of our world system are new since 1500 and essentially different from previous times and places. However, Modelski (1991) includes leadership before 1500 in his analysis. Christopher Chase-Dunn (1986) and others find parallels in "other" and prior world systems. Wilkinson (1989) discovers at least some of these features in his "Central civilization" and elsewhere. However, he sees historical continuity, but no world system. Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a "thirteenth-century world system," but she regards it as different from the world system since 1500 or before 1250. Moreover, she is not so interested in comparing systemic features or characteristics. We combine all of the above into an analysis, or at least an identification, of the principal features of this world system over several thousand years of its history and development (Frank 1990a, 1991a, chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapters 3 and 5 below).

According to Wallerstein (1989b, c, 1988a, b and elsewhere) and many students of world capitalism, the differentia specifics of the modern world system is the ceaseless accumulation of capital: "It is this ceaseless accumulation of capital that may be said to be its most central activity and to constitute its differentiae specificae. No previous historical system seems to have had any comparable mot d'ordre" (1989b: 9).

Samir Amin (1991) also argues that this economic imperative is new and uniquely characterizes the modem capitalist world system. Of course, this is hot the same as arguing that capital accumulation was absent, minor, or irrelevant elsewhere and earlier. On the contrary, capital accumulation did exist and even denied this (or another) world system before, indeed long before, 1500.

Yet, Wallerstein, Amin, and most others argue that there is something unique and uniquely powerful about modem capital, i.e. an imperative to accumulate "ceaselessly" in order to accumulate at all. We contend that this imperative, both in the familiar money form as well as other forms of capital, is not a unique systemic feature of modem "capitalism." Rather the imperative of ceaseless accumulation is a characteristic of competitive pressures throughout world system history. Moreover, in chapter 5 we note the existence of cyclical growth, both "pre-" and "post-" "capitalist," in the entire world system. Therefore, something more fundamental than "ceaseless" "capitalist" accumulation in its modern form seems to be at work in world (system) history throughout the millennia.

That is also the position of Ekholm and Friedman (chapter 2), who find "capital," as well as the now familiar logic of imperialism to accompany the expansion of capital, already existing from very ancient times in Mesopotamia. L. Orlin (1970), for instance, refers to "Assyrian colonies in Cappadocia" and Mitchell Alien (1984) to "Assyrian colonies in Anatolia." Ekholm and Friedman argue that ancient capital, particularly in its form of the accumulation of bullion (money capital), is essentially the same as capital in later, including modern times.

In this regard, and to anticipate our review of "archaeology" below, a generation and more ago the perhaps best-known polar-opposite positions were represented by Karl Polanyi et al. (1957) and Gordon Childe (1936, 1942). Polanyi is known for his deprecation of the role of markets and by extension of profit-driven accumulation. Yet even Polanyi concluded in a later essay, only posthumously published in 1975 and again in 1977, that throughout, the external origin of trade is conspicuous; internal trade is largely derivative of external trade,... [and] with trade the priority of the external line is evident... for what we term "luxuries" were no more than the necessities of the rich and powerful, whose import interest largely determined foreign policy.... Acquisition of goods from a distance may be practiced by a trader either froih ... (status motive) - or for the sake of gain. .. (profit motive).... (There are] many combinations of the two. (Polanyi 1975: 154, 135, 136-7)

Gordon Childe represented the historical-materialist and Marxist positions. Yet even so "Childe consistently underestimated the potential surplus that could have been generated by Neolithic economies," according to the archaeologist Philip Kohl (1987: 17). In a related vein, the well-known archaeological student of both Mesopotamia and Meso-America, Robert Adams (1974: 284), suggests "perhaps - to venture still a little further in this direction - we have wrongly deprecated the entrepreneurial element in the historical development of at least the more complex societies."

We also argue for this latter position, which is supported by more and more archaeological evidence and analysis, some of which is reviewed by Sherratt (n.d.) and Algaze (n.d.). However, we wish to expand the working definition of capital beyond the confines of current Marxism to encompass much wider manifestations of surplus transfer, both private and public. Therefore, we argue that for millennia already and throughout the world (system) there has been capital accumulation through infrastructural investment in agriculture (e.g. clearing and irrigating land) and livestock (cattle, sheep, horses, camels, and pasturage for them); industry (plant and equipment, as well as new technology for the same); transport (more and better ports, ships, roads, way stations, camels, carts); commerce (money capital, resident and itinerant foreign traders, and institutions for their promotion and protection); military (fortifications, weapons, warships, horses, and standing armies to man them); legitimacy (temples and luxuries); and of course the education, training, and cultural development of "human capital." Chapter 2 refers to capital accumulation already in prehistoric times, and it can also be inferred from the work of various archaeologists cited below. Even the drive to accumulate, or the obligation to do so in a competitive world, is not confined to modern capitalism.

Are other characteristics, in particular a core-periphery structure, of the modern world system unique to it since 1500? Or are they also identifiable elsewhere and earlier? In a short list of three main characteristics of his modern world-system, Wallerstein (1988b) identifies "this descriptive trinity (core-periphery, A/B [cycle phases], hegemony-rivalry) as a pattern maintained over centuries which is unique to the modern world-system. Its origin was precisely in the late fifteenth century" (108).

Wallerstein also makes lists of six (1989b) and twelve (1989a) characteristics of his modem world capitalist system since 1500. Frank (chapter 6) argues why all of them also apply earlier. The sections on archaeology, classicism, and medievalism below show how these categories, and particularly core-periphery, are also applicable to prehistory, the ancient world, and premodern history.

Another of the three world system characteristics mentioned by Wallerstein is hegemony-rivalry. But is this feature limited to the world since 1500? Or did it also exist elsewhere and earlier? Or, indeed, does it also characterize the same world system earlier? Wallerstein himself discusses the rise and fall of mostly economically based hegemony only since 1500.

Modelski (1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1988) as well as Thompson (1989) analyze largely politically based and exercised hegemony since 1494. Paul Kennedy's (1987) bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers went still farther back, but did not connect them in any systematic way.

Wallerstein employs a sequential model of hegemony which refers to productive competitiveness in other core markets, subsequent commercial competitiveness, and financial competitiveness. While this is a useful model of sequential attainment of different dimensions of hegemonic power, it leads to overemphasis on a temporary and fragile "moment" when a core power attains all three advantages simultaneously. It also confines our analysis of global hegemony too much to the single succession of a few such momentary hegemons, to the detriment of analysis of the total phenomena of global hegemony. Even when there is such a momentary hegemon, there are always other interlinked hegemonic powers. Wallerstein distinguishes modem "hegemony" from traditional "imperium." Yet all of his hegemonic powers themselves held colonial possessions and coexisted in a larger system of global hegemony in which other powers exercised imperium. Modelski (1987) and others emphasize political/military hegemony.

Our use of the term hegemony-rivalry refers to the political-economic predominance by a center of accumulation, which alternates with periods of rivalry among several such centers of accumulation. Therefore, we argue that hegemony-rivalry has also characterized the world system for thousands of years (chapters 3 and 5). As suggested above, hegemony is not only political. It is also based on center-periphery relations, which permit the hegemonic center to further its accumulation of capital at the expense of its periphery, hinterland, and its rivals. After a time, not least through the economic-military overextension signaled by Kennedy (1987), the hegemonic empire loses this power again. The decline in the hegemony of a great power gives way to an interregnum of economic, political, and military rivalry with others competing to take its place. After an interregnum of rivalry with other claimants, the previous hegemonic power is replaced by another one. Shifting systems of economic, political, and military alliances, reminiscent of those featured by George Orwell (1977) in his 1984, are instrumental in first creating, then maintaining, and finally losing hegemonic imperial power.

We argue not only that there have been numerous and repeated instances of hegemony and rivalry at imperial regional levels. We also suggest that we may be able to recognize some instances of overarching "super-hegemony" and centralizing "super-accumulation" at the world system-wide level before 1500 (chapters 3 and 5). The Mongol empire certainly, and Song China perhaps, had a claim to super-hegemony. Thus, very significantly, the later rise to super-hegemony in and of western Europe, Great Britain, and the United States after 1500 did not constitute unique first instances in the creation of a hegemonic world system. Instead, as Abu-Lughod (1989: 338) persuasively argues, '"the fall of the East' preceded the 'Rise of the West'" and resulted in a hegemonic shift from East to West. This shift came at a time - and perhaps as a result - of overextension and political economic decline in various parts of the East, which suffered a period of cyclical economic decline so common to all as to have been world system-wide. Thus the "Rise of the West," including European hegemony and its expansion and later transfer of the "New World" across the Atlantic, did not just constitute a new, modem world-capitalist system. This development also - and even more so - represented a new but continued development and hegemonic shift within an old world system.

Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) makes a major contribution to the writing of world history in pushing the starting date for the world system back to 1250. In so doing, she has finally cut the Gordian knot of the supposed break in world history at 1500, as per Wallerstein (1974) and others. She denies that the present world system emerged in Europe through the transition from any previous mode of production. She argues instead that whatever mode of production existed in the sixteenth century also existed already in the thirteenth century in Europe - and in the "Middle East," India, and China.

Abu-Lughod shows that eight interlinking city-centered regions were united in a single thirteenth-century world system and division of labor. According to her reading, however, this world system economy experienced its apogee between 1250 and 1350 and declined to (virtual) extinction thereafter, before being reborn in southern and Western Europe in the sixteenth century. In her words, "of crucial importance is the fact that the "Fall of the East" preceded the "Rise of the West". She argues that if we assume that restructuring, rather than substitution, is what happens when world systems succeed one another, albeit after periods of disorganization, then failure cannot refer to the parts themselves but only to the declining efficacy of the ways in which they were formerly connected. In saying the thirteenth-century world system failed, we mean that the system itself devolved.... From earliest times, the geographically central "core regions" ... were Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, to which the Mediterranean was eventually appended. These cores persisted through the classical and thirteenth-century world systems. A decisive reorganization of this pattern did not occur until the sixteenth century. (Abu-Lughod 1989: 343-5)

It seems at least plausible, if not obvious, then to argue that between the fourteenth-century decline of the East and the fifteenth to sixteenth-century rise of the West there occurred a "declining efficacy" and "disorganization" of "the ways in which they were formerly connected." In that case, consequently there would have been a shift of the center of gravity in the system from East to West but not a complete failure of the system as a whole. On the contrary, this temporary disorganization and renewed reorganization could and should be read as the continuation and evolution of the system as a whole. Indeed, in our approach all history can and should be analyzed in terms of the shifts in centers of accumulation, as J we emphasize in our titles "World system cycles, crises and hegemonial | shifts 1700 bc to 1700 ad" (chapter 5) and "1492 and Latin America | at the margin of world system history: East - West hegemonial shifts j 992-1492-1992" (Frank 1993a).

Thus, Wallerstein (1989b) sees a single cycle in Europe (albeit "matched by a new market articulation in China... [in] this vast trading world-system"), and yet a variety of "unstable" systems around the world, each of which "seldom lasted more than 4-500 years" (1989b: 35). On the other hand, Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a single world system, certainly in the thirteenth-century cyclical conjuncture on which she concentrates, but also in earlier periods. Yet, successively each of her world systems cyclically rises (out of what?) and declines (into what?). However, neither Wallerstein nor Abu-Lughod is (yet?) willing to Join their insights in the additional step to see both a single world system and its continuous cyclical development.

The third characteristic of Wallerstein's world system after 1500 is long economic cycles of capital accumulation. Their upward "A" and downward "B" phases generate changes of hegemony and of position in the center-periphery-hinterland structure. These cycles, and especially the Kondratieffs, play important roles in the real development of the world system and in its analysis by Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978a), Modelski (1987), Goldstein (1988), and Thompson (1989). All emphasize the relations among cycles in the economy, hegemony, and war. However, are these cycles limited to modern times, or do they extend farther back? Wallerstein himself notes that

It is the long swing that was crucial.... The feudal system in western Europe seems quite clearly to have operated by a pattern of cycles of expansion and contraction of two lengths: circa 50 years (which seem to resemble the Kondratieff cycles found in the capitalist world economy) and circa 200-300 years.... The patterns of the expansions and contractions are clearly laid out and widely accepted among those writing about the late Middle Ages and early modern times in Europe.... It is the long swing that was crucial. Thus 1050-1250+ was a time of the expansion of Europe (the Crusades, the colonizations).... The "crisis" or great contractions of 1250-1450+ included the Black Plague. (1989b: 33,34) Thus, even according to Wallerstein there was systematic cyclical continuity across his 1500 divide - in Europe. But Abu-Lughod (1989), McNeiIl (1983), and others offer and analyze substantial evidence that this same cycle was in fact world system wide. Wallerstein (1989b: 57, 58) also perceives some of the evidence. Moreover, all these developments were driven by the motor force of capital accumulation. The "crucial long swing" was a cycle of capital accumulation. Frank in chapter 6 tries to demonstrate that this same cyclical pattern definitely extends back through die eleventh century and that it could well be traced further back still. Gills and Frank in chapter 5 trace these long cycles much further back to at least 1700 bc in world (system) history.

So do these characteristic similarities with the modem world-capitalist system extend only to "other" earlier empires, state systems, or regional economies or to different "world systems"? We argue in chapters 3 and 6 that similar characteristics extend backwards through time in the same world system, which itself also extends much farther back in time. That is, we argue for the extension back in time through the same world system of the essential features of the modern-world-capitalist-system of Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978b), Modelski (1987), Goldstein (1988), Thompson (1989), and others, and of the "other" world systems and civilizations of Chase-Dunn (1986, 1989), Wilkinson (1987, 1989), and others. This extension of the world system to at least 5,000 years has implications for many disciplines and concerns in history and social science, beginning with historiography and the Eurocentrism which underlies much of its other "scientific" and cultural endeavors.


Samir Amin (1989) in Eurocentrism and Martin Bemal (1987) in his Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization criticized Eurocentrism and offered alternative approaches, especially on an ideological level, which center on the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa respectively. Another alternative to Eurocentrism is the development of "Afrocentrism" by African-American historians and others in the United States, which as its name implies centers on Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that these critiques of Eurocentrism are all to the good, but that they are too limited.

Our approach offers the basis for a wider world-historic humanocentric alternative to Eurocentrism. World history should be a refle, and representation of the full diversity of human experience and development, which exceeds the limited and limiting recent bounds of the "West." Indeed, the "West" does not exist, except by reference to the "inscrutable" "East." Yet their historical existence is only a figment of "western" imagination. Eurocentrism and other centrisms prevent seeing or even asking how all the "parts" relate to the world [system] whole. Therefore, Eurocentrism is also an analytical fener on world history.

A few generations ago, even some western historians, like Frederick Teggart in 1918, criticized "Eurocentric" history and pleaded for a single "Eurasian" history in which

The two parts of Eurasia are inextricably bound together. Mackinder has shown how much light may be thrown on European history by regarding it as subordinate to Asiatic.... The oldest of historians (Herodotus) held the idea that epochs of European history were marked by alternating movements across the imaginary line that separates East from West. (Teggart 1939: 248)

Yet since then, western domination in power and technology has further extended the domain of its culture and Eurocentric, western perspective through proselytizing religion, mass media, language, education, and, yes, "world" history writing and teaching, using the (in) famous Mercator projection maps, etc. Nonetheless, homogenization has proceeded less far and fast than some hoped and others feared; and many people around the world are seeking renewed and diverse self-affirmation and self-determination: "Think globally. Act locally." Some scholars also speak of this problematic in terms of "globalization-localization" (Featherstone 1991; King 1991; Lash and Urry 1987; Robertson 1990).

Western, Eurocentric world history and its distortions need not be replaced by "equal time" for the history of all cultures. Nor need we admit (a variety of competing) other centric histories, be they Islamo-, Nippo-, Sino-, or whatever other centric. No, we can and should all aspire non-exclusivist humanocentric history. This world history can be more than a historical "entitlement program," which gives all (contemporary) cultures or nationalities their due separate but equal shares of the past. Instead, a humanocentric history can and must also recognize our historical and contemporary unity in and through diversity beyond our ideological affirmations of cultural self.


Although we should not aspire to "equal lime" in the history of everybody in the world, world history also need not just concentrate on adding representative nonwestern civilizations and cultures to western ones. Nor should we limit our historical study of cultures and civilizations to the comparative examination of their distinctive and common features. This is the procedure of most so-called courses and textbooks on "world" history or "comparative civilizations."

Some examples of these approaches and their internal contradictions and limitations are examined in Frank (1990a). Two well-known examples to be examined below are the comparative studies of civilizations by Toynbee and Quigley. Another example is the approach to "Civilization as a unit of world history" by Edward Farmer (1985) and Farmer et al. (1977) in their Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia.

We argue that our world history can and should also make efforts to connect and relate the diversity of histories and times to each other. It may be empirically possible, and in that case it is historically important, to uncover all sorts of historical connections among peoples and places, not only over time but especially at the same time. These connections would lend additional meaning to our comparisons. Frederick Teggart (1939) made such connections, for instance, in his Rome and China: A Study of Correlations in Historical Events. Teggart correlated and connected diverse political and economic events (particularly wars, "barbarian" invasions, and interruption/resumption of trade) in these two areas and others in between. Teggart made these connections among contemporaneous events "for the purpose of gaining verifiable knowledge concerning "the way things work" in the world of human relations ... in the spirit of modern scientific work, on the study of World History" (Teggart 1939: v, xii).

A one-world history should also seek to systematize these connections and relations, as well as comparisons, into an analysis of a world system history. This is now the opinion of our contemporary dean of world history, William McNeill (1990). Recently, he reflected back over "The Rise of the West after twenty-five years" and concluded that:

The Central methodological weakness of my book is that while it emphasizes interactions across civilizational boundaries, it pays inadequate attention to the emergence of the ecumenical world system within which we live today.... Being too much preoccupied by the notion of "civilization," I bungled by not giving the initial emergence of a trans-civilizational process the sustained emphasis it deserved.... In the ancient Middle East, the resulting interactions ... led to the emergence of a cosmopolitan world system between 1700 and 500 bc. There is a sense, indeed, in which the rise of civilizations in the Aegean (later Mediterranean) coast lands and in India after 1500 bc were and remained part of the emergent world system centered on the Middle East.... All three regions and their peoples remained in close and uninterrupted contact throughout the classical era.... [Moreover] one may, perhaps, assume that a similar [to the modern] primacy for economic exchanges existed also in earlier times all the way back [to] the earliest beginnings of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. (McNeill 1990: 9-10,12-14)

Thirty-five years earlier, Marshall Hodgson (1954) had already pleaded: During the last three thousand years there has been one zone, possessing to some degree a common history, which has been so, inclusive that its study must take a preponderant place in any possible world-historical investigation.... The various lands of urbanized, literate civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere, in a continuous zone from the Atlantic to the Pacific, have been in commercial and commonly in intellectual contact with each other, mediately or immediately. Not only have the bulk of mankind lived in this zone, but its influence has emanated into much of the rest of the world. (Hodgson 1954: 716)

[In] the following approach... events may be dealt with in their relation to the total constellation of historical forces of which they are a part... .This means that we are to consider how events reflect interdependent interregional developments. (Ibid.: 717)

Hodgson (1958: 879) thought that "few scholarly tasks are more urgent. This same theme was taken up by L.S. Stavrianos (1970: 3-6) in The World to 1500: A Global History, In the "Introduction: nature of world history" he wrote: The distinctive feature of this book is that it is a world history. It deals with the entire globe rather than some one country or region. It is concerned not with Western man or non-Western man, but with all mankind.... The global approach to history represents a new departure in modern historiography.... The story of man from its very beginnings has a basic unity that must be recognized and respected. Neither Western nor non-Western history may be properly comprehended without a global overview encompassing both. Only then is it possible to perceive the interaction amongst all peoples at all times, and the primary role of that interaction in determining the course of human history....

World history is not the sum of histories of the civilizations of the world.... The structure of world history requires focusing on historical movements that have had major influence on man's development, so the geography of world history requires focusing on those regions that initiated those historical movements. When this is done, one land unit stands out uniquely and unchallengeable: Eurasia, the veritable heartland of world history since Neolithic times.... To an overwhelming degree, the history of man is the history of these Eurasian civilizations. (Stavrianos 1970: 3-6)

In volume 1, number 1 of the new Journal of World History, Allerdyce (1990: 62, 67, 69) quoted others to the effect that what world history is a simple, all-encompassing, elegant idea, which offers inadequate tual base for a world history." We suggest that the basic elements is idea may be found in the foregoing quotations from McNeill, Igson, and Stavrianos. The central concept of this all-encompassing Ssacrranced here is the process of capital accumulation in the world in approach requires the rejection of still another historiographic tra-We should not treat historical diversity and comparisons as Perry ierson (1974) does. He goes beyond comparing the same or similar processes and formations like absolutism at different times. He p argues explicitly that "there is no such thing as a uniform temporal urn: for the times of the major Absolutism ... were precisely, enorily diverse ... no single temporality covers it." Instead, the systematic interregional world history must realize, as Hodgson (1954: 719) id, that "What is important is the recognition ... that there has been son of developing pattern in which all these interregional develop-S can be studied, as they are affected by and in turn affect its elements constituted at any one time." Prank (1978a: 20) argued that Ariderson's apparent attempt to make historiographic virtue out of empirical necessity when he argues that the historical times of events are different though their dates may be the same must be received .with the greatest of care - and alarm. For however useful it may be [comparatively] to relate the same thing through different times, the essential (because it is the most necessary and the least accomplished) contribution of the historian to historical understanding is successively to relate different things and places at the same time in the historical process.

Much earlier, Teggart (1939) established] (for the first time) the existence of [temporal] correlations in historical events ... which exhibits the relationship between contemporaneous disturbances in several areas ... [and] awareness of the concurrence of events in different regions.... The study of the past can become effective only when it is fully realized that all peoples have histories, that these histories run concurrently and in the same world, and that the act of comparing is the beginning of knowledge.... It at once sets a new problem for investigation by raising the question of how the correspondences in events are to be accounted for. (Teggart 1939: 243, 245, 239)

Therefore, we should discard the usual western, Eurocentric rendition of history, which jumps discontinuously from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt, to "classical" Greece and then Rome, to medieval western Europe, and then on to the Atlantic west, with scattered backflashes to China, India, etc. For meanwhile all other history drops out of the story. Or some people and places never even appear in history, unless they are useful as a supposedly direct descendant of development in the West.

Instead, any world history should try to trace and establish the historical continuity of developments between then and now in the world systemic whole and all its parts. Hodgson and McNeill already emphasized this continuity. David Wilkinson (1987) puts Hodgson's earlier suggestion into practice and demonstrates convincingly that "Central civilization" has a continuous and expanding (we would say world system) history since Mesopotamia and Egypt established relations in about 1500 bc, We return to his thesis below.

We argue that these relations extend even farther out and further back. During another millennium from 2500 bc or earlier, peoples established relations with each other around and through the Mediterranean to the Levant, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and importantly on to the Persian Highlands "and between them and the Indus Valley, as well as with many Central Asian '"nomads." Gordon Childe (1942) already argued for the recognition and analysis of these and, even earlier and more widespread, of such relations in Neolithic times.

Moreover, world (system) history is not limited to that of sedentary "civilizations" and their relations. It also includes "barbarian" nomads and other peoples, and especially the multifarious relations among the former and the latter. Following Lattimore (1962) and others, we make a strong plea for much more study of Central and Inner Asian "nomadic" and other "peripheral" peoples. We recommend that special attention be given to the significance of their continuous trade and political relations with their "civilized" neighbors, and to the timing and causes of the recurrent waves of migratory and invasory incursions from Central/Inner Asia into east, south, and west Asia and Europe. Similarly, the nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula long before the time of Mohammed merit more attention. Moreover, it is high time to drop and take exception to the now pejorative term "barbarian." The supposed differences between peoples who have been so called and those supposedly more "civilized" are doubtful at best. There is even reason to question many supposed distinctions between "nomad" and "sedentary" peoples. However that may be, there can be little doubt about "the Centrality of Central Asia" in world (system) history (Frank 1992b).

Africa has also received less attention than it merits in world (system) history. Curtin has done pioneering work on trade and migration in Africa, but in his Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984) he has not sought to pursue the African connection in Afro-Asia as far back in history as it may deserve. The south-east Asian peoples and their history were long since intimately related to and also influential on those of China and India, if only for the trade and migrations between them. Yet south-east Asia is often largely omitted from even those world histories that give their due to China and India.


Civilizationists and many historians as well as macro-sociologists claim to write the history of the world, but without ever attempting to write world history. They distinguish various civilizations or other systems, and sometimes study one problem or another, like ideology, power, economy, or technology. Toynbee (1946), Quigley (1961), and more recently Mann (1986) are among them.

Arnold Toynbee (1946: 34-40) finds 19 or 21 separate civilizations, 5 still living and 16 dead, though "most of them [were/are] related as parent or offspring to one or more of the others." He rejects "the egocentric illusion [of] the misconception of the unity of history - involving the assumption that there is only one river of civilization, our own." We should indeed reject this Euro/western egocentric illusion, but it is Toynbee's misconception to assume that there cannot have been or be a single unifying river unless it was "our" western or another civilizational river. We suggest that there is a common river and unity of history in a single world system and that it is multicultural in origin and expression, which has been systematically distorted by Eurocentrism.

Toynbee also rightly rejects "the illusion of 'the unchanging East." "The East" has no historical existence. Indeed, it was a Euro/western-centric invention. Moreover, of course, the many peoples and regions of "the East" have been very different and ever changing. This fact and reading of history need and should not, however, exclude these peoples and regions from participation in a common stream of history or historical systemic unity.

Thirdly, Toynbee rightly rejects "the illusion of progress as something which proceeds in a straight line." Leaving aside for the moment the criterion of progress or not, we can nonetheless observe cyclical ups and downs in parts of the system and maybe in the whole system itself (chapter 5). Finally, Toynbee rejects the "very different concept of the unity of history" as the diffusion of Egyptaic civilization over thousands of years. We accept the rejection of this diffusion, but not his unwarranted rejection of the unity of history or of a single historical world system.

Carroll Quigley (1961) devotes more attention than Toynbee to the interrelated mutual influences among civilizations and their rise and decline through their seven stages of mixture, gestation, expansion, conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion. Nonetheless, he still recognizes sixteen separate civilizations. Thus, Quigley also writes a history of the world without attempting to write world history. Instead, he emphasizes the separate internal logics of development in civilizations through a purportedly "universal" pattern of stages.

David Wilkinson (1987 and chapter 7), by contrast, writes a more unitary history about what he calls "Central civilization." It began in the west Asian pan of the Eurasian landmass and spread eventually to encompass the entire globe.

Central Civilization is the chief entity to which theories of class society, the social system, world-economy and world systems must apply if they are to apply at all. A suitable theoretical account of its economic process does not yet exist; one for its political process may. (Wilkinson 1987: 56-7)

Wilkinson's subtitles indicate his intent and recommended procedure: Recognizing Central Civilization as a Reality.... Recognizing a single entity in adjacent "civilizations".... Recognizing a single entity after civilizations collide.... Recognizing a single entity when "civilizations" succeed each other.... Did Central civilization ever fall? (Wilkinson 1987: 35-9)

Wilkinson's answer is no, since its birth when Mesopotamia and Egypt joined hands around 1500 bc. Therefore Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) have suggested that we should adapt Wilkinson's terminology and call their system the "Central World System."

However, we are wary about the category of "civilization" itself. "Civilization" is ambiguous as a unit and terribly difficult to bound either in space or in time. When McNeill says he "bungled" by being too preoccupied with civilization as the unit of analysis, this was because it stands in the way of seeing and analyzing world [system] history as a whole."