This section is a draft.

The rise of the sovereign state in Europe.  The connection to the new commercial world economy.  How revenues from trade made it possible for the state to establish its independence.

Medieval kings were really quite powerless. They had no proper bureaucracies at their disposal, no standing armies and few ways of raising money. In fact, there were few good roads, ports and not many large cities. What was not there, however, soon came to be constructed. From the sixteenth-century onwards the states established the rudiments of an administrative system and raised armies, both in order to fight their own peasants and in order to defend themselves against other states. Since such state-building was expensive, the search for money became a constant concern. The early-modern state was more than anything an institutional machinery designed to develop and extract resources from society. The early modern state operated much as a protection racket ― people were asked to pay taxes in return for defence, and if they refused to pay up, state officials had various unpleasant ways to make them suffer.

Once the state had made itself sovereign by defeating both its universal and its local rivals, the only problem was that it was surrounded by other states which they too thought of themselves as a sovereign.  Since there no longer was a  all-European power that could regulate their common affairs, there was no one to keep the peace.  Each state had to look after itself, assure its own security.  They did this by establishing armies, training soldiers, building fortifications and amassing weapons.  All of this cost money of course and the search for money was the state’s constant concern.  It was with this aim in mind that the state became an active sponsor of economic activities.  It is possible to think of the state in early modern Europe as a kind of machine which locates various resources of society, mobilizes them, and eventually turns them into military hardware.  Economic development meant higher revenues from taxes and it gave the kings access to more resources which they could use in their wars.

The state was keen to encourage trade, not least since taxes on trade were a lot easier to collect than taxes on land. It was now that a search began for natural resources ― agricultural land, forests, iron and copper ore, but also manpower ― which the state might make use of. Maps were drawn up which located these resources within the country’s borders, and lists were made of births, marriages and deaths in order to better keep track of the population. Domestic industries were set up and given state subsidies, above all in military significant sectors such as metalworks and in sectors that were easy for the state to tax. In addition, various “useful sciences” were encouraged by the newly established scientific academies, and prizes were given to innovations and discoveries. In state-sponsored universities, future members of the emerging administrative class were taught how best to regulate society and assure peace and social order.

New commercial society.  Above all, by the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602.[Read more: The East India companies] All over Europe similar trading companies were soon established and they were all granted monopolies on the highly profitable East Asian trade. These monopolies were sold, and for European kings this was an easy and quick way to raise revenue.  Connection to the development of the European state.  The first corporations, financial institutions.  People were investing in the lucrative trade.  The development of stock markets, insurances, the corporate form of running a business.  They took the surplus profits and lent the money to the state.  A founded debt, state banks.  The whole system of financial institutions.  There were great profits to be made in the Asian trade.  The goods were light-weight and easy to store.  They were dry.  You could reap great profits on the successful return of a ship.  The only problem was the long and uncertain journey. The state would sell monopolies, the exclusive right to trade with a particular part of the world. We usually think of monopolies as bad, and they often are, but in a situation where there is no existing market, they can help create the market which is not there.  It was too risky to trade with far-away continents.  It took too long to get there.  You had to invest now for a very uncertain return sometimes in the rather distant future.

The problem was only that even this frantic activity never was sufficient to guarantee peace.  In fact, the more one state was arming itself, the more it developed its economy and rationalized its administrative procedures, the more of a threat it posed to its neighbors.  This might not actually have been the case, but this at least is what the neighbors thought.  Better safe than sorry; we had better arm ourselves too so that we are prepared if an attack comes. Often enough threats of war turned into the real thing. From the early seventeenth-century onwards Europe was in a more or less continuous state of warfare.

The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, was the bloodiest and most protracted military confrontation of the era.  The Thirty Years War is often called a religious conflict since Catholic states confronted Protestants, yet Protestant and Catholic countries sometimes fought on the same side, and besides religious dogma was clearly not the first thing on the minds of the combatants. Instead the war concerned which state should have hegemony over Europe; that is, which state, if any, that would take over from the universal institutions of the Middle Ages. The main protagonists were two Catholic states, France and Austria, but Sweden — a Protestant country — intervened on France’s side, and in the end no hegemonic power emerged.  As a result of the war Germany’s population was reduced by perhaps a third, and in the region of Brandenburg ― today’s Berlin ― the male population was decimated by half. What the Swiss or the Scottish mercenaries did not steal, the Swedish troops destroyed, and the people who did not die on the battlefield, died of the plague.

The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, which concluded the thirty years of warfare, has come to symbolize the new way of organizing international politics which emerged at this time. From now on international politics concerned relations between states and no other political units. All states were sovereign, meaning that they laid claims to the exclusive right to rule their own territories and to act, in relation to other states, as they themselves saw fit. All states were formally equal and they had the same rights and obligations. Taken together the states interacted with each other in a system in which there was no overarching power. Sovereignty and formal equality led to the problem of “anarchy”: to the problem, that is, of how to assure peace and order in a situation where everyone looked after themselves and no one looked after the system as a whole. There were no institutions that could enforce the peace or stop a war once it had begun. As a result states had to rely on their own resources, to look after themselves, or to form alliances through which the power of one alliance of states could be balanced against the power of another alliance. Yet such power balances were precarious, easily subverted, and given the value attached to territorial acquisitions, states had an incentive to engage in aggressive wars.

At the same time various practices developed which helped regulate common affairs. The foremost example were perhaps the practices of diplomacy, as exemplified, by the way peace treaties were negotiated. From the early modern period onward, European states met after each major war in order to reach a settlement and lay down the terms of their future interaction. These diplomatic practices had their origin in relations between the city-states of northern Italy. Once they became independent both of the pope and the emperor, these city-states discovered that their relationship with each other had become vastly more uncertain. In order to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary wars, the various rulers began dispatching ambassadors to each other’s courts. This network provided a means of gathering information, of spying, but also a way of keeping in touch with one another, of carrying out negotiations and concluding deals. The practices of diplomacy soon expanded to include a number of mutually advantageous provisions: the embassies were given extraterritorial rights and legal immunity for the diplomats themselves, diplomatic dispatches were regarded as inviolable, and ambassadors had the right to worship the god of their choice. These originally north-Italian practices gradually expanded to embrace more states and by the middle of the seventeenth-century the system included France, Spain, Austria, England, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and the Ottoman empire. The diplomatic practices were never powerful enough to prevent war ― indeed wars continued to be common ― but they did provide Europeans with a sense of a common identity. There were common rules to play by, even if they often were broken.

This section is a draft.

It was quite obviously not by means of imperialism that the logic of the European international system spread to the rest of the world.  Colonialism is a sort of mercantilism. From Adam Smith’s point of view, and the point of view of free trade, it was something like an intellectual mistake.  The wealth of a nation is not determined by what it has but by what it can produce.  No hoarding.

The colonies were dependent on the European states.  As different from sovereignty as you could imagine. The graduation argument.  Non-European societies as growing up.  The paradox of sovereignty — you can be whatever you want to be as long as you first become one of us.

But this was not how the European state and the European way of organizing international relations came to spread to the rest of the world, at least not directly. After all, a colonized country is the very opposite of a sovereign state; the colonized peoples had no nation-states and enjoyed no self-determination. It was instead through the process of liberating themselves from the colonizers that the European models were copied. The Europeans would only grant sovereignty to states that were like their own; the only way to be an independent state was to become an independent state of the European kind. To create such a state was consequently the project in which all non-European political leaders engaged. Thus, once they had become independent, all new states had their respective territories and fortified borders; their own capitals, armies, foreign ministries, flags, national anthems and all the other paraphernalia of sovereign statehood. Whether there were alternative, non-European, ways of organizing a state and its foreign relations was never discussed. Whether it made sense for the newly independent states to try to live up to these European ideals was never discussed either.

How it became more and more impossible for the European states to pay for the empire.  There is quite a scholarly discussion regarding whether European countries actually benefited from the colonies.  There is no doubt that some individuals did, notably the owners of companies that could extract various resources.  But there were also high costs associated with military defense.  This was true already during the Indian Uprising. [Read more: Indian Uprising of 1857]

During the First World War the Europeans had their minds on quite different things.  There was an enormous destruction in Europe, not least of human lives.  The position of Great Britian and France was actually extended as a result of the outcome of the war.  They took on former German colonial possessions as “protectorates.”

Nationalist movements started in India at this time, and soon elsewhere too — Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, Indonesia, Malaysia, throughout the Middle East.  Indian National Congress.[Read more: G.K. Chesterton on Indian nationalism]  Revolutionary movements in China and the Ottoman Empire sought to renegotiate relations with the European powers.

It was instead the way in which the rest of the world came to be decolonized that determined their future.  They became independent on European terms, and in this way they also perpetuated their status as inferiors in the international system.  There was next to no one among them who could live up to the requirements. This was a source of great worry to members of the English School: were these states really going to be able to become trustworthy members of the international system?

The problem of “failed states.”  But what is it really that has failed. Why impose a certain foreign system on a country which is singularly badly suited for it and then blame the country in question when things go wrong?

This section is a draft.

The Seven Years War between France and Great Britain as the first world war.  That is, the first world-wide confrontation between these two European powers.  They were fighting in Europe itself but also in North America and in India.

Relations between the European governments and the settlers were not always the best.  South America as a case in point.  Spain tried to keep some order in the empire, and avoid the most obvious excesses, but the conquistadors were often scornful of these policies.  They had established themselves on top of the hierarchical social pyramid as a new ruling class.  They had no particular interest in the introduction of new technologies, or new industry, the economy was working well for them. They did, however, resent what they regarded as meddling from Spain.  They gradually developed more of a sense of separateness and community.  When Spain was occupied by Napoleon, they saw an opportunity to assert themselves.  How the colonies in Latin America became independent in the 1820s.

Something similar happened in North America.  In the American south the Europeans had established themselves as the rulers of an enslaved working class.  They sold cotton to a world market and had little interest in economic change.  What they did want, however, was the right to govern their own affairs.  The settlers in New England and the planters in Virginia and the Carolinas thought much the same.  They declared independence from Great Britain in 1776.

As a result, at the end of the eighteenth-century there was not all that much left of European colonies overseas. There were trading posts above all, such as in Canada with the lucrative fur trade, and Europeans were trading with Africa for gold and palm oil and, until 1806, slaves. The English East India Company was also making rapid advances in India.  The Spaniards were still in the Philippines and the Dutch were in Indonesia, but the economic role of these possessions had declined precipitously.  Australia was still known as “New Holland.”

By the early nineteenth-century European imperialism largely seemed a thing of the past.  People in Britain would look back wistfully on the days when they had had an empire.  And yet, one hundred years later, at the time of the First World War, next to all of the world came to be in European hands.[Read more: The countries that never were colonized]  In order to understand this rather surprising development, we must understand the changes that were taking place in Europe itself.

At the end of the eighteenth-century, new ways of manufacturing goods were invented which made use of machines powered by steam, and later by electricity, and which relied on large-scale production in factories. As a result of this so called “industrial revolution,” it was suddenly possible for the Europeans to produce many more goods and to do it far more efficiently. Before long cheap, mass-produced, goods were flooding Europe and the Europeans began to look for new markets overseas. They also needed raw material for their factories — raw material which in many cases only could be found outside of Europe. These economic imperatives meant that the Europeans took a renewed interest in the world, and this time it was the British who took the lead. It was in Britain that the industrial revolution had started and the British also had a navy which was second to none. The British soon established commercial outposts from Canada to South Africa and Australia, but it was India that became its most important colony. The commercial outposts and colonial settlements soon grew in size as the British sought to protect their investments by means of military intervention. This is how Britain, step by step, came to acquire a world-wide empire. A British historian once claimed that the British had acquired their empire “in a fit of absent-mindedness.”  This is an exaggeration, but it points to the fact that there was no grand master plan to take over the rest of the world. Rather, one step let to another, and they were all guided by what was regarded as economic imperatives.

How the Europeans changed their view of Europe, almost over night.  People in Asia were now found to be “stagnant” or as “having no history.”  By contrast, the Europeans were progressing fast.  European societies developed and changed quickly.  Much of this change was due to manufacturing and trade, to the Industrial Revolution.

Europeans saw themselves as different and special and separate.  They were all part of this momentous change, partners in progress.  Everyone else was excluded.  It was the fact that others were excluded which made their community possible.  It is just like the logic of a membership club.

The quest for markets.  Free trade liberalism.  Radical expansion of communications networks.  International trade.  Overproduction in Europe.  They needed someone to sell to — 350 million people in China.  The free trade doctrine would back it all up.

As a result of the industrial revolution, and all the new technical inventions, the Europeans also had an entirely different way of imposing their will.  The industrial machinery had a secondary use in warfare.

The Opium Wars.  Imperialism in China. The end of the Chinese internaitonal system.

During the last couple of decades of the nineteenth century there was a new form of competition between European powers.  Germany and Italy are unified.  There was a war between France and Germany in 1870-71, which the Germans won, and after that Germany seemed to be on the rise.  They are expanding economically.  Berlin is the new capital.  The Germans and Italians are trying to catch up with the other European powers when it comes to competition in the colonies.  To be a major player in international politics you have to have colonies.  There was a “scramble for Africa.”  The Berlin Conference of 1885.  This was actually a very civilized way of dividing the continent, making sure that no unseemly mess ensued.  The Europeans were very proud of themselves.[Read more: The Berlin Conference]

Towards the end of the end of the nineteenth-century, other European countries joined in this scramble for colonies, not least in Africa. Colonial possessions became a symbol of great-power status, and the new European nation-states often proved themselves to be very aggressive colonizers. France added West Africa and Indochina to its growing empire, and Germans and Italians too joined the race once their respective countries were unified. Meanwhile the Russians pushed into Central Asia and the United States pushed westward across the great North American plains towards the Pacific Ocean. This is how it happened that, by the time of the First World War, most parts of the world were in European hands. There were some scattered exceptions to this rule — China, Japan, Siam, Persia, but also Ethiopia and Nepal — but in these ostensibly independent countries too the Europeans had a very strong presence.

But continued weakness well into the nineteenth century.  How the British empire was like an oak tree planted in a pot.  The branches were simply to big for the root system.  The British had overextended themselves.  The locals were able to capture them.  There were actually a number of defeats.  The Europeans were not necessarily militarily superior prior to the 1850s.  There were endless wars in Afghanistan, the Asante wars, wars in Burma.  The most spectacular defeat may indeed have been the one in Kabul in 1848.

The new form of racism.  The end of Enlightenment ideas.  “Scientific” racism backed up by a perverted form of Darwinism.  The wholesale destruction of non-European communities — Tasmanians, Tierra del Fuego, genocide on the Herero. [Read more: The Herero genocide]

 The apogee of imperialism in the two decades before the First World War.  It is worth remembering how short the period of full-fledged imperialism actually was.  How shallow the penetration of non-European societies actually was.

This section is a draft.

To study international systems in a comparative fashion is to read about ancient kingdoms and long lost worlds.  There is an Orientalist fascination with the many obscure details.  We gawk at the strange and turn the foreign into something utterly alien.  In this way our new understanding comes to be mixes with misunderstanding.  At the same time it is clear that more than historical accuracy is at stake.  We read history not only in order to learn about the past but also in order to help us better imagine tomorrow.  The European state system has been a disaster, a disaster for the Europeans and a disaster for the rest of the world.  Anarchy and sovereignty and decentralized decision-making is not working.  In the twentieth century alone some 80 million people died in wars between sovereign states, and tens of millions more perished in genocides which the principle of sovereignty made possible.  The international systems we have studied in this book were not always peaceful to be sure — the armies of Genghis Khan were notoriously bloodthirsty — but they do represent alternative ways in which international politics can be organized.  They were not based on sovereignty, anarchy and decentralized decision-making.  Rather they often found ways of organizing competing units into loosely structured hierarchies, into federations, or into empires which quickly fragmented while maintaining an ideology of unity.  Such pluribus unum solutions — combining the many in the one — are worth exploring further.  These historical examples can help us imagine a more peaceful world.

Compare walls and bridges.  International systems that are closed in on themselves and those that are open to the world.  Those that are convinced they are little to learn from outsiders and those that actively seek to expand.  But this is an analytical distinction, of course, in practice it never quite worked that way.  Preserving a culture and spreading a civilization.  How destructive civilizations are likely to be.  But not always a matter of a particular content; also just a matter of hooking people up, of making exchange possible.

The question of the cause of the European expansion.  Compare the cause of the expansion of other empires.

How quickly you can overrun a territory.  Open up to exchange and trade.  You have your horses and you are mobile.  But you also rule in a very superficial fashion.  It is quite unclear in the end what you actually control.  You have to conquer and reconquer.  How this was true of the European expansion as well.

All the divide et impera tactics, the ceremonialism.  The ceremonial aspect of power.  How cultures are held together by performances of various kinds.  How the object is to dazzle an enemy, to overpower them by means of ostentatious displays.  To dine the enemy into submission.

Although empires are important, they often disintegrate.  There center is soft, it does not hold.  There are constant problems of succession.  The various pieces of the empire cannot be held together. This was true of all the Muslim caliphates, of the various parts of the Mongol khanates, of the Inca empire too.  The result has been wars to be sure, but also a legacy of a shared civilization, a certain outlook on life.  This has helped keep the peace, to hold the world together.

European colonialism, and a matter of the terms on which the once colonized societies made themselves independent.  This, as one would expect, was a long and tortuous process.  In this chapter we will highlight a few aspects.

Basically the English School is right.  International politics — the mere fact that independent political units interact — does not lead to any particular outcome.  There really are many different ways in which international politics can be organized.  The six systems we have studied in this book were in several respects radically different from the European system, and different also from each other.  Various kinds of elaborate institutions can be established also between independent units.

Return to the walls and bridges distinction.  International systems that are closed in on themselves and those that are open to the world.  Those that are convinced they are little to learn from outsiders and those that actively seek to expand.  But this is an analytical distinction, of course, in practice it never quite worked that way.  Preserving a culture and spreading a civilization.  How destructive civilizations are likely to be.  But not always a matter of a particular content; also just a matter of hooking people up, of making exchange possible.

How quickly you can overrun a territory.  Open up to exchange and trade.  You have your horses and you are mobile.  But you also rule in a very superficial fashion.  It is quite unclear in the end what you actually control.  You have to conquer and reconquer.  How this was true of the European expansion as well.

Some common themes.  How notions of sovereignty and formal equality are quite rare.  China during the Warring States period would be an exception.  This was clearly a very creative period.  The same goes for the systems of city-states that we looked at.  The Yoruba states, the cities of the Gangetic plains, the city-states in the Valley of Mexico.  They are locked in competition but at the same time sharing a culture and an outlook on life.  Hegel etc: there is a creativity to war.  We are forced to develop our societies and our economy in order to get the kinds of resources we need in order to defeat our enemies.

The nation, the people, the community is less commonly a part of the story.  The history of international relations is a history of kings, the occasional queen, and a lot of wars.  They show up as producers, consumers and as traders.

Instead of sovereign states, “empires” of various kinds are more common. Yet empires too are of different kinds and it would be a mistake to model them all on the Roman Empire.  Empires include many different kinds of people.  The dhimmi of the caliphates.  How such cultural interaction can be very creative.  Once again it is the logic of e pluribus unum, of letting differences coexist within unity.

This is really the logic of exchange.  How exchange puts us into contact with that which we do not have, do not know.  Trade is a part of this, but exchange is the wider notion — it includes gift giving.  As we saw in the case of China, or again in the case of the Aztecs and the Incas, gift-giving is a way of creating social bonds and of forging alliances.  The Mongols and the Muslim caliphates too.  Marriage alliances are an aspect of this.  A king gives away his daughters in order to make an alliance with a potential enemy.

The ceremonial aspect of power.  How cultures are held together by performances of various kinds.  How the object is to dazzle an enemy, to overpower them by means of ostentatious displays.  To dine the enemy into submission.  The Maya blood-letting ceremonies; Mansa Musa going to Mecca and spreading his wealth around.  How ceremonies were important aspects of warfare too.  Incas and Maya, but also in Japan.  How quick victories could be had by those — like the Mongols — who ignored the rules of ceremony.

Although empires are important, they often disintegrate.  There center is soft, it does not hold.  There are constant problems of succession.  The various pieces of the empire cannot be held together. This was true of all the Muslim caliphates, of the various parts of the Mongol khanates, of the Inca empire too.  The result has been wars to be sure, but also a legacy of a shared civilization, a certain outlook on life.  This has helped keep the peace, to hold the world together.


This section is a draft.

Europe’s isolation from the rest of the world came to an end in the thirteenth-century when the first sustained contacts were established with East Asia.  Soon European merchants were going there and so was the occasional missionary.  The Europeans were amazed at what they found here — the wealth of the countries and the power of the rulers, and all the amazing objects which no one in Europe knew anything about. Coming back home to Europe they would tell the tales of their adventures but no one would believe them.  It all seemed just too incredible to be true.  The objects they brought with them from the East — spices, tea, precious stones, china, silk, and so on — embodied some of these mysterious and for that reason alone they became highly sought after by the Europeans. European elites wanted to surround themselves with these curious objects.  It was their way of showing off and distinguishing themselves from ordinary people. The ability to display exotic items gave power and prestige to whoever owned it. There was, as European merchants discovered, a lot of money to be made for those who could bring these objects back to Europe. Italians took a lead in the trade — Venetians and Genoans in particular.

Yet trade with the East was a perilous business.  Goods traveled slowly on camel back across the caravan routes of Central Asia and there were a number of things that could go wrong — robbers could attack, officials could interfere, and then there was the weather and the turn of the seasons. As long as the Mongol Empire lasted it was still possible to deal with these challenges and the profits remained high. The  khanates had not always been at peace with each other, but the Mongols understood the value of trade and they did what they could to encourage it. With the end of the Pax mongolica, however, both the risks and the costs associated with this trade rose dramatically.  The new rulers who appeared about half-way between Europe and East Asia wanted their cut of the profits.  The Ottomans but also Mamluk Egypt put up customs and tariffs and this made it impossible for European traders to continue the trade.

In response, the Europeans began looking for alternative ways to get to East Asia.  They began going by ship.  The idea was to go down the west coast of Africa and to find a way to India that way. As a result, trade moved away from the Mediterranean, and away from Italy, and instead to the Atlantic.  Here Portugal took the lead and it was soon followed by Spain, although the Spanish in particular continued to rely on the services of Italian sea captains. The most famous of these Italians was Cristoforo Colombo who had the idea that it would be possible to travel to India by going west, straight into the Atlantic Ocean. He did not find India but he found a new world — a Novus mundus — of which no one in the old world had had any knowledge.  Eventually it came to be known as “America,” named after Amerigo Vespucci, yet another Italian sea-captain.

Medieval Europeans did not have much interest in the world outside of their continent, we said, with the single exception of the military campaigns, known as “Crusades,” undertaken in order to recapture the “Holy Land.” To some Europeans — notable a few particularly militant popes — it was unacceptable that land mentioned in their religious scriptures now were being held by Muslims, and the idea was to equip a pan-European army in order to try to win it back. All in all some seven major crusades were organized between 1096 and 1254 CE, in which hundreds of thousands of Europeans took part.For a while they were quite successful and managed to establish footholds, crusader kingdoms, in the Middle East.  Eventually they were defeated, but wars in behalf of the Christian religion continued on the fringes of Europe, both in Eastern Europe and in Spain. Lithuania was converted to Christianity in 1386 by means of the armies of the Tuetonic knights and in Spain a project — the Reconquista — was under way to take Al Andalus from the Muslim rulers.  The Christian coalition won an important battle at Las Navas de Tolosa in 121s, but it took another 250 years before the last Muslim ruler — Muhammad XII of Granada, known as Boabdil — was expelled.

The year when the Muslims were expelled from Spain — 1492 — is one of the most significant in world hsitory.  It was the same year Columbus arrived in the New World.  To the many Spaniards who followed him and other sea-captains — the soldiers known as conquistadors — the wars in the Americas were simply an extension of the wars which they already had fought in Spain itself.  They often confused the natives of the Americas with Muslims and sights they saw in Tenochtitlan or Cuzco often reminded them of Muslim Spain.  Yet, conditions in the Americas were entirely different.  Despite their awesome power, both the Aztec and the Inca empires were easily conquered.  In fact, in both cases the Spaniards took control by means of only a few hundred men.  Both empires were based on repression of enemies and there were many locals who were more than delighted to side with the Europeans and who greeted them as liberators.  Both empires were also far too dependent on their leaders, once the Aztec king and the Sapa Inca were gone, they had no sense of direction, did not know how to protect themselves.

At the Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494, the world is divided by the pope between Portugal and Spain. This explains a lot about why people speak the languages they do.

The Spaniards settled in the Americas.  They were looking for gold but they found an extraordinary amount of silver.  There was a mountain — Potosi — which was said to be entirely made of silver.  The only problem was that it was high up in the Andes and it was impossible to get people to work in the mine.  The Spaniards forced them and hundreds of thousands of people died. [Read more: A mountain made of silver] The silver was very useful to the Spaniards.  They used it to buy things from Asia — all the wonderful goods which they wanted from India and China — and they paid their many debtors in Europe itself — and they in turn used the silver to buy things from India and China.  In this way, the whole world economy was given new liquidity.  There was money to go around — money that everyone accepted — and as a result commerce took off.  This was when Mughal India became the richest country in the world.  Before long the silver never actually arrived in Europe but was sent straight, across the Pacific Ocean, from Peru to East Asia.

The Columbian exchange.  Small pox, chilies, potatoes, chocolate, and many other things.  Diseases, crops, immunities.  Something like 90 percent of the population died.  The European invasion in both north and south America was associated with widespread genocide, through direct warfare but more commonly through the spread of European diseases such as the measles. Africa, meanwhile, remained large unknown to the Europeans.

Settlements in North America. The slave trade.  Many different kinds of people settled here.  The terra nullius argument.  How you have the right to occupy land that is not used by others.  How nomadic peoples — hunters and gatherers or pastoralists — are not using the land appropriately.  This was also when the first extensive colonial occupation took place.  A European country could lay claim to a land either nearly empty or inhabited by people with no strong state, such as most of North America, Brazil, the Argentine, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. This land became a frontier in that it had to be defended against European rivals. The tendency was to people it with colonists from the claimant country and sometimes also with captured or purchased slaves.  Some colonies were used to supply raw material to the ruling country but in others the economic and social institutions of the colonizing country were reproduced.

In 1498 the Europeans rounded the Cape of Good Hope at the southern-most tip of Africa and entered the Indian Ocean.  The Portuguese took the lead in this trade, but they were soon replaced by the Dutch. From an East Asian point of view, the Europeans were nothing but small contingents of traders who docked at a few ports, conducted their trade, and then left. Yet the increase in trade which the opening of new trade routes produced was nevertheless important to the countries of East Asia. The Europeans were renowned for their technical and artistic skills and the emperor of China, for one, employed Europeans as astronomers and map-makers at his court In order to facilitate trade, various European trading companies were given the right to establish small trading posts. The Portuguese founded Goa in India, Macau in China, Malacca in today’s Malaysia and East Timor; the Dutch founded Batavia, a trading post on the island of Java in today’s Indonesia.  The Spanish had the Philippines as their main hub.