Friday, 20 September 2013

Peoples and plunderers

The cast of global history at the beginning of the last millennium. A big topic, covered in about 45 minutes, so no depth of anything and many more questions than answers.

My biggest question: were there no women?

This is lecture is - largely - focused on the ruling classes, the political and religious leaders, the money. Fascinating! But I'd also like an assessment of what women were doing, and what was being done-unto them. Prof says the world was largely equal in its basic living standards, by considering life expectancy and average height in different places.  But is that true of men and women? Probably not. Almost certainly there were a few women traders on the silk road: what was it that made their trading possible, or not? We get hints of women left behind with the children while merchants and soldiers went on long and dangerous journeys. How did they live? Did widows have a different status? How did the different societies handle death in childbirth and the raising of children? If most people are living subsistence lives in rural communities are the women doing the same manual labour as the men? Where there is access to formal education are the omen excluded? In war, women are often raped or assimilated through forced marriage. What happened to them? In politics, women are the created links between families through marriage. There have always been exceptional women faith leaders and women warriors. What specific skills were women learning and how were these integrated into the new markets of trade goods? Where are the women???

I was very interested in the story of how technology changed the world. The Chinese-invented compass, charts, and new ship design opened up the possibilities of leaving the shoreline and finding new markets. And by using ships it was possible to move heavier goods further. I suppose that's an obvious point, but one I'd never considered.

Interesting titbits. 

  • Chinese population doubled from C8 - c12 to about 100m people. Hydraulic engineering allows the Chinese to create new rice paddies and sustain such a population increase. Mass deforestation  loss of habitat. There used to be Chinese elephants!
  • the silk road stank. Though merchants were trading luxuries (preciosities), the road and the hubs featured piles of poo - thousands of camels, horses, elephants, people. As the caravans would often travel at night, to avoid the searing sun, they must have been squelching  through the muck. Ick. 
  • Genghis Khan - in 25 years of conquering he laid claim to a bigger empire than the Romans managed in 400 years. His empire was the size of Africa. He overturned the caliphate in Baghdad and the Song dynasty of China. He was stopped by the mountains of Afghanistan. 
  • 1258 - the Grand Library of Baghdad was destroyed by Mongol invaders. The waters of the Tigris ran blue with ink and red with blood. Probably mostly red: the death toll of the siege is estimated from 200,000 - 1m people.
  • There was a global professional market by 1300. Relocation of doctors from China., engineers from Germany. Specialists were travelling the same routes that trade goods took.

Things I want to follow up or find out more about:

  • is there a respectable feminist history of this period?

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