economic history, eurasian history, history, history of asia, history of capitalism, history of europe, history of the united states, History of the US, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Kenneth Pomeranz,The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton University Press, 2001), Pp. 392.

 

book.jpgHistorian Kenneth Pomeranz sets out to argue a counterargument to the old linear narrative of history and especially European “excellence.” Pomeranz offers a revisionist history in his book entitled, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Pomeranz’s thesis states, “This book…acknowledges the vital role of internally driven European growth but emphasizes how similar those processes were to processes at work elsewhere, especially in east Asia, until almost 1800 ” (3). Pomeranz finds comparative methodology more productive than delineated differences in the historical record. Taking major themes of difference and finding counter comparisons is ultimately how Pomeranz discuses in this truly world historical narratives.

The first concepts that Pomeranz discusses, and pushes back on, is this idea of perception in terms of European excellence and the reality of Asia’s equality of excellence. For example perceptions about life expectancy, birthrate/death rates, markets, and technology all become sites of similarity rather than differences in the history of both these regions (32-68). Pomeranz reviews the technology arguments of European “excellence” stating, “In many areas, various non-European societies remained ahead. Irrigation which we have already mentioned, was perhaps the most obvious; and in many other agricultural technologies, too, Europe lagged behind China, India, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia” (45).  Ultimately, Pomeranz goes about his findings by debunking narratives of European “excellence” into a narrative of European and Asian connection.

The second argument, Pomeranz debates is the idea of  notions of Europe having “special” institutions. Pomeranz states, “Far from being unique, then, the most developed parts of western Europe seem to have shared crucial economic features—commercialization, commodification of goods, land and labor, market-driven growth and adjustment by households of both fertility and labor allocation to economic trends—with other densely populated core areas in Eurasia” (107).  Again there are more comparable historical realities than difference in the narrative of world history. Pomeranz also discusses this in comparing economic realities stating, “Europe did not stand out form China and Japan…Thus, at least so far, we would seem to have similar conditions in these three societies for the emergence of the new kinds of firms that we generally think of as ‘capitalist’” (165). Again, Pomeranz draws upon the similarities of capitalism between countries rather than the played out Eurocentric narratives of capitalism being a distinct feature or derivative of Europe.

The last unit of analysis for Pomeraz is the ecological and industrial side of the historical narratives. Pomeranz states, “It was through creating the preconditions for those flows [‘New World resources’] that European capitalism and military fiscalism—as par of a larger global conjuncture—really mattered” (207).  This stream of resource accumulation is discussed in terms of “shared constraints” by both Asia and Europe (211).  An example of one of these shared constraints is deforestation. Pomeranz discusses the similarities in the ecological arguments of difference; stating, “China’s problems with forest cover and fuel supply were more serious, but probably not as bad as we often think, and—surprisingly—not clearly worse than those of western Europe”(227). This narrative debunks old notions of unique attributes given to Europe.

One critique that I did have was in the limited regions Pomeranz focuses on in the historical narrative he offers. Although Pomeranz does try to discuss different regions of Asia and Europe, he is still stuck in the Europe vs Asia binary of world history story.  Overall, positives out weigh the negatives in this historical offering.  Pomeranz drives home his main point in the end of his monograph asserting, “History is never as neat as the chimpanzee/human case…Instead, we have statements of rough similarity, or of advantages that seem closely tied to some off-setting disadvantage” (280). Moreover, I would suggest this more exhaustive and inclusive historical narrative to historians and anyone who is tired of the same old Eurocentric narratives.

10/10

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american literature, feminist studies, history, history of the united states, History of the US, humanism, Inspiration, short story, Uncategorized, women and gender studies, world history

Book Review: Velma Wallis, “Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival (Harper Perennial, 1994), Pp. 128.

old ladies .jpg

 

Forgiveness…Patience…Unconditional Love…. These are all the themes Wallis brings forth through this remarkable tale of two women. What I want to do in this book review is give brief highlights of each chapter and then give my recommendations!

About the Author, Velma Wallis: “born in 1960 in Fort Yukon,  remote village of about 650 people in interior Alaska…Wallis later moved to her father’s trapping cabin, a twelve-mile walk from the village. She lived alone there intermittently for a dozen years, learning traditional skills of hunting and trapping…” (128). This story is a tale her mother told her that she has added some of her own flavor too.

Introduction: In the intro. Velma Wallis is recounting how she came upon the story of the two old women. In Alaska, where she is from, her family had a story that had been pasted down from generation to generation. Wallis states, “This story of the two old women is from a time long before the arrival of the Western culture, and has been handed down from generation to generation, from person to person, to my mother, and then to me…This story told me that there is no limit to one’s ability—certainly not age— to accomplish in life what one must” (xvii).

Chapter One: In chapter one were learn of a band of Native Americans in Alaska that are suffering from starvation and a harsh winter. Wallis refers to these people as “nomads were The People of the arctic region of Alaska” (1). In this band there were two old women who were basically taken care of by members in the band.  These two characters are the main characters of the story.  Ultimately, the band decides to leave the women behind, due to the lack of starvation and devastating winter conditions— they felt it was best for the band. So they decided to leave the elderly. The two women were heartbroken and in shock.

Chapter Two:  In chapter two the women are hopeful at least to give it their all to live rather than to sit and die. not trying at all. Tenacity and perseverance are other themes that permeate this story. The strength of these women is were the story begins to head.

Chapter Three: Chapter three thus becomes about mobility and creating a counter narrative that involves persistence and women working together to overcome obstacles and survive.  This narrative of women helping women to rise up and not giving up on one another is a contradictory narrative to Eurocentrism, deterministic and individualist narratives that are so common in history.

Chapter Four: The two old women make it to their destination and remember when they were younger how old women were left behind. By persisting, these two old women were breaking the chain of being left to die and dying they were surviving. Wallis writes, “the hunting skills they learned in their youth reemerged and each day the women would walk farther from the shelter to set their rabbit snares…” (63). The way that these women survived was by remembering how to take care of themselves—they were not hopeless even though The People had deemed them to be.

Chapter 5: Chapter five the two women begin to create their own society and new way of life but there was still something missing. The author writes, “soon the women fell into a daily routine of collecting wood, checking rabbit snares, and melting snow for water. They sat evenings by the campfire, keeping each other company” (83). But even so they were growing lonely…

Chapter 6: At this point The People are still struggling and did not transcend from a place of surviving to thriving. Instead they are struggling and turn back to the place where they had abandon the two old women (85). Wallis states, “The People were suffering, and this winter found them on the verge of hopelessness” (86).  As they returned to the place where they had left the old women the chief notices that something is off, so he sends someone to check and look around for the old women. The birch tree had strips off of the trees and this lent a clue to The People that there was someone, maybe another band, but regardless there was someone else out there (90).

Chapter 7: The two old women hear their names being called and decide to stand ready to be found. They are afraid of The People now but know they will be found. What becomes blatantly clear at this point in the tale is the themes of  transformation and strength. The two women, coming from a place of rejection, are now re-envisioned. Understandably, both the women are apprehensive of The People coming and finding them and taking all their took.  They set boundaries and limits to being discovered and how they now felt about their band. 

Chapter 8: The final chapter deals with respect. Wallis writes, “in this time of hardship the news of their [the two old women] survival filled the band with a sense of hope and awe” (112).  They are not just some old women. They are survivors and individuals to look up to and respect. “The People had thought themselves to be strong, yet they had been weak. And the two old ones whom they thought to be the most helpless and useless had proven themselves to be strong” (115). This speaks volumes to the way society not only sees elderly persons but women also.  This tale re-writes that narrative. Wallis states, “after everyone had been reunited, the chief appointed the two women to honorary positions within the band…they enjoyed their newly found independence. So The People showed their respect for the two women by listening to what they had to say” (122). Again, this is a different narrative and the two old women become an allegory for not only older women but any age of women.

I would recommend this to just about anyone. Some subjects in particular this book may pertain too may include but not limited to: women and gender studies, history, feminist studies, cultural theory/history, and social studies. This would be a great book for children as well as college students. Its expansive nature makes it a wonderful piece of literature.

10/10

 

 

feminist studies, history, history of africa, history of magic, history of the united states, History of the US, religious studies, spirituality, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Chireau, Yvonne P., Black Magic:Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkley/Los Angels/London: University of California Press, 2006), Pp. 222.

small black magic.jpg

Coalescing religiosity and cultural tradition is an ever present reality in the history of  conjure tradition and practice of African Americans. Although Conjure practices are not relegated to African Americans, historians have located a direct lineage to the genealogical origin of conjure tradition and practice in Africa. The displacement of Africans, by way of the slave trade, opens up an aperture to discuss the mobility of  “slave religious tradition”(41).  Within this framework conjure was not only shaped by the slave trade but also was transformed by the diaspora of Africans in the United States. Chireau’s thesis states, “I have argued that African American Supernatural traditions, as dynamic products of black spirituality, are best understood within their actual social contexts”(151).  The author does an excellent job at contextualizing time, space, and social constructs that shape religious practices and legacy of tradition. Chireau also defines terminology in this book. For example Chireau defines conjure as, “A magical tradition in which spiritual power is invoked for various purposes, such as healing, protection, and self defense” (12). This is essential in understanding what the main point is of her book but also sets up the reader to read on and not have to stop to define terminology.

Chireau historicizes this subject by using wold history to propel her reader into a deeper understanding of how conjure’s tradition grew and shifted by region. The very nature of supernatural beliefs was as much apart of the Old World structure of African life as it was now for the New World that they had come into by force (33). Thus, the interweaving of history and culture is a fundamental aspect of conjuring history, practices and traditions. We cannot leave out the synthesis of Christian influence on African American spirituality that the author provides. Chireau identifies the early twentieth-century  and the “Eternal Life Spiritualist Church, founded in 1913 in Chicago,” as the  revival of the Spiritualist practices (114). These practices become apparent again in the late twentieth into the twenty-first century (139-140).

Interestingly, Chireau chronicles women within the conjure practice and traditional lineage as much as the men in this movement. Although there is a robust amount of women’s participation and representation the  question of why, women’s presence is so important, is neot addressed. The conclusion that can be made of these accounts are influenced by the statistics on slavery and the oppression that was felt by both women and men. As stated by Chireau, “the activities of such enslaved Conjure men and women have been well documented” (15). What the author does provide clearly is a clear picture of the female Conjure stating, “black female supernatural specialists were represented in a gamut of gender stereotypes in fiction and folklore, from the sinister, decrepit hag to the dangerous, bewitching mulatta. African American Conjure women inherited a legacy of powerful spiritual roles that had been instituted by their foremothers” (22).  Again, as for the specifics such as the “how” and the “why” of these women’s presence/practices, the reader may be left wanting more. I would recommend this to any reader that is interested in the movement of spiritual practices and black magic from Africa to the US. I would also recommend this to historians, women studies enthusiasts, and religious studies academics.

10/10