This book challenges one of the most pervasive and powerful beliefs of our time concerning world history and world geography. This is the doctrine of European diffusionism, the belief that the rise of Europe to modernity and world dominance is due to some unique European quality of race, environment, culture, mind, or spirit, and that progress for the rest of the world results from the diffusion of European civilization. J.M. Blaut persuasively argues that this doctrine is not grounded in the facts of history and geography, but in the ideology of colonialism. It is the world model which Europeans constructed to explain, justify, and assist their colonial expansion.
The book first defines the Eurocentric diffusionist model of the world as one that invents a permanent world core, an "Inside," in which cultural evolution is natural and continuous, and a permanent periphery, and "Outside," in which cultural evolution is mainly an effect of the diffusion of ideas, commodities, settlers, and political control from the core. The ethnohistory of the doctrine is traced from its 16th-century origins, through its efflorescence in the period of classical colonialism, to its present form in theories of economic development, modernization, and new world order. Blaut demonstrates that most "Western" scholarship is to some extent diffusionist and based implicitly in the idea that the world has one permanent center from which culture-changing ideas tend to emanate. Eurocentric diffusionism has shaped our attitudes concerning race and the environment, psychology and society, technology and politics.
Blaut presents persuasive evidence that Europe was not more highly developed that other civilizations prior to 1492, and had no unique "potential"--intellectual, social, or environmental--for modernization. He shows that the "rise" of Europe over other world civilizations occurred because of the wealth obtained in early colonialism, mainly in the mines and slave plantations of the Americas. He then argues that the European conquest and exploitation of the Americas resulted from the fact that Europeans were geographically closer to the Americas than were African and Asian maritime-oriented civilizations, and that the conquest itself was facilitated by the great epidemics of Eastern Hemisphere diseases which decimated the populations and destroyed the civilizations of the "New World.
"No scholarly book could possibly be totally new or original in this era, but Blaut's powerful and tightly focused opus comes close in the way he has marshalled and distilled a vast array of literature and evidence and the vigor and rigor with which he has pursued his central theses--propositions of unusual intellectual significance and timeliness. I find his argument quite persuasive and potentially mind-altering....This is a work with truly revolutionary implications, a badly needed recasting of our badly flawed, conventional First World vision of ourselves and the thrust of modern history. This could come to be regarded as a landmark achievement." --Wilbur Zelinsky, PhD, Penn State University
"This is a dogmatically written, occasionally outrageous, and absolutely spellbinding book. It is a strongly argued, alternative interpretation of the basic causes for the rise of the west to the hegemonic position it has occupied for perhaps five centuries....It is a major contribution to the debate now coming to the fore in the field. It makes its contribution through a merciless critique of mainline theories, by its selective synthesis of subaltern scholarship (both theory and piecemeal empirical evidence), and by its integration of whatever evidence exists to support this alternative position....I would plan to recommend it to my students as highlighting many of the controversies of the field and as representing an exaggerated version of one possible position." --Janet Abu-Lughod, Ph.D., The New School for Social Research
"Will add excitement to courses in world history and self-critical Western Civilization and European history courses. I have adopted this provocative new book for my graduate colloquium on theories of world history and think that undergraduates too would enjoy Blaut's clarity of analysis and passionate writing. He depicts Eurocentric diffusionism as a pernicious ideology justifying European and United States colonial and neocolonial domination of the rest of the world. His largest chapter refutes 'the myth of the European miracle,' the decisive superiority that Western Europe allegedly had achieved independent of outside help. Blaut, a historical geographer, has assembled a wealth of evidence for many parts of the world both for the long period before 1492 and for the transitional period of 1492 to 1688. As one who has taught European history since the early 1960's and world history since the late 1980's I enthusiastically welcome this exciting book which challenges and explains assumptions about European superiority." --David M. Fahey, Miami University -Adopted for Theories of History (World)
"Jim Blaut has written an exciting book that successfully challenges conventional Eurocentric diffusionism. The text is very accessible and is well documented with numerous concrete historical examples. The book is very popular among the students that I teach." --Daniel Weiner, Associate Professor of Geography, West Virginia University
"My students are enthralled by the accounts in the book of the participation of other regions of the world in the making of modern world history. The book is easy to read without the need for much prior knowledge. Nearly a quarter-century after its publication, the book's themes are just as relevant--if not more so--for helping us understand the process of globalization today."--Sing C. Chew, PhD, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ Leipzig, and Humboldt State University
"...Attributing European supremacy, in part at any rate, to something resembling chance - Blaut throws down the gauntlet to those still coddling the model of an Inside/Outside world [his language] waiting to be 'modernized' and saved from itself." --B. Marie Perinbam, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland
"Blaut could offer us sound leadership, in heeding Chaudhuri's (1990:43) sound admonition that 'the ceaseless quest of modern historians looking for the 'origins' and roots of capitalism is not much better than the alchemist's search for the philosopher's stone that transforms base metal into gold' -and still less to look for them under a proverbial lamppost in European history, when most of the gold was, and still is, to be found elsewhere in the world." --Andre Gunder Frank, Faculty of Economics, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands