Bin Yang correctly states that cowrie shells (250 species) and cowrie monies (two species mostly) deserve far more attention in global histories than they have received. He provides the most comprehensive view of the global history of cowries and cowrie monies to date. Multiple shell monies proliferated worldwide, but they did not concentrate within China (except Yunnan) nor within Europe. Why did specific cowries accumulate only in certain specific geographical locations? Yang establishes a general answer: cultural preferences for holding specific objects, including specific monies, determined where the shells were concentrated. He offers global evidence that, I argue, contradicts mainstream economic theory, which is based upon conceptual aggregation of diverse monies into amorphous stocks of (national or regional) money (singular). Yang demonstrates repeatedly that distinct market locations and distinct market prices existed for specific cowrie and other shell monies (plural) throughout global history. His evidence starkly demonstrates inadequacies of mainstream monetary theory (although he does not say as much). The relentless evidence of the existence of monetary disaggregation, evidence highlighted throughout Yang’s volume, demonstrates an urgent need for alternative monetary theories that portray prices and stocks of individual monies in conformity with empirical evidence provided by archival historians.
This essay analyzes one of the main elements of the economic relationship between China and colonial Latin America: the Chinese Silk Road. The road demonstrated a bipolarity of early globalization, and its impact across the Pacific enhanced the material culture of Hispanic American society from Mexico to Buenos Aires. The route of circulation was largely informal, due to prohibitions imposed by metropolitan Spain designed to guarantee the growth of European economic connections across the Atlantic Ocean. Quality variations and affordable prices made Chinese silks among the most valuable articles in Latin American markets before the nineteenth century, when British-Indian cotton emerged as the main textile of the global era.
This essay traces the path of empires and nations as forms of governance, the eventual predominance of nations and disappearance of empires, and the contemporary interplay of large and small nations as the dominant form of global governance. It also gives attention to the rise of capitalist economic organization as a factor expanding empires and later encouraging nationhood. The essay emphasizes two stages in the emergence of nations: the emergence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of nations and eventually of the great powers, and the post-1945 emergence of nations as the universal form of government, consisting mostly of small powers, linked by the United Nations.
This article presents evidence from archival sources that allows us to reconstruct the commercial networks that permitted the continuous flow of silver and gold from northern New Spain to Asia during the early modern era. These networks obtained various consumer goods – fabrics, spices, porcelain – that were then introduced into Spanish American markets. The narrative follows the bullion through its journey from the production center in San Luis Potosi to the Pacific and Asia. This vantage point contributes to the construction of a polycentric view within the framework of global history by assessing the role played by the American and Asiatic possessions of the Hispanic Empire in the first globalization. Using a methodological framework provided by social network analysis, the article presents a study of two commercial networks based in New Spain and extending to the Philippines and Peru. The essay underlines the role merchants played in mobilizing precious metals to accelerate exchanges and generate extraordinary profit margins.
This article examines how international military finance operated in the Dutch Republic between 1688–1714. The region’s unique urban geography in which the political and financial infrastructures crucial for military financing were geographically dispersed created stresses and strains. These inconveniences were overcome due to the Republic’s excellent intra-urban infrastructure – creating fast and reliable communication between the different urban centers – and their reliance on (semi-)private agents, the solliciteurs-militair. As a result, the urban system created a level of flexibility: credit for military purposes could be found both in The Hague and Amsterdam, rather than having to rely on a single city as was the case in London. This focus on the urban has broader historiographical importance because recent scholarship on early modern war and state formation is increasingly questioning whether the focus on political and financial centralization is necessarily the best way to understand these processes.