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Beyond Guns, Germs, and Steel: European Expansion and Maritime Asia, 1400-1750

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Why did Europeans rather than other Eurasians build the world’s first global empires, extending a measure of control, however fragile and contingent, over the oceans of the world? This article suggests that the best place to find an answer to the question is not in Europe but in Asia. Europeans were not alone in creating overseas empires in the early modern period, but the Asian counterparts to the Portuguese, Dutch, and English Empires are little known. Focusing on two of those Asian examples—the Ya’rubi Dynasty of Oman and the Zheng maritime empire of China—the author suggests that although European technology did confer an advantage on European mariners, it was not an insuperable advantage. Asian powers could adopt and adapt European cannons, ships, and nautical charts and beat the Europeans at their own game. Indeed, he suggests, this intra-Eurasian borrowing is a key process of history over the longue durée.

Affiliations: 1: Emory University


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