What factors have catalyzed developments in human civilization during the past millennium?
Throughout the past millennium, humankind has experienced vast developments that became instrumental to reaching its eventual current state. Although there is an understanding that humankind inevitably undergoes change as time goes by, various themes in world history have characterized the transformations that emerged during the past 1000 years. Such provides valuable insights on how humankind could possibly evolve as they continue to exist. The following themes have depicted developments in human civilization – the growth of empires, emancipation from oppression and permeation of foreign influence that has countered tradition. The constant desire of humankind to expand their utility has enabled the foregoing changes to take place, which are predominantly social, political and technological in nature.
Themes Characterizing Development in Human Civilization
The Growth of Empires
The first theme characterizing the development of human civilization for the past 1000 years is the growth of empires. Empires, having emerged as preferred modes of political organization involving the occupation of various lands, enabled significant changes in the social, political and technological landscape of humankind. As humans have gained the desire to acquire more land through its commoditization, they have inevitably figured in several conflicts with their counterparts not necessarily sharing their normative orientations. In other words, humans have figured in conflicts with one another the more they treated land as a lucrative commodity for economic enrichment. The growth of human consciousness towards economic development, albeit without the basic terminologies exemplified by the classical economics school of the 18th century, has given reason to the premise that land acquisition is a profitable enterprise. Of course, humans have figured in conflict against their counterparts living in the lands they are seeking to occupy. Such reality also served as a catalyst for change among humans involved – the necessity to develop defensive and offensive mechanisms have taken place within social, political and technological parameters.
Empires across Asia serve as key objects of study in world history that defined changes in human civilization. Historians have constantly defined Western Europe as the center of human civilization throughout the past millennium, in that said area has become home to those who have documented world history from 1000 AD onwards. Yet, studies on the Asian continent have become interesting cases attributing to the fact that it involves a part of the world that is relatively unknown prior to colonization. By analogy, colonization is a concept that finds a fitting place in the concept of growing empires, although such is a notion exclusive to Western Europe. Colonization is a Western European phenomenon that employs a systematic way of land acquisition involving areas not adjacent to the locations of the central governments of those involved in the process such as the New World in the 15th century, Asia in the 16th century and Africa in the 19th century. For the purposes of this section of the study, colonization does not find due coverage, with the focus tilted more towards the more basic notion of empire-building, which involves expansion starting from the location of central governments to adjacent areas.
The Ottoman Empire is an outstanding case involving Asia and parts of Eastern Europe that features political prominence rooting from religion – in this case, Islam. Originating from Muslim groups populating the eastern portion of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire emerged upon the consolidation of occupied territories in the Balkan Peninsula and present-day Turkey. The continued expansion of the Ottoman Empire featured its further development in the fields of trade and military operations, given its strategic location on the east of the Mediterranean Sea. The success of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleyman, known as “The Lawgiver”, provides clear reflections of its sophistication as a major political power during its time. The power of the Ottoman Empire under Suleyman and his immediate successors even became a noticeable feature in the eyes of Western Europeans, as accounted by the ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, who reported that Ottoman forces have nearly occupied Vienna in a siege in 1529.
Modern-day India is a prolific case of an area that has featured the growth of empires. From the 15th century onwards, the area known as India has featured a confluence of two major religious traditions – Islam and Hinduism. An interesting aspect on pre-colonial India, however, is the fact that religious openness has become a norm, for there is a substantial absence of records showing that conflicts based on differences in religion have ever happened. Simply put, expansion across pre-colonial India has found due characterization from the growth of political power among humans living in the area, which inevitably spurred contributions to civilization that are both structural (social and political) and cultural in nature. Babur, the Muslim founder of the Mughal Empire, has contributed to the development of pre-colonial India as a force to reckon in Asia, perhaps akin to that of Imperial China and Imperial Japan. Hailing from modern-day Afghanistan, which is geographically proximate to the Indian continent, Babur has successfully led his military forces to acquire lands eastwards from the location of their central government. The successful occupation by the forces of Babur of Delhi became the starting point for the Mughal Empire in asserting its influence throughout pre-colonial India. Although pre-colonial India has traditionally featured the dominance of Hindu adherents, Islamic influence over the area has never become a farfetched idea due to the proximity of traditionally Muslim areas such as Afghanistan, Persia (modern-day Iran) and the Middle East. Military sophistication brought Babur victory over his conquests in pre-colonial India, as he has accounted through his memoir Baburnama. Akbar, the grandson and successor of Babur, also revealed through his own memoir Akbarnama the fact that religious tolerance prevailed over India, particularly between Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Moreover, there is substantial evidence presenting that the Mughal Empire has interacted with Europeans way before the occupation of the United Kingdom (UK). The Portuguese Empire, which has occupied the area presently known as the state of Goa in India, have conducted trade activities with the Mughal Empire featuring products such as Chinese silk and other foreign items.
Emancipation from Oppression
Oppression has become a perennial feature of the history of humankind for the past millennium. The formation of the human consciousness of oppression emerged as a synthesis of differences arising from social, political and technological factors. Certain groups of people have derived their notions of superiority based on their social, political and technological features, which in turn have paved way for oppression to happen to other people who have become the receiving end of the exploitative measures driven by the interests of the oppressors. The feudal system, for instance, has exhibited the conception of social hierarchy that became prominent during the Medieval Period. At least three social classifications have existed when the feudal system prevailed – the nobility (including the monarchy), landlords and serfs, otherwise known as the peasants. Although the feudal system is a brainchild of the middle ages, it has found prolonged existences throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in relatively backward nations, at a time when other nations have already started to industrialize and adopt the consequent capitalist system.
France is a nation that has successfully sought to free itself from the feudal system expressly through the issuance of a decree abolishing it. The French Revolution, which has generated both domestic and international repercussions, paved way for the approval of the anti-feudal system decree. The abolition of exclusive rights to forests and hunting grounds of monarchs served as a strong statement of change that has leveled the playing field and sought for the flattening of the social hierarchy. Serfs no longer have restrictions to their rights to earn property rightfully and they can already gain employment in public office, in line with the avowed granting of rights to life, liberty and property to all the French people. In Russia, the massive exploitation of the serfs by the landlords have become a prevailing feature in its social landscape. Before the Emancipation Manifesto of 1861, it was common practice for landlords to use serfs to tend to their lands, even if it is against their consent. The fact that serfs do not have property rights prior to the Emancipation Manifesto clearly highlights how oppression brought forth by social hierarchy has taken place in Russia. With the Emancipation Manifesto, however, Russia was able to free itself from the archaic feudal system as well, which in turn has become instrumental to the eventual growth of the Russian economy towards the 20th century.
Foreign Influence Redefining Tradition
When humans expanded their frontiers further by going around different places across the world, the reality that different human traditions exist has become highly unsettling for some people keen to hold on to their traditions. The Great Divergence, being the defining phenomenon that differentiated Europe from Asia particularly between the 19th and 20th centuries has enabled Western influences to permeate those of the Far East. The predominantly traditional makeup of Asia has sought to both counter and adapt European cultural overtures, although the desire of Europeans to learn more about Asian culture has somewhat put pressure on traditionalists in light of movements promoting intellectual holism. Feng Guifen, for instance, has spoken about the need of China to open up towards Western knowledge, emphasizing on learning more about mathematics and other languages as a means of gaining long-term national prosperity. Feng attributed the desire of Europeans to learn more about Chinese culture as part of their inherent trait on learning openness, which he sees as a major factor that led to their prosperity. Al-Afghani criticized the divergence between “Islamic science” and European science”, as he aptly described the different views of the two factions on science, as a hindrance to the involvement of Islam as a religion promoting progress. Believing that such divergence is actually ironic, Al-Afghani noted that Islam “is the closest of religions to science and knowledge”. Mahatma Gandhi, on the other hand, rejected the notion of civilization imparted by the British colonizers of Indian by saying that it is only a tool used under the guise of morality for the real purpose of material gains.
Developments in human civilization have become possible through three prominent themes – the growth of empires, emancipation from oppression and greater reception to foreign influence. The vastness of the world has led to the isolation of humans living in different areas from one another, hence the emergence of different ideas and perspective relating to the social, political and technological aspects of their lives. Yet, with the increasing desire of humans to explore the world with their inherent knowledge and capabilities, it has become possible for humankind as a whole to develop its civilization through acceptance of the reality of diversity. Naturally, humans have rejected diversity because of the fear that what they hold as true may not apply in all cases. The hegemony of ideas that has characterized the phenomena of invasion, colonization and globalization eventually leveled out when greater acceptance ensued, which stands as a noteworthy characteristic that has defined developments in human civilization. Therefore, the past 1000 years have helped transform human civilization the way it is right now – generally open and receptive to new ideas amidst coexisting traditions that are only occasionally at conflict against one another, which is unlike the chaotic landscape of the past 1000 years characterized by closed-mindedness and strict adherence to tradition.
“A contrary view: Gandhi on the meaning of civilization” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, p.184.
“Afghani on science and Islam” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, p.183.
“Feng Guifen on the adoption of Western learning” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, p.182.
“From the Akbarnama” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, pp.69-70.
“Russian peasants: Serfdom and emancipation” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, pp.127-131.
“The decree abolishing the feudal system” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, pp.117-118.
“The reign of Suleyman” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, pp.60-64.
“The rise of the Ottoman Empire” in Stearns, P. S., S. S. Gosch, E. P. Grieshaber & A. S. Belzer (Eds.). Documents in World History Volume 2: The modern centuries from 1500 to the present. (6th edition), Pearson, 2012, pp.59-66.