Article | February 7, 2022
Read more about `Review—Are port cities the keys that can unlock the history of globalization?`
Unlocking the World can sometimes feel like two histories patched together. One concerns globalization writ large, focused on the innovation of steam, while the other focuses on port cities and how they navigated and channeled this world. The distinction recalls Braudel’s parsing of the surface waves of history, on the one hand, and its deeper currents, on the other. Their relationship in this volume, however, can feel uneasy. The book’s attempt to wrestle with the whole history of global interaction can be inventive, but embraces such a broad subject that it can be unclear how much is meant as an argument of its own or as background. Either way, this broader lens serves as a necessary connective tissue for some of the book’s other sections, which focus deeply on port cities. This necessity calls into question one of Darwin’s main theses: that ports, being the sites where “steam globalization” passed most intensely, were also the sites through which such globalization could, therefore, best be understood. “The port city in Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas was the entry point through which poured the money, manufactures, ideas and people, as well as the physical force, that flowed out from Europe,” he asserts, “and through which it extracted the ‘returns’ of tribute, raw materials, profits and rents…The port city was where all the varied agents of globalization encountered a local society. We can see there in close-up the pattern of acceptance or of adaptation and resistance to change; the terms on which inland regions were drawn into the port city’s web; and how far it was able to re-shape the culture and politics of its emerging hinterland.” To what extent does such a lens really provide a window on globalization as a whole?