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As children, many are taught that one person can make a change. If you set your mind to it, and stay determined and dedicated, you can make a difference in the world. Such ideologies stay with us as we age. Even in fiction, it is a strong notion. “The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche,” Sir Ian Mckellen says as Gandalf the White in, “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” This is an adaptation of what J.R.R. Tolkien originally wrote, but the meaning is absolutely the same. He is telling of two hobbits, miniscule in the grand scheme of things, and yet they are the sparks of a game-changing chain reaction.
This concept is so important because it has been proven throughout history. There are countless examples of one person’s actions making a difference. So it is only right that groups of people, working in the same ways, towards the same things, would have even greater influence in the world. This is clear in the the 17th century, when the world was changing, growing smaller as more of it was discovered. Globalization was the result of many small scale actions have a great impact on a larger stage. Everyday people are the reason that the world changed. This point is evident in the pages of Timothy Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. Relating historical anecdotes to analysis of the great painter’s works, Brook shows his readers how crucial the actions of now forgotten people, characters that were not famous or celebrated, were to the development of globalism. Peoples from all over the globe, from different continents and backgrounds, were responsible for the world becoming more and more connected, and even though this development would grow to see obstacles such as isolationism and nationalism, there would not be an absolute end to the rise of globalization, an undeniable connection of all peoples and cultures on this Earth.
In order to address the above argument, there is the necessity to ask, “What if…?” This question presents itself to every single living being, multiple times, everyday of their lives. To see the importance of every action that is presented, one must ask, “What if this did not happen?” This is most applicable to the influence that Native Americans had on globalization in the 17th century. There was a choice made whenever European explorers came into contact with a new group of American natives. That choice was whether to befriend them or conquer them. These decisions were made strategically by both parties. Dr. Brook recounts the experiences of Samuel Champlain and his warpath to Lake Champlain. Dealing with Natives in what is today New York, “Trade would pay for the costs of his [Champlain] exploration, but war would earn him the trust on which trade depended.” This type of debate took place among the Natives, in this case, the nations of the Mohawks, Montagnais, Hurons, and Algonquins. The point that Brook makes in bringing up this history is that in Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Officer and Laughing Girl,” the officer is wearing a hat, and this hat is proof that trade happened with these Native American tribes. Champlain found conflict with the Mohawks, but he formed alliances with the other named Native nations. The decisions of tribe chiefs to connect their people with these foreigners lead to the ability to continue expanding into America. This expansion and these alliances led to the explosion of the fur trade. Had it not been for the decisions of the American tribes to cooperate and coexist with Europeans, globalization would have been slowed in that part of the world. Vermeer would not have had a hat in his possession to paint into his work. It can go further than that, though. In Champlain’s journey to find a route to China, working with different tribes the entire time, he had to honor some spiritual practices in order not to offend his gracious hosts. Sometimes this forced his ambition to be leashed by the suspicions of the natives. On the eve of arriving to Lake Champlain, the party was checked by fortune telling, a divination by a Native shaman. Luckily for Champlain, the outcome was on his side, and the journey forged on. The fact that Champlain’s entire historical relevance, though at the time seemingly in vain (he failed at finding a route to China), rested completely on the whims of Native Americans shows how much these nations, as well as other Native nations, shaped the progress of globalization. Had they been less willing, had the Europeans been more hasty, history might have been delayed.
Moving across the Pacific Ocean, there is much that can be said about the Asian influence on globalization. China in particular was highly ethnocentric. They had every right to be, being the creators of great things like porcelain, fireworks, gunpowder, silk, and many other things. This ethnocentrism was the root of many occurrences. It is what caused China to look down on foreigners. Europeans had to fight to get their foot in the door of Chinese trade, and very few actually succeeded. Because of this, goods from China were highly valued; they were rare, and they came from what was thought by some to be the greatest nation of the time. A porcelain bowl is what Brook hones in on in Vermeer’s painting, “Young Woman Reading a Letter.” This porcelain is blue and white, a popular style that boomed in Europe. There were bootlegged replicas made within Europe, because everyone needed this symbol of refinement. If the copying wasn’t bad enough (it was near impossible to recreate the purity of true Chinese blue and white porcelain), the specimens coming from China were not even to Chinese standards. Less able artisans found a market for their work in the demand from Europe. Brook talks of Wen Zhenheng, a “connoisseur” in his time, but otherwise an everyday character. According to Brook, Zhenheng’s taste was much higher than that of the consumers in Europe. He would have looked down on the porcelain that was shipped to Europe. The views the people of China had of the outside world are why they preferred to keep foreigners out. The rest of the world was seen as underneath them, so what could anyone else possibly have to offer? This is what eventually led to the downfall of China. But that is later in history, towards the 19th century. Circling back, because they viewed themselves so highly, the rest of the world fell in line, idolizing their cultures and finer things. China’s contribution to globalization was instilling a fascination and desire for non-Western products in the European population, and therefore causing globalization to occur. The Age of Exploration was an entire age because of the desire to find an efficient way to get to, and hence trade, with China. Europe, in turn, brought something slightly different to the table.
In one word, the European part in globalization could be described as “ambition.” Imperialism was born out of globalization. Colonialism became a huge part of the world. And nearly every colony was owned by a European country. Even within the continent, there were countries trying to conquer and control other countries. Sometimes it worked, but other times it just resulted in rebellion. Such high competition in Europe caused people from different nations to always be at each others’ throats. This is evident when Brook explains the rivalry between Portugal and the Netherelands. Portuguese traders were the first to get their hands on porcelain from China. But soon, the Dutch took it upon themselves to obtain porcelain, one way or another. The first porcelain to arrive in Holland was in 1602, after a Portuguese ship was captured en route to its home, and instead taken to Amsterdam. This was not the only rivalry in Europe to speak of, nor was it the last clash between these two countries. But this competition, built from European ambition, is what truly drove the development of globalization. If Europeans had been as ethnocentric as the Chinese, they would not have seen the point in trying to find better trading routes. They would not have cared to discover more of the world, for what could they possibly be in want of from anyone else? However, this was not their attitude. Men from all over Europe sought better fortunes in lands beyond their borders. Exploration was glorified, and so the world became smaller as more people became dissatisfied with their homelands and the commodities of Europe. In these ways, globalization was fueled by Europe. The ambition of Europeans is what led to colonization, exploration, and everything else that skips hand in hand with globalization.
Yet another important group of people to recognize in this argument are Africans. While globalization was fueled by European ambition, it would not have been possible without the African continent and the people that inhabited it. Not only was Africa unconquerable on a large scale, it posed as a threat to the white man’s health. Because the inner lands were protected by tropical diseases, Europeans could only get a hold on Africa in port towns, where they traded on the coast. However, this did not stop African tribes from being brutal to enemy tribes. The slave trade was set up by tradition with Africans, and therefore it was customary for them to trade slaves with Europeans for other goods, and in some cases, services. The brutality that was inflicted by European slave masters on their ‘property’ was unprecedented, however. Nonetheless, while the rest of the world was racing to find trade routes, Africans kept foreigners literally at bay, and their contribution to globalization was in the formation of the Triangle Trade. The slave trade took off when plantation farming and commercial crops became the most important part of colonialism, and therefore many slaves ended up working for endless hours in the sun on a great plantation. Tobacco and sugar were eventually seen to be a way that the American colonies could be profitable, since there was no gold or silver there to mine. By the time these plantations were set up, there was a system to make every bit of land as efficient as possible; silver to fund everything came from South America, commercial crops came from the American colonies, labor came from Africa, and trade was set up with Asia. The puppet-master was Europe. Once again, this charade would have fallen through if it were not for the common day conflicts among African tribes that led to slavery. That was the part that they played, and globalization would not have been as successful or as rapid without slavery. Or, at least, it would have been very different, perhaps less discriminatory. Then again, perhaps not; pride and ambition can mask basic morality. However, the point is that Africans played a major role in this international connecting of all the continents, just as every other continent played their part.
There is this idea that people, everyday people, have no ability to change the world. There is a pessimistic view that you are never able to rise above “the man,” and you must take orders for your entire life with no hope of a better system. History has proven this pessimism wrong. Nearly every occurrence can be traced back to ordinary people, civilians, farmers, artisans, traders, anyone. There is a reason that we are taught to believe in ourselves and to pursue our dreams and try to change the world if we want to. That is because it is possible. There are examples of this all over Earth’s past, but Dr. Timothy Brook decided to use Johannes Vermeer to make this point clear to his readers. Vermeer’s Hat shows the audience just how small a symbol can be, as Brook picks out minor details in these paintings. However, the meaning and development behind that symbol could be as massive as a global movement. Through the historical examples that Brook takes Vermeer’s Hat through, it is obvious that any person’s actions could make a huge difference. One captain decided to overtake a Portuguese ship, and porcelain was delivered to Holland. One Native American chief decided to build an alliance in order to conquer an enemy, and eventually Lake Champlain was discovered, and current-day New York became more accessible to settlers. Everyday people made changes that made the world shift into the Age of Globalization. It is easy to believe that the major heads in history, kings and queens, dictators, conquerors, were the only ones calling the shots. But really, when you look closely, it is clear that the power to instigate change is in the hands of anyone, anywhere, anytime.
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