HS-102 Readings

Modernization                                                    Prof. West

Modernization is the term usually applied to the idea that the modern world is a product of the changes resulting from the industrial revolution. The term encompasses not only industrialization itself, but all of the social and political impacts as well.

To place modernization in historical perspective we begin with a brief summary of a widely recognized theory concerning economic change. The time span of human existence is divided into three eras:

1. The Hunting and Gathering Era

2. The Agricultural Era

3. The Industrial Era

The process of change from the first era to the second is often referred to as the Agricultural Revolution, and the change from the second era to the third as the Industrial Revolution.

Each of these eras are usefully contrasted with each other in terms of the following parameters:

1. Surplus, specialization, and trade

2. Money and capital

3. Energy

4. Population

Hunting and Gathering

The Hunting and Gathering Era begins with the origin of the human species on earth, which according to the latest archeological information, was approximately three million years ago. Throughout that period, the process of change was relatively slow, marked by such significant achievements as the harnessing of fire for human use, and the domestication of the dog for use in the hunt. People were compelled by the limitations of food and other material resources to live in small groups and to move frequently in search of the means of sustenance. The periodic movement set limits on the accumulation of goods and capital. The primitive technology and the difficul tstruggle for survival severely limited the possibilities of an accumulation of a surplus of goods. This in turn allowed for little specialization beyond the roles defined by the biological differences between male and female. Specialization of economic tasks was very limited. Trade, which depends upon specialization, was therefore, also very restricted; and the additional productivity which arises from trade and specialization was not possible.

Trade between hunting and gathering societies was probably so limited that there was no need for money as a means of exchange. What little trade there was was handled through bartering. And capital goods consisted of a handful of tools and weapons, and temporary shelters.

Human energy was almost the only source of energy.

Population was severely limited by available resources. Although human beings had spread throughout the continents of the world during the food gathering era, small groups ranged far and wide across large areas and had little or no contact with other groups

It can be assumed that isolated groupsdeveloped separate and different cultures, and that cultural diffusion was very limited, although some similarities were bound to occur among people living in similar environments.

Political systems were limited in size as determined by a resource-population balance. They would have ranged in size from tribes of a few thousand individuals to the size of an individua lfamily.

The Agricultural Revolution

The advent of the agricultural revolution dramatically changed all of these circumstances. Around 10,000 B.C., in areas where certain grasses were observed to propagate through their seed, and where there was a consistent and abundant supply of water, food production or farming began. This new basis for the economy gradually spread throughout the cultivable areas of the world so that by the year 2000 A.D. the few surviving hunting and gathering societies were disappearing.

Productivity multiplied with agriculture and the domestication of animals. Over time and with favorable climatic conditions,a significant surplus accumulated. This freed some workers to do other than agricultural labor and to specialize in a variety of craft activities, producing goods which could be traded with other groups.

The resulting specialization increased the efficiency of production which then created a further surplus and a cycle of economic growth. As agricultural communities grew and multiplied in number,the possibilities for trade also increased. The volume of trade and the variety of goods exchanged were limited by the clumsiness of a system of barter.The ruling authorities of the different political jurisdictions of the ancient world responded to the needs of their subjects (citizens) by creating money.The prestige and power of the ruling authority, and the wealth of the community provided the foundation for the issuance of coins (or some other readily identified article) which could be exchanged for any of the goods-in-trade at a valuation usually determined by the marketplace.

The variety and amount of capital goods accumulated by an agricultural society included not only farm equipment and tools, but substantial and permanent shelters and specialized goods associated with the increasing variety of activities of a more sophisticated society. Farm surplus made it possible in certain favorable environments for cities to be established and maintained. Therefore, the capital accumulated was far in excess of anything associated with a hunting and gathering society.

The first civilizations in the river valleys of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China arose, because of the agricultural revolution. Associated with these civilizations were the first recorded writings, the beginnings of a historical record, the development of a class structure, and an accelerated accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. In short, the nature of human societies was fundamentally transformed.

The sources of energy available to farming societies are, in addition to human energy, the much greater energy of domesticated animals utilized for cultivation and transportation, wind energy harnessed by sailing vessels, and water energy through the use of water wheels. Technological advances in the harnessing of fire led to breakthroughs in metallurgy; the use of copper, then bronze, and later iron. Each of these advances contributed to more efficient use of energy sources, improved transportation, tools, and weapons, with accompanying increases in production and surplus.

There was also a substantial increase in population made possible by the agricultural revolution. Population levels in the hunting and gathering era are impossible to measure with any accuracy but they were assuredly only a tiny fraction of the 500 million people estimated to inhabit the earth by 1650 after 10 to 12 millenniums of the spread of agriculture around the world.


Just as there is a dramatic change in human societies as the agricultural era replaces the hunting and gathering era, so also are there equally profound changes wrought by the advent of the industrial era. Industrialization first developed in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was made possible by a variety of different factors.The temperate and humid climate of Europe and the existence of large, well-watered cultivable areas of land were the basis for the production of a food surplus that increased over the centuries as the forests were cleared. The Mediterranean Sea was the highway by which the technology and the knowledge accumulated in the ancient civilizations of the Near East was transmitted, through Greece and Rome in ancient times, and through the Italian peninsula during European medieval times. The Mediterranean encouraged extensive trade between Europe,and the Near East and North Africa, further increasing the surplus and stimulating the development of commercial institutions such as banking and insurance.

A time of troubles, involving famine, disease, and political instability, occurred in the 14th century. When recovery took place, Europeans were prepared to regain their commercial contacts with the Near East and Asia. By then, however, a powerful Ottoman Empire sat astride the old trade routes, preventing their re-establishment and motivating the Europeans to seek alternatives. The Portuguese discovered a route around Africa,and the Spaniards began the process of discovering the Americas. The resulting overseas exploration and expansion, emanating from western Europe, opened a world of new opportunities. European civilization discovered the "new" world and made contact for the first time with the other continents of the world.As European settlers moved overseas and began to exploit vast new areas, and as extensive trade developed with parts of Asia and Africa, unprecedented accumulations of wealth flowed to Europe.

After a period of competition and conflict between the western European nations bordering the Atlantic, England emerged, by the 18th century, as the principal beneficiary of the expansion, controlling the most productive overseas regions settled by Europeans, having the most complete development of commercial institutions, the most extensive overseas possessions, and the most powerful navy to protect its global interests.

England was also favored by the presence of extensive coal deposits, and many rivers, protected harbors, and a long,open coastline which facilitated delivery to the end-user. The forests of England were depleted by centuries of over-use, motivating a turn to coal as the primary source of energy. The development of the steam engine made it possible to pump water from underground mines. For these reasons, among others, England was the first nation to industrialize.

Improved agricultural methods increased the food surplus, freeing more people to engage in other activities. An abundant supply of cotton and the invention of labor-saving machinery in the textile industry greatly increased productivity. The use of steam engines powered by coal to drive the machinery made it possible to locate textile mills in the areas most convenient to both the material supply and the labor force.The resulting surplus enabled England to sell clothing and other textile products in great quantities to other parts of the world. There is, therefore,an unprecedented increase in the surplus and in the volume of trade. Specialization had reachedthe point where simple, one-step procedures could be carried out by unskilled workers. Although the laborer suffered the consequences, there was a great increase in productivity.

It is evident from the above discussion that there are a number of pre-requisites for industrialization. Among them are the necessity for a large accumulated surplus, and extensive trade, and a high degree of specialization accompanied by commercial institutions and a secure, efficient means of transportation. The volume and reliability of money must also increase as the volume of goods produced for trade increases.Industrialization, once begun, results in further substantial increases in productivity, surplus, and trade. A certain level of technological development is also a pre-requisite. It is undoubtedly no accident that the scientific perspective, and an objective approach to solving problems was becoming more widely accepted in 18th century Europe, and that this facilitated the many new innovations in agriculture, textiles, and transportation which were occurring at the time.

The utilization of coal as a source of energy opened up an entirely new and untapped energy source: the fossil fuels which had been accumulating in the earth by a slow geological process over millions of years. This was to be followed later by the utilization of oil and gas in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, the first phases of industrialization brought about vast increases in the energy supply, which with improving technologyand steam powered machinery resulted in unprecedented increases in production. In later phases of industrialization, the harnessing of electricity, and the scientific breakthrough leading to the development of nuclear energy opened further opportunities to multiply the sources of energy available to human civilization. New technology also greatly enhanced the ability to harness energy directly from the sun, or indirectly from wind and water.

The final basis of comparison betweenthe three economic eras, that of population, also reveals dramatic changes.At the beginning of the industrial era in about 1650 there were, as previously indicated, about 1/2 billion people on earth. It had taken three million years,when human-like beings are first estimated to have lived, to achieve that population level. Under the impact of industrialization, the population doubled to about one billion by the early 19th century, to two billion by the early20th century, to 3 billion by mid-century, to 4 billion by 1975, and to more than 6 billion by the end of the 20th century.

It is clear that industrialization is one of the prime movers of human events in modern times. It has, not only economic effects, but also very widespread social and political consequences. If one seeks to understand what has happened in human history over the past three centuries, it would seem to be essential to explore those consequences.So extensive are the effects of industrialization that the process of modernization,which we are exploring, can be explained in no other way.

HS-12 Readings

Historical Analysis