2nd essay - 1 Global History I- Derlugian, Ragazzi...

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1 Global History I- Derlugian, Ragazzi Extremely Long and Incredibly Painful: The Birth of Civilization Birthing a civilization is a lengthy, arduous process. It is impossible to discover how civilization emerged by briefly skimming a timeline or glancing at a world atlas—the answers can only be found in the culmination of numerous factors. What defined an early civilization? How did they change? Why did some take different paths than others, and what consequences did they face? To answer these questions, we must look at the impacts of irrigation and the barbarian dynamic. The first civilizations, along with agriculture, developed in the Fertile Crescent. However, the innovation that ultimately made civilization possible was not agriculture; rather, the key factor for the existence of early civilizations proved to be irrigation. Irrigation was first developed as a way to intensify agriculture. This was easy to accomplish in the rich lands of lower Mesopotamia, where irrigation only involved cutting through annually deposited silt mounds to let water flow down to the land below (McNeill 30). However, irrigation had an unintended side effect. Farmers could no longer afford to live at “comfortable distances” for the river valley of lower Mesopotamia, with its rich soil, guaranteed a population density that necessitated flourishing cultural exchange (McNeill 30). As this population density grew, increasing conflicts over land led to the rise of local authorities who divided the land into sections. Irrigation canals provided easily visible boundaries and “social formatting for the land” (Earle 71). Farmers who experienced increased productivity
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2 through irrigation, though, were also subject to the land tenure system now set in place by the ruling authorities, also known as the ‘caging effect’. Because of the sedentary lifestyle propagated through agriculture, farmers were bound to their farms by reluctance to leave, and thus easily taxed by local rulers. An administrative group then redistributed these taxes, the surplus of the economy, to create specialized members of society such as bureaucrats or priests (Diamond 90). Thus, staple finance as an “obligatory payment to the state” provided power to rulers in early agrarian societies (Earle 73). This conversion of surplus to specialization, like an agricultural siphon, was autocatalytic; the expansion of civilization was now one of “leapfrogging movements”, of huge growth and development (McNeill 65). One of these early civilizations was that of the Sumerians. Sumerian civilization was a
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This note was uploaded on 04/08/2008 for the course POLI_SCI 201 taught by Professor Derluguian during the Fall '07 term at Northwestern.

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2nd essay - 1 Global History I- Derlugian, Ragazzi...

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