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How military changes shaped geopolitics and the fortunes of states and civilizations

Jimmy Teng looks at the role played by technology on a macrohistorical scale examining the reasons for the success of Eurasia and the failure of the Americas, Africa, and Australia over the course of civilization

De Gruyter Open

Seventeen years have passed since the publication of Jared Diamond's groundbreaking Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies - a Pulitzer winning global account on the rise of civilization, which formed the foundations to explain European supremacy in conquering other regions from the sixteenth century onwards, and dismantled unreservedly the theories of racial superiority in vogue with many researchers.

But the question why Europe performed better and why it emerged ultimately victorious in the competition with other civilizations in the second half of the past millennium still puzzles economists, sociologists, historians and the general public. It is now Jimmy Teng's turn to contribute to the lively discussion on how the world became what we know today, in his Musket, Map and Money - released now fully Open Access by De Gruyter Open.

The same approach used by Diamond to illustrate how humans and environmental factors affect differing societies, can be used to paint a general picture of the pattern of human development over time. Teng, a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of Nottingham, UK, uses economic concepts to explain how changes in military technology accelerated the competition between states and their ramifications in world history. Military technology has shaped geopolitical structure and economic performance since the dawn of civilization. Moreover, changes in military technology are usually seen as a consequence of changing economic and political institutions. Now, Teng presents an interesting case that the causality goes the other way - performing an interesting analysis of how military and political competition drives innovation and economic growth. Admittedly, we only have to look as far as the contemporary sahelian nations to see how the diffusion of armament is reshaping the map of Africa. According to Teng, the destructive power of gunpowder made warfare more lethal and raised the costs of conflict. At the beginning of the early modern era, it was not clear which major Eurasian civilization would break free from the rough equilibrium among the other cultures to forge ahead and become the leader in knitting together different regions into a global system. In its broad sweep, the book looks at the role played by technology on a macrohistorical scale examining the reasons for the success of Eurasia and the failure of the Americas, Africa, and Australia over the course of civilization.

Jimmy Teng's book is an ambitious project, meshing technological finesse with broad historical vision. "It employs two conceptual threads to spin a web of analysis that snares the key developments in the Eurasian history" observes Prof. Leonard Dudley from Université de Montréal, and author of The Word and the Sword. One notion is the mass factor, developed in the theory of conflict to measure military scale economies. The other is the marginal effect of relative capability that measures the effect of an additional unit of relative military capability on the probability of victory.

This provoking yet erudite work is likely to become an important contribution to the literature on explorations in economic history and will be of interest both to scholars in the field and to world history enthusiasts seeking to understand the development and perpetuation of military technology in human societies. Or as Dudley concludes, "Musket, Map and Money is a polished, tightly-woven story of Eurasian civilization from the dawn of history to the present."


The book is available open access to read, download and share at: .

About the Author:

Jimmy Teng received an economics PhD from the University of Toronto, a political science PhD from Duke University, a statistics MS from Duke University and an LLM from University of London. He previously worked in Academia Sinica, the highest academic institution of the Republic of China (Taiwan). While in Academia Sinica, he also held joint appointments at the National University of Taiwan and National Sun Yat Sen University.

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