CAS Public Colloquium: Prasannan Parthasarathi - Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence 1600–1850

 Monday, 18/06/2012, 5 – 7pm

Centre for Area Studies | Thomaskirchhof 20, 1st Floor | 04109 Leipzig


Around the beginning of the 16th century, the economic, political and cultural centre of the world started to move from the East to the West, from Asia to Europe. For the past two centuries, from the time that Adam Smith published the Wealth of Nations in 1776, and indeed even earlier, historians have continuously endeavoured to determine the reasons as to why some countries are rich and others poor. An interminable series of variables have been put forward as the cause for the rise of the West: religion, politics, ecology, urbanization, demographics, marriage patterns, family structures, military organization, and even rationality and intellectual curiosity. While some historians view Europe’s statecraft, legal frameworks, property rights, commercial and educational institutions as conducive to promotion of economic growth in Asia, others give less importance to human agency. They prefer quantifying natural resources and ecology as a cause of lack of growth. In 2000 a landmark book by Kenneth Pomeranz, titled Great Divergence, re-visited the debate and conveyed China’s specificity within the grand narrative on economic divergence. 
 With his in-depth knowledge of the region in the early modern period Parthasarathi comprehensively discusses Europe (Britain and France), the Ottoman Empire, China and South Asia between 1600 and 1800. In highlighting the particularities of South Asia, he explains the trajectory of science, technology and economic growth in the region. Through bilateral and multilateral comparisons, the author calls attention to the similarities in political and economic institutions between the areas. Furthermore, in this seminal work, the author addresses the problems of the Great Divergence debate in three sections: Europe and Asia before divergence; the divergence of Britain; and the Indian path. It is carefully written and well-documented, with great focus given to new information and perspectives on Indian economic history. In exploring why Europe became rich, he explores the interesting similarities, rather than differences, with Asia as seen by the many features China and India shared with Europe relating to natural resources, institutions, science and technology, and the role of the state.


Biographical Note:
Prasannan Parathasarathi is an Associate Professor of History at Boston College, USA, where he has taught since 1998. His research interests include Modern South Asian history; British Empire; labor history; and economic history. In addition to his most recent book on global economic divergence between Europe and Asia, other topics of his publications include the global history of cotton production as well as the economic and social history of eighteenth-century South India.