The History of Globalisation

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the question of when the process of globalization actually began, with some academics arguing that it only really began in the modern era whilst others maintaining that it is a process almost as long as modern history.

One useful construct to think about is that purported by Thomas L Friedman who breaks the history of globalization down into three distinct phases:

  • Globalization 1 from 1492 to 1800
  • Globalization 2 from 1800 to 2000
  • Globalization 3 from 2000 to the present day

Globalization phase 1 was typified by the rise of the great maritime powers of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British as these countries explored and conquered the world expanding trade routes and introducing the regular interaction of people and ideas across countries and continents. Africa, the Americas and Asia were all ‘opened up’ during this phase ensuring a much freer flow of ideas and raw materials around the world. Just think of the types of things which were moved from country to country as never before – plants, animals, people (including human slaves), culture, religion, philosophy, scientific advances and even communicable diseases.

The best early example of the globalization of companies which typifies phase 2 would be the East India company which was basically an adjunct of the strength and power of the British Empire but which promulgated trade flows from and to Asia at levels never seen before in the history of the world. Since these early attempts at the globalization of companies, a multitude of truly global companies and organisations have grown up spreading their products and their influence to all corners of the globe.

The most recent and really fascinating period (phase 3) in this ongoing globalization story relates to the impact of technology and the way in which advanced technology has allowed people from all parts of the globe to be interconnected in a way which would have seemed unimaginable even 50 years ago. People are now relatively free to communicate across borders on all topics at relatively low cost and instantly. This development has unleashed enormous forces, the impact of which are still being analysed and debated but people, companies, institutions and governments have all been massively impacted by this phenomenon in a very short space of time.

The history of globalization is fascinating and complex and well worthy of further and extensive study.


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