Book Comparison: Mark, Silverblatt, Linebaugh, Rediker

The books by Mark, Silverblatt, and Linebaugh and Rediker all put a very strong emphasis on the importance of presenting world history in a class sensitive way that acknowledges the difference between the poor, lower class, versus the powerful, hierarchy. This class sensitive approach varies some what between the three books, but the main focus of the authors is basically the same. All three books, Marks’ “Origins of the Modern World,” Silverblatt’s “Moon, Sun, and Witches,” and Linebaugh and Rediker’s “The Many-Headed Hydra” focus heavily on the class breakdown of history in each of their respective case studies.

Marks presents his class system by focusing mainly on the feudal system present in the “Old World” society, Silverblatt’s focus is more on class consistency, and later division after Spanish conquest, in the Andes, and, finally, Linebaugh and Rediker focus primarily on the introduction on slavery, and the expropriation of the Atlantic commoners. Silverblatt presents her history most effectively, focusing both on sexual class relations and capitalistic class relations both before and after the Spanish conquest of the Andes Mountains.

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Economically, Marks defines the “Biological Old Regime” in two ways; as an agricultural world and as a trading world (Marks 2002: 21). He also draws attention to the feudal system of governing used during the Middle Ages by the elitist upper class. This system of governing consisted of lower class serfs working for and providing the upper class rulers and lords with a surplus of food in return for the protection provided by the lords and hierarchy.

This system of governing was extremely class sensitive, and was reinforced by the agricultural revolution in which individuals, mostly the peasantry, learned how to grow their own food, and raise animals for food, creating an agricultural surplus. This surplus increased the amount of food available, and also gradually stimulated a change from hunters-and-gathers to a more stationary agricultural society (Marks 2002: 24). Also, this revolution spurned a larger increase in the gap between the lower class serfs, the agricultural suppliers, and the overlords, the upper class agricultural consumers.

Silverblatt, however, focused on the difference of Incan society before and after Spanish conquest. During the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire, Incan society was changed in three main ways. Before the Spanish arrival, Incan society was not divided among classes; everyone had an equal share in all aspects of life. Under Spanish colonial rule, however, those Incans who claimed to be of hierarchical decent formed a new upper class dominant to those individuals who were not of royal decent, similar to that division Marks refers to.

Also, when the Spanish arrived and viewed the Incan culture they viewed women as inferior to men because they viewed their responsibilities as lesser than those tasks that men performed. Because of this, Spanish rule established gender hierarchies favoring men over women, and preventing women from holding positions of leadership, which they once were entitled to (Silverblatt 1987: 150-151). Finally, before Spanish conquest, everyone was responsible for producing and harvesting their own goods. There were no lower class serfs who were responsible for supplying their overlords with provisions in repayment for protection.

After conquest, however, the Spanish brought to the Andes a new tributary system that incorporated new theories that those who were not of royal decent were responsible for supplying the hierarchy with a tax, in the form of agricultural goods or services, as a payment for the protection they were provided, another point made by Marks. The production of agricultural goods was no longer simply for personal support, but rather for trade on European markets (Silverblatt 1987: 125-126). Linebaugh and Rediker also focus on a similar class division, but in the Atlantic region as opposed to the Andean mountains.

The Many-Headed Hydra” focuses primarily on the expropriation of the lower class, which marked the beginning of capitalism. These expropriated workers were portrayed in two ways throughout the book. First, when docile and slavish, they were referred to as the hewers of wood and drawers of water. When portrayed in this manner, the proletariat was often forced into cooperation by the terrors inflicted on them by the upper class. The upper class, in contrast, viewed themselves as saviors to the expropriated who could no longer support themselves without the rights to land and property, once an inalienable right of everyone.

When the proletariat rebelled against the authority of the upper class, they were severely repressed and forced back into labor. The upper class elitist described the rebels as a “many-headed hydra,” made up of “food rioters, heretics, army agitators, antinomians and independent women, maroons, motley urban mobs, general strikers, rural barbarians of the commons, aquatic laborers, free thinkers, and striking textile workers” (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000: 328-329). These three case studies approach communicating history in a much different way than traditional high school text books and the media.

These books communicate their information from a non-Eurocentric point of view. Text books and media, however, often provide information from an elitist point of view. They portray the Americas and Europe as the dominant areas, and distribute blame to other countries wars and other major catastrophes. Marks, Silverblatt, and Linebaugh and Rediker all do a good job of concentrating primarily on reporting their case study history from both points of view, usually that of the elitist upper class and the proletariat.

Often, textbooks and media sources do not report history in an unbiased manner, but rather, in support of one side or another and report only the side of the story that they support. In this case, the presentation of history is often skewed and somewhat inaccurate. Marks, Silverblatt, and Linebaugh and Rediker all present their histories in a case-sensitive approach, but not all in the same manner. Silverblatt only concentrates on the South American regions affected by the Spanish conquest, and not an entire region like Linebaugh and Rediker.

Linebaugh and Rediker focus on the entire Atlantic region, which incorporated a much more global view of history than Silverblatt. Silverblatt did, however, thoroughly focus on gender relations in the Incan region before and after conquest. Silverblatt pointed out how women and men were equal before Spanish influence, and after conquest, women were lowered to a class just below men, similar to those class relations between men and women in native Spanish society.

Linebaugh and Rediker did not concentrate on any form of gender relations, but rather focused primarily on class relations developed through the implementing of race. Silverblatt’s case study presents the information in a non-Eurocentric manner, while also displaying class relations as sexual divisions and capitalistic divisions both before and after Spanish influence. This approach communicates the historical content better than either of the other two case studies we have looked at so far this year. In my opinion, Silverblatt makes the most easily understood and effective arguments of the four authors studied.