From Appalachia to China: banjos and the guzheng

Cultural Globalization is as important as political and economic globalization, and yet sometimes receives less media and popular attention.  It can also be a useful tool to introduce students to the idea of globalization. I have a colleague who teaches the “Introduction to International Studies” class at a local community college. He begins each class with a sampling of global music, such as West African fusion or Botswana jazz. He thinks that it helps to focus the students on the content of the class. Music is like food, a touch point that everyone shares, which can share as a place to start a conversation about globalization.

We’re all familiar with fusion music, which blends genres, but there are some truly unexpected combinations. Since I like bluegrass -and am studying Chinese- a colleague introduced me to Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn’s music, which combines the the banjo to combine with the guzheng. Their album is available on Spotify. …

Iran, COVID-19 and a pandemic


Sign to SARS memorial in Hong Kong

Canadian health authorities have announced a positive test for SARS-2-COV in a returning traveler from Iran. Yesterday, Iranian authorities announced two deaths from COVID-19. There are eighteen confirmed cases, which are spread across the country, and include a case in Tehran. It would seem plausible based on a the death count so far, and a case fatality rate of two percent, that there are over a hundred cases circulating in Iran. It is telling that one of the Iranian cases is a doctor, which suggests transmission within the health care system. Given that a case has appeared in Canada, which likely has fewer travelers than Iran’s neighbors such as Iraq, we can expect that health authorities will announce  new cases in these nations in coming days. Unfortunately, two of Iran’s neighbors -Afghanistan and Syria- are in the midst of civil wars, and have damaged health care systems. Sadly, the cases in these countries will likely first be detected in critical cases, which will make it unlikely that these countries can control community transmission. …

Ancient Migrations: the evidence of Oceania

Moai at Rano Raraku by Aurbina at Wikipedia Commons
Moai at Rano Raraku by Aurbina at Wikipedia Commons

In earlier post I talked about the fact that some places that appear remote -such as the Arctic- have long experienced globalization. Norse traders left their signs in the Canadian High Arctic centuries before Columbus, while an Inuit artist carved a small wooden statue  of a European visitor with a cross on its chest, and European style clothing. But a Chinese coin in the Yukon, and a Viking outpost in Newfoundland, Canada, are not the only relic of these ancient cross-oceanic movements of people and goods.

Perhaps no location on earth is as remote as Easter Island, an island located over 2000 miles to the west of South America in the Pacific. But there has long been evidence that before European discovery in 1722, the islanders had already made contact with the Americas, given that they cultivated sweet potatoes, a crop from the Americas. But now we have more direct evidence, in the genetics of the Rapa Nui, the indigenous peoples of Easter Island. A recent study has found that genes from the native peoples of the Americas entered the Rapa Nui population between 19 and 23 generations ago. In a sense this is unsurprising, because the Polynesians were such incredible travelers that they had settled remote islands throughout vast areas of the Pacific. If they could reach New Zealand -and the sub-Antarctic islands to its south, including the Antipodes- why not South America? If you are curious about learning more about these people -and their amazing navigation skills- please see Tom Koppel’s work, Mystery Islands: Discovering the Ancient Pacific. While people know about the strange statues of Easter Island, they may not be familiar with Nan Madol and other wonders. …

Book Review of Eric Cline’s 1177

"Abandoned Mine Town" by porbital at
“Abandoned Mine Town” by porbital at

Modern Western society is fascinated with the idea of collapse, particularly in the United States. People watch Doomsday Preppers, follow blogs on Peak Oil, and think about what their world would look like if banks failed. Even before the Club of Rome’s report in the 1970s, many scholars have long warned about modern civilization’s over-reliance on non-renewable resources, minerals and fuels. There is a faction within the environmental movement now that warns of collapse with such intensity that its members almost appear to desire it. When people talk about the collapse of a great civilization, they typically reach back to ancient Rome. In my class “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” course I use a blog post by Ugo Bardi called “Peak Civilization: the Fall of the Roman Empire,” which always sparks interesting conversations about energy in our modern world. …

Globalization and a new Fungal Disease

"Chest X-rays, 3D Image of lungs, Sagital Plane Image" by Praisaeng at
“Chest X-rays, 3D Image of lungs, Sagital Plane Image” by Praisaeng at

Valley fever (cocci dioides), a fungal disease in the Arizona, New Mexico and California, has received a great deal of media attention lately, with good reason. There have been over 20,000 cases documented, which likely is only a fraction of the total number of people infected. Tom Geoghagen of the BBC has a good piece on the disease, and the video interviews of the affected families are heartbreaking. In late June 2013 a judge in California ordered California to move inmates held in two prisons in San Joaquin in order to reduce their risk of contracting the disease, which made people living in local communities wonder if they should also move.  …

Nicaragua Dreams of a New Canal

Photo of the Panama Canal at Night by David Castillo
Photo of the Panama Canal at Night by David Castillo

In an earlier post, I talked about the United States’ declining influence in the Americas. I think that nothing may symbolize this as much as Nicaragua’s vote this week to grant a Chinese company a 50 year concession to build a canal across this country. The idea of a canal across Nicaragua dates back at least to the early nineteenth century. As David McCullough described in his magnificent book, The Path Between the Seas, Nicaragua was favored because it was closer to the United States, and Lake Nicaragua seemed to make the task of building the canal easier. After the Civil War, U.S. President Grant sent five expeditions to Central America to explore a route for a canal, most of which went do Nicaragua. But since it was the French who began the project -reflecting Europe’s influence in the hemisphere- proximity to the U.S. did not shape their choice, and they began work on the Panamanian isthmus. Although the project was headed by the French hero de Lesseps, the man who had built the Suez canal, his decision to build a sea level canal likely doomed the project from the start.   …

Cultural Globalization and Canada

Blue Ice Cave courtey of puttsk at
Blue Ice Cave courtey of puttsk at

I’ve recently been reading Michael Crummy’s Galore, which tells the story of generations of families (the Sellers and Devines) in a remote village, Paradise Deep, in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Newfoundland. The entire novel is characterized by bleak humor and beautiful language. It’s also not for those who might be scandalized by bawdy scenes. Father Phelan, for example, is a renegade priest who comes to comfort a widow haunted by her dead husband’s ghost, and stays to torture the phantom by making love to his widow. But what most struck me about the work is the extent to which it reflects cultural globalization, because Crummy was clearly inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Year’s of Solitude. This much would have been clear even without the quote from Garcia Marquez at the book’s start. The entire novel is patterned after the Colombian novelists’ classic book, including the conclusion. …

European Migration to Africa

Photo of Giraffe courtesy of Satit Srihin at
Photo of Giraffe courtesy of Satit Srihin at

It’s been hard to watch the financial crisis unfold in Europe, and to hear about how unemployment is affecting younger people though-out the continent. One of the powerful trends that has emerged from the crisis has been an unexpected form of migration, in which Europeans are traveling to developing countries for employment. One of the strongest examples of this has been in Portugal, which has deep historical ties to Africa and Brazil. The Angolan government has been welcoming skilled, young Portuguese immigrants with open arms. But other countries, such as Mozambique, are also seeing large numbers of Portuguese immigrants. As this video report from Al Jazeera makes clear, this is a powerful trend in Europe today. With the bad news out of Portugal this week, as the government scrambles to find new cuts, this trend will probably continue for the near future.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

What do you notice about this ad?

Advertisement from an airport in Ahmedabad, India

Some people say that with globalization, all the world is becoming the same. But take a careful look at this photo that my wife took of a lawnmower ad in the Ahmedabad airport in India. What do you notice about the text? The world really isn’t flat.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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