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  • Hi, I'm John Green.

  • Welcome to Crash Course Big History.

  • Today we're going to look at the modern revolution.

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green!

  • But what does modern even mean?

  • I mean, I know that fax machines

  • and Super Nintendo are modern, but, like, people used to think

  • that toilets that flushed were modern.

  • That's actually a pretty perceptive question,

  • me from the past.

  • So, if we're going to talk about modernity,

  • we should probably define modernity.

  • But first, I have great news.

  • There is a future me from the past

  • where video games are so much better than Super Nintendo.

  • In fact, this machine plays 24,000 games

  • and it's in the office of future you.

  • What were we talking about?

  • Oh, right, modernity.

  • So, some historians date the beginning of the modern era

  • with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution

  • in the 19th century.

  • Some date it to the French Revolution in 1789.

  • Some push it further back

  • to 16th and 17th century European colonialism.

  • And some date modernity with the European Renaissance

  • and call anything past the year 1500 "early modern."

  • But through aBig Historylens, all of these are just signs

  • of acceleration in human collective learning,

  • which was already underway and took its first tiny steps

  • in East Africa 250,000 years ago.

  • Then again, it would be silly

  • to call the first human foragers "early-early-early modern."

  • So for the purposes of today, let's say:

  • With an acknowledgment that it's all a little bit arbitrary.

  • And I know what you're wondering,

  • but no, 1750 was several decades

  • before the first flushing toilets.

  • So last week, we looked at how collective learning--

  • which relies on population numbers and connectivity

  • to produce new ideas-- grew by leaps and bounds

  • with the introduction of agriculture.

  • By the year 1400, the human population

  • had advanced magnificently, but the world was still divided

  • into four isolated world zones: the Americas, Australasia,

  • the Pacific, and Afro-Eurasia.

  • From aBig Historyperspective,

  • what makes the European explorations worthy

  • of a place in an episode called "Modern Revolution"

  • is that they eventually united all four world zones

  • into a global system.

  • But why did the Europeans feel so motivated to expand?

  • Well, a lot of reasons.

  • One, Ottoman dominance of overland trade routes with Asia,

  • particularly after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453,

  • made Europeans seek alternative routes to the populace

  • and rich lands of the East.

  • Two, European states were fairly small compared to some

  • of the vast empires of Asia and needed to compete

  • for more resources to fuel their almost-constant wars.

  • And three, the fruits of exploration

  • undoubtedly had positive effects,

  • whether it be the many advanced inventions

  • and consumer goods imported from China

  • or the spices of India and Indonesia,

  • or crops from the Americas.

  • That last one should not be underestimated.

  • Crops like the potato-- which earned the nickname

  • "ready-made bread" because it was easy to prepare--

  • combined with maize and squashes and tomatoes

  • and various yams allowed farms in Europe

  • to support more people.

  • This was also good for Asia,

  • where those crops were introduced in the 17th century.

  • And let us not forget about the vast amounts of silver

  • that the Spanish "acquired" from the Americas

  • or the many cotton, tobacco, and sugar farms

  • that Europeans bolstered their economies with.

  • The unification of the world zones

  • also had many, many negative effects.

  • For instance, it was terrible for people who worked

  • on those cotton and tobacco and sugar farms.

  • Europeans increasingly relied on African slaves,

  • the first of whom were granted to the Portuguese

  • by African rulers, and then, you know, several centuries

  • of horror ensued with an incomprehensible number

  • of African slaves dying in the appalling conditions

  • of the Atlantic crossing.

  • Life was also pretty miserable

  • for the slaves that survived the journey

  • and generations of their descendents.

  • Also, because Afro-Eurasia was a modestly connected

  • thriving cesspool of disease,

  • Europeans had developed many immunities.

  • When they started arriving in the previously isolated Americas

  • in the late 1400s and 1500s, the indigenous inhabitants

  • had no immunity to those diseases.

  • This resulted in one of the most horrific events

  • in human history.

  • A cocktail of various European diseases, most notably smallpox,

  • killed off an estimated 50 million people

  • in the Americas in little over a century.

  • A similar tragedy played itself out in Australia

  • when Europeans started arriving there in the 18th century.

  • Now, along with all this horrific stuff,

  • the unification of the world zones was, nevertheless,

  • a good thing for collective learning,

  • which would eventually prove our salvation in many ways.

  • Which is why people can now look at this on their smart phone.

  • Anyway, the unification of the world zones did not

  • in itself lead to a breakthrough

  • in the way humans harvested matter and energy.

  • The last major shift happened with the arrival

  • of agriculture 10,000 years prior.

  • The colonizing European societies of the 16th, 17th,

  • and 18th centuries remained agrarian.

  • But the explorations did allow for a network of exchange

  • that eventually did lead to a major breakthrough

  • in how humans harnessed more energy and produced more

  • and more cultural complexity:

  • The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain,

  • as they'll be happy to tell you, in the 18th century.

  • But it was a global revolution involving collective learning

  • shared across the global system.

  • But a number of innovations that kickstarted industry

  • originated in Britain, like the more intensified use

  • of steam engines or the use of coke to refine metal.

  • Not that Coke-- yeah, that coke.

  • Also, they invented many textile machines

  • and Britain had lots of coal and it was relatively easy to mine.

  • Thank you, trees that died hundreds

  • of millions of years ago.

  • We're going to turn you into industry.

  • And smog.

  • But all those British breakthroughs

  • wouldn't have been possible without a huge global network

  • of trade that supplied raw materials like cotton

  • and that opened new markets

  • where Britain could sell its goods.

  • And it wouldn't have been possible to expand that network

  • of trade in the first place without gun powder

  • and the compass, which both came from China.

  • The methods of porcelain manufacture

  • that were important to the Industrial Revolution

  • in Britain also came from China via Germany.

  • And the improved methods of farming,

  • which freed up many British farm workers

  • for industrial wage labor in the cities came

  • from Flanders in the Netherlands.

  • Early designs for steam engines came from 18th century France,

  • and much of the designs for these machines depended

  • on mathematics preserved and transmitted

  • by Islamic and Hindu civilizations.

  • So up until the end of the 18th century,

  • virtually all production in human history was propelled

  • by human or animal muscle power, or else by wind and water power.

  • But it turned out the coal and oil had stored energy

  • from the sun that had built up over hundreds

  • of millions of years.

  • And using those resources dramatically increased

  • the energy that humans could harness.

  • Huge numbers of goods could be produced by factories

  • at relatively low prices which meant that over many decades,

  • goods that had previously been seen as luxuries

  • by common people were suddenly viewed as necessities.

  • By the 1900s, most Europeans enjoyed a standard

  • of living higher than the kings of the Middle Ages.

  • Coal and oil also allowed mechanization of agriculture,

  • which raised the carrying capacity,

  • increasing the population.

  • And new modes of connectivity beginning with the telegraph,

  • and then later, the telephone,

  • increasingly bound the human species together,

  • allowing for swift and rapid exchange of ideas.

  • For 250,000 years, if I wanted to tell someone

  • who lived 100 miles away from me something,

  • it took me days to do so.

  • For the last 100 years, it's taken me seconds.

  • Because a slight tweak in modes of production

  • in the 18th century and the adoption

  • of fossil fuels lead to an explosion

  • of productivity and invention in the 1800s and 1900s,

  • people often compare the Industrial Revolution

  • to the Cambrian explosion about 540 million years ago.

  • Remember:

  • In the Cambrian explosion, that evolutionary change

  • was biological.

  • In the Industrial Revolution, that increased pace

  • of change was cultural.

  • Consider bike design.

  • In the 1800s, there were many, many different designs

  • for bikes, some of which look amazingly, terrifyingly unsafe.

  • In the beginning of innovations for bicycles,

  • a huge number of designs filled all of the available niches.

  • Eventually, those designs started competing

  • with each other and a few forms won out.

  • You've got the road bike and the mountain bike and the BMX bike.

  • Just a little bit different variations of the same thing.

  • Another example is the adaptive radiation of electronics.

  • Take a look at all the stuff you needed in the 1980s

  • to do what your average cell phone can do today.

  • And that was only a few decades ago.

  • Many new ideas sparked an increase in the human standard

  • of living and the complexity of societies

  • in tons of different ways.

  • The explosion of cultural evolution

  • that started 200 years ago has yet to cease.

  • The Cambrian explosion went on for millions of years.

  • The Agricultural Revolution proceeded

  • for thousands of years.

  • We're still right in the middle of the modern revolution--

  • maybe only at the beginning.

  • The huge shift in human activity and a rise

  • in complexity may continue

  • long after our grandchildren's lifetimes.

  • That is, so long as we don't do something stupid,

  • which, you know, withhomo sapiens,

  • is always a distinct possibility.

  • And let's not forget about the rise in complexity

  • that's been happening since the beginning

  • of the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

  • A star is essentially a pile of hydrogen and helium.

  • It's extremely simple.

  • By comparison, a brain that arose via biological evolution

  • is an intricate network of billions of connections

  • and building blocks.

  • Industrial society is an immense whirring global network

  • of millions upon millions of brains more closely connected

  • than ever before.

  • The products of this society raised complexity even further.

  • Bottom line is this, if the first part of this series,

  • which looked at the vastness of the universe,

  • made you feel insignificant, just remember that now

  • at the tremendous heights of technological progress,

  • humanity is, in terms of networks and building blocks:

  • And there's currently no end to the potential

  • for rising complexity in sight.

  • This brings us to a long-standing

  • historical question:

  • why did the Industrial Revolution happen in Britain?

  • Great Britain was certainly uncommonly well positioned.

  • That said, so was China.

  • So why didn't the Industrial Revolution happen

  • in, say, Song Dynasty China

  • between the 10th and 13th centuries?

  • So, we know:

  • And China has had both for a long time.

  • The medieval Chinese had much more advanced

  • agricultural methods than Europe.

  • They paid attention to weeding and growing crops

  • in rows and frequently used tools like the seed drill.

  • And they were doing it all centuries

  • before that stuff was even heard of in Europe.

  • In the 900s, the spread of wet rice farming

  • in southern China raised the carrying capacity even further

  • because rice fields simply produce more food.