In Chapter 13 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond discusses how geography lays a role in the evolution of technology. How does he account for the differences between the Americas and Eurasia in regards to technology?
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In Chapter 13, (on p. 261 in the paperback edition) Diamond argues that there are three factors that “led straightforwardly to the observed intercontinental differences in the development of technology.” Those factors are the time when the continent started having food production, the barriers to diffusion, and the human population. All of these, in Diamond’s mind, are caused by geography.
Eurasia, Diamond argues, was much better for food production in ancient times than the Americas. It had more animal species that could be domesticated. It had more plant species that could be domesticated and used for food and clothing. That is one reason it came to have agriculture before the Americas and it is one reason why its agriculture was more productive.
Because of this, Eurasia had a much larger human population. Diamond shows in Table 13.1 that, even in 1990, Eurasia’s population was more than 5 times larger than that of the Americas. If there are more people, there are more potential inventors and innovators.
Finally, geography allowed agriculture and technology to diffuse more quickly in Eurasia. On p. 262, Diamond mentions that the Isthmus of Panama, with its rain forests, and the northern Mexican desert split the Americas and make it hard for crops and technology to move from place to place. This is also harder because the Americas’ axis is north-south, not east-west.
All of these geographic factors made Eurasia come to have more technology than the Americas did.
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