There is a fierce debate among scholars about when globalization began. The debate stems partly from the lack of a precise definition of the word. Some argue that globalization as a phenomenon began with the earliest human migratory routes, or with Genghis Khan's invasions, or travel across the Silk Road. Conquering empires throughout history resulted in the sharing of ideas, mixing of cultures and people, and trade across those conquered lands.
Regardless of the differing definitions, at its core, globalization is the exchange of ideas, capital, and goods across the world, driven by technology.
Where It All Began?
Some lay importance to the Age of Exploration, when Europeans in the 1400s set sail across the Atlantic, looking for shorter spice routes to China and India. Many mark the voyages of Christopher Columbus and other sea-faring captains for opening up commercial trade routes across the world as the beginning of globalization.
Other scholars view globalization as a far more contemporary occurrence. Many see it in its current form as a modern phenomenon, beginning no earlier than World War II. The term itself has been in common use since the 1980s.
Confusion also stems from the word's use as both a description of a practice and a political ideology—the latter is frequently used in a critical sense. Globalization is also frequently used as a synonym for the solidification and continual creep of American dominance throughout the world.
Regardless of the differing definitions, at its core, globalization is the exchange of ideas, capital, and goods across the world, driven by technology. Whether that technology be ships or the Internet.
The Gold Standard
Many historians claim the first wave of globalization began with the gold standard in the 1800s. Even though there was mass trade across the Atlantic, chartered trading companies, and the slave industry, there was still no global price convergence at the time.
Gold had been used as currency for thousands of years from when man started making gold coins. The value of those gold coins was worth the value of the gold that made up the coin. In wasn't until the 1800s that England started fixing the value of its currency to specified amounts of gold.
Eventually, many countries followed suit or pegged their currencies to countries that followed the gold standard. Gold, therefore, became the international standard currency and could be bought or sold at a fixed price.
The 20th Century
One view states that globalization cannot be backdated before the late 1940s – the post-war era when the United States established itself as the most powerful country in the world. This definition of globalization argues that it is largely the work of powerful multinational corporations that have created a far-ranging set of consequences, both positive and negative, as they spread across the world. The unprecedented ease of travel around the globe and the development of modern communications are used to support this view of globalization.
Furthermore, after World War II, many nations looked to break down barriers of trade between nations, promote free trade, and set up global organizations. The Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The Bottom Line
Many scholars argue that parts of the world have always influenced other parts and that the current state of affairs is a natural progression from earlier stages. The exchange of ideas and trade has, in one form or another, existed as long as humanity has existed.
There are, of course, different marking points determining true globalization, from ancient trade routes to modern global integration of financial markets, all of which have been made possible by the creation and development of technology.