Guns and Government: A Comparative Study of Europe and Japan

Guns and Government: A Comparative Study of Europe and Japan

By Stephen Morillo

Journal of World History, Vol. 6:1 (1995)

Introduction: What role does technological innovation play in shaping historical change in the premodern world? In general terms, this is the problem I address in this article. Specifically, I analyze the “military evolution” that emerged from Europe in the sixteenth century and the similar military changes that characterized sixteenth-century Japan. Did the introduction of gunpowder weapons cause these military revolutions? This turns out to be a problem for which we may run a virtual historical experiment: a side-by-side comparison of two cases with the critical variable, the introduction of gunpowder, controlled for. Gunpowder weapons developed slowly in Europe over the course of several hundred years, but arquebuses and cannon of a developed type were introduced in Japan at a precisely identifiable time: the year 1543. The Japanese case suggests that stronger government, not the introduction of guns, was the key force behind the revolutions. The act of comparison, though subject to interesting methodological problems, also raises questions about some general processes of historical development and suggests some broader conclusions about the place of technology in traditional civilizations.

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