Saturday, August 13, 2005

Guns, Germs, Steel, and ..... Friesians

We had a dinnertable discussion of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel the other day. Nick outlined the argument from the PBS series as outlined to him by Chris. We all chipped in with our thoughts on the basic premise:

Diamond presents a materialist view of history based on geography. He says the peoples of the Eurasian continent were lucky in their location, their luck producing a slow accumulation of advantage which by 1500 permitted them to amass an unassailable concentration of wealth and power compared to the rest of the world, and so, in turn, permitted them to overwhelm other peoples across the continents and oceans.

I vaguely recalled a more complex view from my reading of Durkheim and books whose authors and titles don't readily come to mind (note to self: fill in later). This view includes cultural determinants that can't be entirely traced to geography. One of these explains European advantages in terms of the relative difficulty of farming in Northern Europe -- great forests, heavy soil, short growing seasons. Where Diamond would say that's a disadvantage my (unremembered) author said it resulted in relatively small, highly competitive states. The author said the main determinant was thus competition among aristocratic land holders that made Europe the springboard to modernity.

Because competitive, these warlords were more opportunistic than the rulers of large states to the south and east. They glommed onto advances like the stirrup and the breeding of "great horses," tank-like animals that could be armored and could carry armored warriors. They subdued a peasantry (feudal serfs) and developed a (very relatively) advanced intensive agriculture that produced sufficient surplus not only to support the development of towns and trade, but also to support the feeding of the great horses over the long, hard winter. In fact it's arguable that the warlords cared more about keeping the horses alive to fight summer battles than tolerating the trading centers that grew up in their domains.

Whether there's merit in that argument or not, here's to the great horse (alternatively war horse, shire horse, cold blood, and, descending, draft horse). Prince of the breed, of course, is the Friesian:


Notes on this animal

The Friesians are a cold-blooded horse. The original foundation Friesians can be traced back to a cold-blooded native forest horse. The remains of such a horse have been unearthed in the Fries an area of North Holland. During times of war, Friesians were influenced and refined with barb blood. Later, during the crusades, with battle mobility in mind, Andalusian blood was added. The Friesian in its turn has provided the foundation blood for many European breeds. Some samples of which are: The Shire, Gelderlander, Olderburger, Fell ponies, Old English Blacks, Dutch Warmbloods, The Holestiner, to name a few and here in American they are thought to have been the ancestors of the Morgan horse.

Here's an excellent
posting on the Cliopatria blog
in which Ralph Luker points to some good discussions of Diamond's book:

More Noted Things ...

I'm a little hesitant to do this, because the conversations have sprawled all over the place, but as best I can tell the salient discussions of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel take place at:

Cliopatria, cross-posted from Easily Distracted

Crooked Timber

Frog in a Well

Brad DeLong

Political Animal

Savage Minds: One, Two, Three

The debate has been lively and it's good to see two fine, young academic blogs, Frog in a Well and Savage Minds, at the heart of it.

More Friesians (who could resist?):

A bit more from the web page on the Friesian Breed

The Friesians trot with extreme power and action, bending well and deep at the joints. Steps are high and long with lot of "air time'. The walk is straight, forward and springy.the canter is lively with a strong pushing power from the hindquarters this creates a thrusting, jumping canter.

The temperament of the Friesian horse is loyal, Willing, placid and cheerful. Friesians are very people oriented and highly intelligent with an uncanny ability to retain knowledge.

Friesians tend to spook much like a cat, they stand stock-still puffing themselves up the look "big". Friesians do not tend to bolt but they can sometimes spin slowly in a circle always coming back around to face what they are afraid of.

Friesians enjoy shoving you with their nose, this is not a personality fault. This is the way Friesians say I love you, refrain from reprimanding your horse or you may lose his or her loyalty.
(You can however, shove them back.)


Anonymous said...

I have been searching for weeks for the information on Friesians you posted here. Thank you!

Jeff said...

You're very welcome!

Dina Staggs said...

The Friesians are the most beautiful horses I have ever seen. Thanks for the information