The West is a very peculiar civilization. It was, for instance, unique in its use of glass.
Historically, glass has had five main uses:
- Decoration, such as beads, toys, or jewellery;
- Vessels, such as drinking glasses;
- Mirrors; and
- Lenses, prisms, and spectacles.
The West was the only civilization to develop all five uses, and it did so early on by 1300. Here we see a great Western divergence — much earlier than the industrial revolution.
- Decorative glass, particularly beads, was produced by all the Eurasian civilizations, though it was unknown in the Americas or Africa.
- Vessels were produced in the Middle East and the West, particularly Rome (notably wine glasses) and later Venice. The East preferred china vessels.
- Windows were little developed either in Asia or Southern Europe. A great window revolution around 1000 saw window glass spreading across NW Europe, particularly in churches and cathedrals.
- Mirrors were peculiar to Western Europe from about the 1200s (elsewhere in Asia polished metal served the same purpose, though less efficiently).
- Lenses, prisms, and spectacles were unique to Western Europe. Spectacles spread from about 1280.
What were the causes and consequences of these developments? That is a subject for another time.
Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, The Glass Bathyscape (London: Profile Books, 2002).
Alan Macfarlane, “Glass and Its Effects” (YouTube).