Summary: This exquisitely animated documentary tells a sweeping social history of world poverty. You, the viewer, are the protagonist in this film floating through the meandering jet stream of world history. "If we want to make poverty history," the narrator explains, "then first, we need to understand the history of poverty." The documentary appropriately begins in prehistory (2:35), and in a more or less linear fashion, moves through humanity's early large scale civilizations, including ancient Egypt (4:40) and ancient Greece (5:40). Zipping forward to the Middle Ages, the story unfolds again in Cairo (8:20), and then lingers in Paris of the same period (10:50). The history of colonialism is woven into the story with a look at the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire (14:20), the Portuguese conquest of West Africa (16:20 and 34:40), and British colonial rule in India (36:00). Poverty in a neocolonial context is later examined in Ghana (38:50 and 43:55), and China makes appearances as the site of both model relief efforts and tragic famine (18:30 and 43:20). At the 20:30 mark the story returns to Western Europe in order to consider the impact of the Industrial Revolution on poverty, and then moves toward a conclusion which contemplates the changes wrought by globalization. While this 58-minute film understandably fails to deliver a truly exhaustive account of the the world-historical processes associated with poverty, the film would be an excellent tool for illustrating comparative historical analysis in sociology. Systematic comparison is of course central to comparative historical work, and this film succeeds in illustrating the importance of comparison by briefly drawing on eighteenth century China as a rare instance where prosperity for some didn't necessarily come at the cost of desperate poverty for others. What does the film's analysis of poverty gain by including this "negative" case in the story? One answer is that the case of China complicates the viewer's understanding of poverty by exposing its causes as far less determined and far more contingent.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist