The Impact of the Sugar and Silver Trade webs on the pertinent nations and the rest of the world (15-18th Century)
The world we currently inhabit is one of fierce globalization, where international trade has been flourishing for centuries, and we find ourselves at a point in human existence where almost 90% of the goods such as electronic items sold in the United States are produced in Far East Asian countries such as China and Taiwan. A few centuries ago, though, the world was a far more closed place – there wasn’t even an accurate representation of the countries of the world on a map the 1500’s, and to delve into how the world became from almost ‘closed economies’ to having every product traded globally is fascinating. In their books, The Origins of the Modern World and Captives as Commodities : The Transatlantic Slave trade, Robert Marks and Lisa Lindsay respectively explore how the world developed from the early 16th century onwards, and look at the way the world, and in particular the nations that were heavily involved in trade were affected. Through the course of this paper, the focus will primarily be on the webs of sugar and silver trading established over the course of the 16th century, and beyond, and the affects this trade had on the countries involved, the people who inhabited these lands and helped establish the globalized world we live in today. The painting in the prompt has a woman holding a silver tong and is using it to take sugar out from a bowl made from porcelain. Britain never and till date, doesn’t have a home grown supply of silver due to a lack of the natural resource. The silver tongs in the picture were probably manufactured using silver that was mined in South America. Silver was a resource in great demand in the 1500’s. Silver was used as currency in one of the world’s largest economies at the time – China#, and was also in growing demand across the continent of Europe. The European Nations at this time, though not far ahead of the rest of the world in many aspects, were the most militarily advanced and had fierce colonial ambitions. The Spanish, whilst trying to further their colonial conquests, discovered and then ventured into South America in the late 15th century. In their exploration of South America, they found a city with an almost insurmountable amount of natural silver – Potosi. In their attempt to expand their empire, and also motivated by the chance of becoming European pioneers of trade in silver, increased by their desire of colonial ambitions in China, aggressively took over large areas of South America. Rapidly, Potosi was turned from a city of few inhabitants to the largest city in South America in a matter of decades, as it was the focal point of silver mining and production.# The silver mined and produced in South America was taken via ships to China, where the Spanish gained a strong foothold in terms of trade relations due to the exceedingly high demand for silver due to the aforementioned use of silver as currency in the Chinese economy at the time#. The silver was also taken to Europe and traded for other goods the Spanish desired, such as coal and ship parts, trading areas in which the British were preeminent, and such webs of trade lead to the woman in the picture in context holding silver tongs that had been mined all the way across the Atlantic, in South America. The trading of silver during the 1500’s was one of the keystones of modern day globalization. This trade and globalization, though, had severe repercussions for the nations whose natural resources were being exploited. The silver the Spanish traded throughout the world was never theirs to trade in the first place. The Spanish seized control in South America by brute force – the initial inhabitants of the lands in South America were practically enslaved and forced to work for long hours in perilous conditions to try and satisfy the Spanish’s desire for silver, silver trade and all the benefits it brought...
Bibliography: Lindsay, Lisa. Captives as Commodities: The Transatlantic Slave Trade. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2008. Chapters 1-3
Robert Marks, The Origins of the Modern World, United States: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007, chap. 1-3.
Roger Rouse, World History Lectures, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. September-October 2011
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