Philip Vandyke, 'Broad Quay, Bristol' (1785), Merchants Hall, Society of Merchant Venturers, Bristol
The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. Their consequences have already been very great; but, in the short period of between two and three centuries which has elapsed since these discoveries were made, it is impossible that the whole extent of their consequences can have been seen. What benefits or what misfortunes to mankind may hereafter result from those great events, no human wisdom can foresee. By uniting, in some measure, the most distant parts of the world, by enabling them to relieve one another’s industry, their general tendency would seem to be beneficial. To the natives, however, both of the East and West Indies, all the commercial benefits which can have resulted from those events have been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes which they have occasioned.
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, vol. 2 (London, 1776), p. 235-6.
The early modern period witnessed the intensification of long-distance contacts, with the opening of new maritime routes stimulating intercontinental trade between Europe, Asia, and the Atlantic. For Smith, this was a watershed moment in global history, signalling the onset of a more connected, commercial world. In this session, we will consider the impact of these changing patterns of trade on early modern economy and society, and question whether Smith was right to see this as a revolutionary moment in the history of global trade.
- How global was the early modern European economy?
- What impact did the expansion of European intercontinental trade have on society and the environment?
- To what extent did the expansion of European intercontinental trade create a more interconnected or, by contrast, a more hierarchical world?
Choose an early modern commodity and prepare an oral presentation which describes where the commodity originated, how it was produced, how it was adapted or transformed through its incorporation into global trade networks, and what impact it had on the societies to which it was introduced.
- Presentations should be a maximum of five minutes; you will be timed, so make sure you practice beforehand.
- Examples of commodities which you might like to discuss include (but are not limited to) coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco, sugar, porcelain, calico, and fur.
- To help you put together your presentations, a list of useful digital resources can be found below.
- If you have any questions regarding the assignment, please feel free to contact Callie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Jan de Vries, ‘The Limits of Globalization in the Early Modern World’, Economic History Review 63, no. 3 (2010): 710-733.
- Jennifer L. Anderson, ‘Nature’s Currency: The Atlantic Mahogany Trade and the Commodification of Nature in the Eighteenth Century’, Early American Studies 2, no. 1 (2004): 47-80.
Useful Digital Resources
- The Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration and Cultural Exchange database has essays on a dozen major global commodities, written by historians, which provide overviews and identify further reading. These essays can be found in the Further Resources section of their website.
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World can be accessed via com (select ‘sign in via your institution’) and provides a broad overview of major global commodities as well as identifying further reading.
- Oxford Bibliographies has a rich selection of bibliographies and research guides for Atlantic history.
Further Reading on Trade in the Indian Ocean
- N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, 1985).
- Maxine Berg, ‘In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century’, Past & Present 182 (2004): 85-142.
- Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy 1650 to the Present (Cambridge, 2008).
- James D. Tracy (ed), The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long Distance Trade in the Early Modern World 1350-1750 (Cambridge, 1990).
- Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India 1500-1650 (Cambridge, 2011).
- Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800 (Minneapolis, MN, 1976)
Further Reading on Trade in the Atlantic
- Natasha Glaisyer, ‘Networking: Trade and Exchange in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire’ Historical Journal 47 (2004): 451-476.
- John J. McCusker and Kenneth Morgan, eds., The Early Modern Atlantic Economy (Cambridge, 2000).
- John H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830 (New Haven, 2006)
- Eliga H. Gould, ‘Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery’, American Historical Review 112:3 (2007).
- John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World (Cambridge, 1998)
- Marcy Norton, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World (Ithaca, NY, 2010).