- The making of the global world has a long history – of trade, of migration, of people in search of work, the movement of capital, and much else. As we think about the dramatic and visible signs of global interconnectedness in our lives.
- Today, we need to understand the phases through which this world in which we live has emerged.
- All through history, human societies have become steadily more interlinked. From ancient times, travellers, traders, priests and pilgrims travelled vast distances for knowledge, opportunity and spiritual fulfilment, or to escape persecution. They carried goods, money, values, skills, ideas, inventions, and even germs and diseases.
- As early as 3000 BCE an active coastal trade linked the Indus valley civilisations with present-day West Asia. For more than a millennia, cowries (the Hindi cowdi or seashells, used as a form of currency) from the Maldives found their way to China and East Africa.
- The long-distance spread of disease-carrying germs may be traced as far back as the 7th century. By the 13th century it had become an unmistakable link.
1.Silk Routes Link the World:
- The silk routes are a good example of vibrant pre-modern trade and cultural links between distant parts of the world. The name ‘silk routes’ points to the importance of West-bound Chinese silk cargoes along this route.
- Historians have identified several silk routes, over land and by sea, knitting together vast regions of Asia, and linking Asia with Europe and northern Africa. They are known to have existed since before the Christian Era and thrived almost till the 15th century. But Chinese pottery also travelled the same route, as did textiles and spices from India and Southeast Asia.
- In return, precious metals – gold and silver – flowed from Europe to Asia. Trade and cultural exchange always went hand in hand.
- Early Christian missionaries almost certainly travelled this route to Asia, as did early Muslim preachers a few centuries later. Much before all this, Buddhism emerged from eastern India and spread in several directions through intersecting points on the silk routes.
2.Food Travels: Spaghetti and Potato:
- Food offers many examples of long-distance cultural exchange.
- Traders and travellers introduced new crops to the lands they travelled. Even ‘ready’ foodstuff in distant parts of the world might share common origins. Take spaghetti and noodles. It is believed that noodles travelled west from China to become spaghetti. Or, perhaps Arab traders took pasta to 5th-century Sicily, an island now in Italy.
- Similar foods were also known in India and Japan, so the truth about their origins may never be known. Yet such guesswork suggests the possibilities of long-distance cultural contact even in the pre-modern world.
- Many of our common foods such as potatoes, soya, groundnuts, maize, tomatoes, chillies, sweet potatoes, and so on were not known to our ancestors until about five centuries ago. These foods were only introduced in Europe and Asia after Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the vast continent that would later become known as the Americas.(Here we will use ‘America’ to describe North America, South America and the Caribbean.)
- In fact, many of our common foods came from America’s original inhabitants – the American Indians. Sometimes the new crops could make the difference between life and death.
- Europe’s poor began to eat better and live longer with the introduction of the humble potato.
- Ireland’s poorest peasants became so dependent on potatoes that when disease destroyed the potato crop in the mid-1840s, hundreds of thousands died of starvation.
3.Conquest, Disease and Trade:
- The pre-modern world shrank greatly in the 16th century after European sailors found a sea route to Asia and also successfully crossed the western ocean to America.
- For centuries before, the Indian Ocean had known a bustling trade, with goods, people, knowledge, customs, etc. criss-crossing its waters.
- The Indian subcontinent was central to these flows and a crucial point in their networks.
- The entry of the Europeans helped expand or redirect some of these flows towards Europe.Before its ‘discovery’, America had been cut off from regular contact with the rest of the world for millions of years. But from the 16th century, its vast lands and abundant crops and minerals began to transform trade and lives everywhere.
- Precious metals, particularly silver, from mines located in present-day Peru and Mexico also enhanced Europe’s wealth and financed its trade with Asia.
- Legends spread in 17th-century Europe about South America’s fabled wealth. Many expeditions set off in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
- The Portuguese and Spanish conquest and colonisation of America was decisively under way by the mid-16th century.
- European conquest was not just a result of superior firepower. In fact, the most powerful weapon of the Spanish conquerors was not a conventional military weapon at all. It was the germs such as those of smallpox that they carried on their person.
- Because of their long isolation, America’s original inhabitants had no immunity against these diseases that came from Europe. Smallpox in particular proved a deadly killer. Once introduced, it spread deep into the continent, ahead even of any Europeans reaching there. It killed and decimated whole communities, paving the way for conquest.
- Guns could be bought or captured and turned against the invaders. But not diseases such as smallpox to which the conquerors were mostly immune.
- Until the 19th century, poverty and hunger were common in Europe. Cities were crowded and deadly diseases were widespread.
- Religious conflicts were common, and religious dissenters were persecuted. Thousands therefore fled Europe for America. Here, by the 18th century, plantations worked by slaves captured in Africa were growing cotton and sugar for European markets. Until well into the 18th century, China and India were among the world’s richest countries. They were also pre-eminent in Asian trade.
- However, from the 15th century, China is said to have restricted overseas contacts and retreated into isolation. China’s reduced role and the rising importance of the Americas gradually moved the centre of world trade westwards. Europe now emerged as the centre of world trade.