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9-08-2015, 16:53

Global connections and the Columbian exchange

Silver speeded up the development of a mestizo society in Latin America, and it also speeded up the development of global trading connections. Silver and gold from Mexico and Peru went to Spain in armed convoys, where they supplied the Spanish monarchy with one-fourth of its total income. Beginning in the 1560s several huge silver-ships also sailed every year from Acapulco in Mexico to Manila in the Spanish colony of the Philippines. There the silver was traded to Chinese merchants for silk, porcelain, spices, and other luxury goods, to be sold to European mineowners and city-dwellers in Latin America or carried still further to wealthy nobles in Spain. Those Chinese merchants also bought Japanese silver, and took it all to China, where the economy was expanding and needed more and more silver to make coins. Silver taken to Spain paid for equipment and supplies for both mines and sugar plantations in the colonies, and also for guns and tools taken to West Africa, where they were traded for slaves. American silver and gold contributed to the infl ationary “price revolution,” and often ended up with German bankers who had loaned money to Charles V to fi nance his election as emperor or to later Spanish kings to fi nance their wars. Global connections were not just a matter of metals and money, however, but also the intentional and unintentional sharing of many things, for European voyages linked parts of the world that had been cut off from each other for tens of thousands of years. These links were sometimes disastrous, as in the spread of infectious diseases to people in the Americas who had no immunity. But other links were very benefi cial. Food crops and animals traveled both ways across the Atlantic and later the Pacifi c in what the environmental historian Alfred Crosby termed the “Columbian exchange.” Europeans brought horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens from Europe to the Americas, where they often escaped into the wild and thrived; a herd of a hundred cattle that the Spanish abandoned in the grasslands of the Rio de la Plata area in what is now Argentina grew within several decades to over 100,000. They also brought wheat, which grew well on the plains of both North and South America, along with wine-grapes, apples, and olives. From Africa they brought bananas, coffee, and coconuts. They took maize and potatoes back to Europe, growing them fi rst as food for animals and gradually as food for humans as well. Tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and manioc went from South America to Africa and Asia, as did pineapples and avocados. (About 30 percent of the foods eaten in the world today originated in the Americas.) This exchange of plants and animals improved nutrition around the world, and allowed a slow increase in the total global population, despite the tremendous loss of life because of epidemic disease. The Columbian exchange involved products that brought pleasure as well as nutrition. We have already traced sugar’s travels from Asia to the Americas; chocolate, which the Aztecs believed had been brought from paradise, went in the other direction. Both the Aztecs and the Mayas cultivated the cacao beans from which chocolate is made, and Cortés took them to Spain. Like the Aztecs, the Spanish developed the habit of drinking cups of chocolate, which they sweetened with imported sugar. (Aztecs and Mayas drank their chocolate, a word that comes from the Maya words for “sour water,” unsweetened.) Drinking chocolate spread to France and England, where by the 1600s people were also drinking coffee imported from Arabia and Africa, and by the 1650s tea imported from India and China. By the early 1600s global trade was providing another addictive substance along with the caffeine found in chocolate, tea, and coffee – nicotine. Native Americans grew and smoked tobacco long before Columbus, who took some tobacco seeds back with him to Spain, where farmers began to grow tobacco for use as a medicine that helped people relax. The French ambassador at Lisbon, Jean Nicot ( 1530–1600) – whose name is the origin of nicotine and of the botanical name for tobacco, Nicotiana – introduced the use of tobacco in France, originally in the form of snuff. English merchants brought tobacco to the Ottoman Empire, where coffeehouses fi lled with pipe smoke became popular places for men to gather. Ottoman religious leaders complained that coffeehouses kept people away from their religious duties, and Sultan Murad IV ( ruled 1623–40) outlawed both coffee and tobacco, but his measures were ineffective. Though products were exchanged in all directions, they were carried primarily in western European ships. Europeans were one group among many in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, but elsewhere they came to dominate oceanic shipping. This provided great profi ts, and allowed them to dictate the terms of trade even in areas where they did not have colonial empires. This trade also stimulated the growth of many industries in Europe, from ship-building to textiles, as Europeans increasingly exported manufactured goods in exchange for unprocessed or partially processed raw materials, such as sugar, precious metals, and timber. The fi rst century of European colonization also had political effects, for the creation of the fi rst global empires meant that arenas of confl ict and sources of power were no longer confi ned to Europe itself. The conquest of the Americas initially glorifi ed the Spanish ( and to a lesser degree the Portuguese) monarchy and the Catholic Church; both acquired immense new lands to rule and people to govern. The wealth brought by Spain’s overseas colonies made it the most powerful country in Europe around 1600, a connection that was widely recognized, as English and French actions to weaken Spain always involved cutting off trade with the Americas. Western European countries came to view overseas possessions as essential adjuncts to their military and economic power, which helped foster nationalism by encouraging a race for trade, treasure, and colonies. English pirates – often dignifi ed by the term “privateer” – were motivated primarily by a desire for wealth in their attacks on the Spanish treasure fl eet and South American ports, but they often obtained the approval of the English monarch, and were expected to provide a cut of their haul to the national treasury. Sir Francis Drake ( 1543?–96), for example, the most famous of these “sea dogs,” got money, ships, and eventually a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. He seized Spanish ships, commanded English warships against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and looted Spanish towns in the Caribbean and on the north coast of South America, termed the “Spanish Main.” On his trip around the world in the late 1570s, he raided the west coast of South America, where the towns were completely unfortifi ed. Drake began his career as a slave-trader, and ended it as a member of the House of Commons. Hatred of Spain was enhanced in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by stories that circulated orally and in print about Spanish atrocities in the New World. This “Black Legend” ( in Spanish Leyenda Negra ) was based especially on the writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas ( 1474–1566), a Spanish Dominican missionary who became bishop of Chiapas in Mexico in 1544. Las Casas took part in royal investigations into the treatment of Indians, and in response to assertions by various offi cials that enslaving them was justifi ed because Indians were less than human, he published a series of essays in 1552–3 detailing, condemning, and probably exaggerating Spanish abuses. In Las Casas’s writings, all Indians were childlike innocents and all the Spanish were violent, cruel, and greedy. His writings led to a royal prohibition of the enslavement of Indians, though this was widely ignored, and may have played a role in the increasing importation of African slaves, which Las Casas endorsed, though he later regretted this. Translated into other European languages, often with titles such as “The Tears of the Indians,” his writings provided a justifi cation for New World conquests by other European nations and became a staple of Protestant propaganda.

SOURCE 20 Theodor de Bry’s images of Americ

Europeans learned about the Americas through the written reports of explorers and conquerors, and also through visual images produced by artists. The most famous and widely reproduced images of the New World in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were those of the Flemish engraver Theodor de Bry (1527?– 98), who from 1590 brought out a series of multi-volume accounts based on many sources, including an illustrated edition of Las Casas. De Bry was a Protestant who had fl ed his homeland during the Dutch Wars of Religion, and used his engravings to demonstrate the evils of Catholicism as well as the nobility and exoticism of the Indians. He never visited the Americas, but based his works on the writings and illustrations of those who had. In this engraving, from the fi fth volume of his Americae series, published in Frankfurt in 1595, Spanish soldiers violently suppress a revolt of African slaves. This volume is based on the published text and woodcuts of an Italian adventurer, Girolamo Benzoni, who traveled in the Caribbean in the 1540s and 1550s. Benzoni hated the Spanish, and his book provides countless stories of their mistreatment of natives and Africans, though other sources indicate that reactions to slave revolts were indeed brutal. Las Casas’s portrayal of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as peaceful and harmless was only one of several stereotypes developed and popularized by Europeans. Other writers, some of whom had actually been to the New World and some of whom had not, viewed Indians as savage, wild, and bestial, while yet others portrayed them as dignifi ed, virtuous, and stately: “noble savages” similar to the “noble pagans” of ancient Greece and Rome. Both positive and negative accounts often describe or portray Indians as naked or only partially clothed, or as dressed only in feathers, clearly viewing them as exotic. The accounts of explorers or works based on these accounts were translated and reprinted many times – Vespucci’s letters saw sixty editions – often with illustrations that reinforced these perceptions. Illustrations were copied and reproduced separately from textual accounts, so that people who were illiterate came to share these views. The discoveries in the New World posed an intellectual problem for educated Europeans, because they had to fi t the peoples of the Americas into a world view based on Christian teachings and classical models. If the Flood described in the Old Testament truly covered the whole world, then the Indians must be descendants of Noah. But when and how did they get there? How could the ancient Greeks and Romans so revered by humanists not have known about them? How were the differences between peoples to be explained? What was the true difference between civilized and barbarian? Las Casas tackled these questions in a massive ethnography and comparative history, Apologética historia sumaria , arguing that all peoples were equally rational and on the same road to civilization, and that New World cultures were actually superior to the Greeks and Romans. In contrast to his essays describing Spanish cruelty, this work was never published until the twentieth century, though other, shorter considerations of these issues were. One of these was the Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Natural and Moral History of the East and West Indies), written by the Spanish Jesuit theologian José de Acosta (1540–1600), who had spent more than twenty years in Peru and Mexico. Acosta’s work, which was published in several languages in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, arranges world cultures into a hierarchy, with Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese at the top, Aztecs and Incas in the middle, and Africans and other “savages” at the bottom. Acosta’s arrangement both shaped and refl ected Jesuit policy. Jesuits in China accepted Chinese men as members of the Jesuit order and even as priests more readily than they did darker-skinned Christians elsewhere, viewing them as members of highly developed cultures and thus better prepared for leadership positions. The fi rst Chinese priest, Luo Wanzao ( baptized Gregorio Lopez), was ordained in 1654, and was later named a bishop, though his appointment was fought by many in the church hierarchy. Most Europeans were not as willing as Acosta to share the top of the cultural hierarchy with any other group, and even fewer accepted Las Casas’s notions about the equal rational capacity of all peoples. The relative ease with which the Spanish conquered the Caribbean, Central America, and the Andes region created a strong sense that Europeans were destined to impose Christianity and civilization on these “new” peoples. This combined with assessments of African inferiority bolstered by the expansion of the African slave trade to create a greater sense of European cultural superiority than had been evident earlier.

 

 

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