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The World Economy in the Early Modern Period: Lecture Notes 1
I. China: Ming Dynasty
Early years see expansionism into the Indian Ocean highlighted
by the voyages of Zheng Ho with the purpose of establishing
tribute and trade. Chinese policy changes with the influence of
Confucian scholars who mistrust foreign alliances and cut off the
government sponsorship of Indian Ocean trade in 1433. Chinese
resources are redirected to its’ northern borders.
II. European Exploration
A. Portugal: Prince Henry the Navigator
Portugal took early lead as Henry gathered knowledge,
technologies and funding for expansion. First invasions took
islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. Set up
sugar cane plantations and began importation of slaves traded
out of Africa. Second wave of invasions hit Indian Ocean basin,
over-running the Swahili Coast and key points in India. Third
wave of expansion took the eastern seaboard of South America.
1. Resource poor country with not means to expand in Europe.
2. Bypass Italian monopolies with the Ottomans. Bypass Muslim
middlemen for the Asian spice trade.
3. Africa is resource rich: Ivory, Gold, Slaves
1. Sailing Tech: Sternpost rudders – new sail types – new ships
2. Navigation Tech: Magnetic Compass – Astrolabe
3. Geographic Tech: Muslims passed along knowledge of trade
winds, new maps, and monsoon seasons
B. The Big Four: Spain – Belgium (Dutch) – England – France
Spain: Mexico – South America – Philippines
England: Atlantic Seaboard of North America and Hudson
Bay– Indian Ocean Basin
France: Canada and Mississippi Valley
Dutch: Piracy – Indian Ocean Basin – Small hold on Atlantic
Seaboard of North America
III. Resulting Global Exchanges
A. Columbian Exchange: Global diffusion of plants, food crops,
animals, human populations, and disease. Beginning with
Columbus but spreading to the entire planet.
1. Disease: Smallpox, measles, diphtheria, whooping
cough, influenza. Between 1500 and 1800 over
100 million humans died from these vectors.
2. Plants and animals:
To the Americas: wheat, horses, cattle, sheep, goats,
chickens, sugarcane, cotton
To Europe: maize, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peppers,
B. Global Population Growth and Movement
1. Global population 1500: 425 million
Global population 1800: 900 million
2. Major shift of African and European populations to the
IV. Comparative versus Absolute advantage in interactions
A. Comparative Advantage
A country that can do many things but channels its
resources into the few areas where it has an advantage
over other countries.
Example: Europe’s early advantage was to become the
middle men and provide shipping for others
B. Absolute Advantage
The country has a natural advantage in producing certain
goods or services. This advantage usually takes the form of
natural resource.
Example: Asia: spices and silk
Europe: silver and gold
C. Europe chooses to dominate both Comparative and Absolute
Advantages: Seize or create choke points where all trade has
to pass. Seize lands where spices are produced, destroy
competition, establish monopolies over goods. Then move to
a global transoceanic trade empire connecting world-wide
ports according to supply and demand.
Example: Spanish Manila Galleons sailed back and forth
between the Philippines and Mexico. Asian luxury goods
are taken to Mexico. Mexican silver taken to Asia, resulting
in an Asian dependence on European supplied silver.