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UNIT 15: Early Global Commodities

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Silver Connects the World: The Americas

This segment explores the discovery of silver at Potosí, Peru, and the ways that silver made its way around the world by maritime trade. Unlike the Chinese — who felt little need for European trade items — Europeans in the sixteenth century desperately wanted to obtain Chinese silks, tea, and porcelain. With the discovery of the richest silver mine in history in Spanish-controlled Peru, Europeans discovered they finally had something the Chinese desperately needed.

The site of the mine, Potosí, became the most populated city in the Americas (150,000 people) and required the forced labor of thousands of Indians to produce its precious metal. Profits were enormous. At first, the flow of Peruvian silver to the huge Asian market was slowed because it had to move east across the Atlantic. But in 1565 the Spanish discovered winds that allowed them to travel directly between East Asia and their territorial empire in Mexico. Then, with the founding of Manila in 1571 in the recently conquered Philippines, the Spanish established a Pacific trading base between China and Mexico.

The voyages that began in the year 1571 — called the Manila Galleon — mark the beginning of the first truly global trade between the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. By that time, Spanish America was the world's most important silver-producing region, and China by far its biggest consumer.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, CHART OF PACIFIC OCEAN (1567). Courtesy of The British Library.

Anonymous, ILLUSTRATION TOWN OF POTOSI IN MOUNTAINS (1581). Image donated by Corbis - Bettmann.


Anonymous, MAP OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN (1600). Courtesy of The British Library.

Hot Pepper Studios, created for Bridging World History, THE INKAN ROAD SYSTEM (2004). Courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.



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