Unlocking The Spice Trade
Social studies can be divided into many smaller subjects including climate, geography, politics, economy, culture and many more. In order to fully understand complex events, such as spice trade, we need to look at all of the different subjects.
The climate and geography can affect many aspects of how goods such as spices were produced and traded. The climate dictated where certain spices could grow and where the majority of spices originated. The geography of the land determined where trade routes could be established and how the spices moved from the place of production to the place of consumption. For example, spices such as cinnamon could only grow in hot, moist climates and so cultivation was almost entirely exclusive to areas of South-Eastern Asia. This included India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippians. As the spice trade route map shows, traders often avoided harsh areas such as the Gobi Desert. From the map we can also infer that the reason the trade routes to Italy went across the Mediterranean ocean was due to the fact that it is much easier to travel across water than land. This is how we are able to understand the spice trade through the lens of climate and geography.
Example one showed how physical systems can affected the spice trade. But humans can also have a significant impact on the spice trade. With the wide physical gap between the place of production and the place of consumption, many merchants were needed to act as middlemen. Merchants had to make money so every time the goods exchanged hands the price would increase. For a time this system worked, and everyone was happy except the consumers. But humans have always been a greedy species, and soon this system would collapse as one party or another rebelled. In the early 14oos and 1500s, a majority of spices that were imported from India had gone through many hands before reaching the consumers in various areas of Europe. Europeans soon realized this and in 1602 they sent troops to fight for control of the plantations in India. They soon established a monopoly as one merchant witness reported: “Of the three articles most in demand for European consumption, coffee, pepper, and sugar, the two former are entirely monopolized by the government.” (George Early) It is clear that a whole new aspect of the spice trade can be unlocked if we look at it and connect the spice trade with politics and economics.
Finally, the traditions and beliefs of the general population can cause the value of goods to fluctuate and directly affect the trade of spices. Different goods are valued differently depending upon many factors. Spices, which would normally not be very valued, were very expensive because of the culture of the consumers. For example, the Europeans valued spices because of their beliefs about its medicinal value and how it balanced the many fluids of the body to improve ones health. Without these beliefs spices may never have been valued so much and spice trade would have been completely different. Thus, understanding the culture of the people involved can be critical in understanding spice trade.
Fully understanding the Spice Trade requires attention to be given to all of the subjects of social studies, not just the ones that seem obvious.
Here is a map showing the routes used by traders in the 1600s. We can see that traders preferred sea routes, disliked deserts and that spices were mainly produced in Southeastern Asia.
This is an eyewitness account of the trade monopoly occurring in India, by British merchant, George Early.
Dameresq. “Précis of Intelligence.” Letter. 12 Nov. 1787. British and French Rivalry in India. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
Early, George. (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. inJ.’M.’Gullick,’Adventures*and*Encounters:*Europeans*in*South4East*Asia,’Oxford’ University’Press,’Oxford,’1995.’ N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Strayer. “Document D.” Bahadur Shah-Azarmgarh Proclaimation 1857(1857): n. pag. Print.