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Historical Triangle of Trade

The British changed the entire face of the earth while trying to carry out the simple task of getting good Asian goods at a better price than through the Middle East. Who would have known that European Explorers searching for Asia would have started the slave trade from Africa to the Americas, helped the population of the earth more than triple, set the precedent for cultural cuisine all over the world, and not mention reveal the Americas to the rest of the world?

Christopher Columbus may have not discovered North America or helped with the development of the United States, but his voyages helped make way for everything listed above and may have been the biggest factor in the spread of syphilis to western civilization in the 15th century.

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In the 15th century, Britain had a fast-growing demand for Asian goods such as tea, spices, silk and handmade crafts made by the Chinese. These products were available but only the very wealthy because of the great distance between China and Britain. The only way these goods were brought to Britain was to be traded from city to city and each time these goods were traded hands the price was increased, and eventually, they made it to Britain with a hefty price tag. Traders knew that the only way to get a good price on these goods was to go directly to the source.

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This meant sailing to China, which was no easy task since it had never been done before. Columbus made several failed attempts in search of the Indies only to find the Americas, which wasn’t a terrible discovery, but it wasn’t the Indies. “Soon after dawn on May 21st, 1498, Vasco da Gama and his crew arrived at Calicut after the first direct sea voyage from Europe to Asia.”(AE 1, p.214) From then on out Europe had the direct connection with Asia they had been searching to find for so long.

When Columbus landed in the Americas instead of the Indies his discovery was not very popular with the people of Europe. The Americas only seemed to be an obstruction of the path to Asia, but their discovery ultimately changed all of Europe. The Americas Housed foods never seen before in Europe, and that would end up being staples of multiple European cultures. The only problem was cultivating all the new crops and getting them to Europe.

This is where Africa comes into play and the slave trade begins to flourish. Britain had known that Africa was a prime source of uncivilized people that could be used as slave labour in the Americas. (John Geipel, Brazil’s African Legacy)

In the 17th century, Britain bought and bartered more than 11 million Africans to be brought to America as slaves. These people were paid for with different goods from Europe and America such as clothing produce. With all of these people being exported out of Africa, one would think that the population would drastically drop in numbers. The opposite is actually what happened. With all the different types of products being brought in payment for slaves, there was more food to eat and grow which ultimately helped Africa grow. (Clinton, 03/06)

With all the new crops being produced in America and brought over to Europe, Europeans learned of so many new foods plants and animals it almost seemed to be unreal. “They had envisioned one-legged men, phoenixes and griffins, which could not be found anywhere; but they had not written of animals with pockets (opossums), birds that fly backwards (hummingbirds) or snakes that rattle, all of which awaited discovery in the new world.” (AE2, A. Crosby, p.19)

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Potatoes, corn, tomatoes, tobacco, and sugar were all being brought over to Europe and people loved it. The Italians are known for tomatoes, the Irish for potatoes, the British for sugar and sweets, but who would have known that none of these foods are indigenous to any part of Europe. This shows how the discovery of the new world changed societies all over Europe.

Now that European countries like Britain are becoming more diverse and educated from having access to Asia and the Americas, they are also becoming stronger. Britain had always been looked down up by China as inferior and was ever controlled by the Chinese during trade, to prove how little the Chinese needed the British, they only allowed one port of trade to be open and did not allow any British citizens to stay in China. (Clinton, 3/18)

China was so controlling that when a British salute accidentally killed a Chinese fisherman, China immediately cut off all trade until they received the perpetrator of the crime, so they could execute him. (Robert W. Drexler, The Canton War, AE2, p. 24) Slowly but surely the British learned the secrets of China’s navy and army to execute the perfect revenge, defeat China. After the attack, China was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking, which, open five new ports of trade to the British and gave $21 in reparations. (Samuel M. Wilson, Coffee, Tea, or Opium, AE2, p. 32)

China at one point was the strongest nation on earth, the Americas had never been heard of by Europeans and Africans were still free of slavery. European exploration changed the face of the world from that point on. Diseases were spread, millions of humans were enslaved, countries flourished, countries deteriorated and cultures were drastically changed. The new foods and goods brought over to Europe from other countries helped shape cultures like the Italians, Spanish, Irish, and British. Britain became the superpower of the world for three centuries and Africans were brought to the new world in the millions to work the fields that fed most of the world. If anyone has the right to say what a long strange trip it’s been, it has to be the people of Europe during the 16th and 17th century.

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Historical Triangle of Trade. (2021, Feb 18). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from