For Teachers: Lessons

Rethinking the rise of the West: Global Commodities

Konstantin Georgidis, Canterbury School, Ft. Myers, Florida



The period 1500-1800 is frequently represented as an era of increasing European global domination. Attention to the conquest of the Americas, the Enlightenment, the Atlantic slave trade, and expansion into Asia and Africa typically reinforce this interpretation. However, recent analyses of this period do not place Europeans at the center of world affairs: they emphasize the importance of large, centralized states in China, West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and India. Historians now claim that Europeans served not as dominators, but as intermediaries for commercial goods — including silver, slaves, and manufactured goods — between these various regions. Indeed, they argue that Europeans did not dominate global trade and politics until about 1800.

Focus Questions

  1. What economic, technological, demographic and ecological forces created the first truly global network of trade in the 16th century?
  2. How can historians reconstruct the past by tracing the exchange of particular commodities (such as silver)?

Grades and Time Required

Grades: 10-12 Time: Three periods or 150 minutes.


  • Students develop an in-depth understanding of the reasons for the establishment in the 16th century of the global network of trade which was based on silver.
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  • Students assess the consequences of this network of trade on the development of the regions that participated in this network during the period from 1500 – 1800.
  • Students assess the ramifications of current research regarding the history of this network for interpretations of modernity and the rise of the west in world history.

Instructional Objectives

  1. Identify the reasons for the development of a network of global commodities in the 16th century.
  2. Identify, describe and critically assess the linkages of international trade that characterized the process of globalization that resulted from the development of a network of trade in silver in the Pacific Ocean basin.
  3. Determine the effects of the establishment and the functioning of this trade on the regions which participated in it and, especially China.
  4. Assess China’s importance for the world economy
  5. Assess claims in current historiography of China’s modernity and the rejection of a Eurocentric world history.