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Increased Productive Capacity and Its Consequences (600-1450 CE)

Various agricultural activities taking place in a landscape
Various agricultural activities taking place in a landscape

I. Innovations stimulated agricultural and industrial production in many regions.

At this time in World History the advancement in agricultural technologies across the globe allowed for people to better feed themselves and there was a surplus supply of agricultural goods.
  • This surplus allowed for human populations to grow because there were now more resources available.
    • Some examples of improvements include the horse collar in Europe, opening of the Ganges river delta in India, and improved terracing techniques in China. (1)

A. Agricultural and non-agricultural production increased significantly due to technological innovations and new ideas. Economies flourished.

New technology emerged such as a the most efficient planting and seeding patterns as well as physical innovations such as the horse collar.
  • This improved upon the preexisting horse based technology which stunted the power of a horse to do work.
  • The new and improved horse collar allowed horses full use of their strength while still under the control of their owner. This technology was associated with the Europeans.
  • In China, Yangzi River peasants became involved in sericulture; they grew mulberry trees and harvested silk worms. The silk was dyed as well. Other areas around the river produced cotton and sugarcane.


Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.47.54 AM.pngBuild a Rice Paddy is an interactive link allows the user to see the scale of these new innovations. In this activity the user can go step by step in building a terrace that greatly improved Chinese agriculture.

B. In response to increasing demand in Afro-Eurasia for foreign luxury goods, crops were transported from their indigenous homelands to equivalent climates in other regions.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade contributed to the expansion of the plantation system in the Americas. Global trade networks were strengthened as crops grown in the new world were exported and consumed in the old world.

C. Chinese, Persian, and Indian artisans and merchants expanded their production of textiles and porcelains for export; industrial production of iron and steel expanded in China.

Prior to heavy European involvement in the economies of China and India, Asian production surpassed Europe's. Indian textiles dominated world markets until British monopolization of the industry in the 1800s. China's huge population allowed them to produce more than Europe until European technology progressed to a point where traditional Chinese labor could not compete.

II. The fate of cities varied greatly, with periods of significant decline, and periods of increased urbanization buoyed by rising productivity and expanding trade networks.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire a new Indian Ocean system rose to take its place.
  • This system focused on the expanding trade coming from eastern Asian countries such as India with its textiles.
  • Also there was a rise of Arab nations in northern Africa that traded many goods such as gold and ivory into this "southern" system.
  • There were two main trade routes open at this time:
    • a land route (the silk road) and a water route through the India Ocean.
    • The blue route shown below follows the ocean path, where as the red path shows that overland silk road. (2)

A map of the Silk Road
A map of the Silk Road

As a result of these new trade networks, many cities grew in population size as they become more prosperous. The need for improved transportation lead to the development of camel saddles that allowed for longer distance travel. Ships technology improved greatly for navigation. Many cities rose along the ocean routes that facilitated trade and allowed for a diverse opportunity for new jobs, as well as the spread of religions and cultures from many different regions. (2)

A. Multiple factors contributed to the declines of urban areas in this period.

[Required examples of these factors: Invasions, Disease, The decline of agricultural productivity, The Little Ice Age]

Comparison of mean temperature changes during the last 2000 years
Comparison of mean temperature changes during the last 2000 years

The Riddle of the Little Ice Age from University of California San Diego

The Great Famine (1315-1317) and The Black Death (1346-1351)

rotating gif.gifFor more, see World History I.7

B. Multiple factors contributed to urban revival.

[Required examples of these factors: The end of invasions, The availability of safe and reliable transport, The rise of commerce and the warmer temperatures between 800 and 1300, Increased agricultural productivity and subsequent rising population, and Greater availability of labor also contributed to urban growth]

C. While cities in general continued to play the roles they had played in the past as governmental, religious, and commercial centers, many older cities declined at the same time that numerous new cities emerged to take on these established roles.

III. Despite significant continuities in social structures and in methods of production, there were also some important changes in labor management and in the effects of religious conversion on gender relations and family life.

primary_sources.PNG In the following primary source, Ibn Battuta, an Arab explorer around 1300 CE, describes some of his extensive travels around the globe: Ibn Battuta.
  • In this reading he describes the culture of the places that he visited and one can personally see the culture of many different places through his writings.

A. As in the previous period, there were many forms of labor organization.

Reeve and Serfs, circa 1310
Reeve and Serfs, circa 1310

[Required examples of forms of labor organization: Free peasant agriculture, Nomadic pastoralism, Craft production and guild organization, Various forms of coerced and unfree labor, Government-imposed labor taxes, and Military obligations]

Medieval Guilds and Craft Production from SUNY Oneonta

Renaissance Guilds

Female_Rose.pngWomen in Medieval Guilds

B. As in the previous period, social structures were shaped largely by class and caste hierarchies. Patriarchy persisted; however, in some areas, women exercised more power and influence, most notably among the Mongols and in West Africa, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

rotating gif.gifSee World History I.21 for material on the caste system in India

C. New forms of coerced labor appeared, including serfdom in Europe and Japan and the elaboration of the mit'a in the Inca Empire. Free peasants resisted attempts to raise dues and taxes by staging revolts. The demand for slaves for both military and domestic purposes increased, particularly in central Eurasia, parts of Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.

external image The_Peasants%27_Revolt_-_Froissart%2C_Chroniques_de_France_et_d%27Angleterre%2C_Book_II_%28c.1460-1480%29%2C_f.165v_-_BL_Royal_MS_18_E_I.jpg
[Teach one illustrative example of regions where free peasants revolted, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: China, The Byzantine Empire]

The image to the right shows two groups of rebels meeting outsider London. Their leaders are John Ball on horseback and Wat Tyler, standing left.

See Dramatic Event Page on the English Peasants Revolt of 1381

Map icon.pngPeasant Rebellions in Early Modern Europe from Mapping History, University of Oregon

primary_sources.PNGAlexander II: The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia/The Manifesto of February 19, 1861

D. The diffusion of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Neoconfucianism often led to significant changes in gender relations and family structure.

IV: Population was able to grow consistently for much of this period, thanks to advances in agriculture and a lack of plagues. This ended when the Black Death struck Afro-Eurasia

Link to Dramatic Event page on The Bubonic Plague on World History I.7

1) http://worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu/eras/era5.php
2) http://www.scribd.com/doc/8669517/Interaction-and-Idea-Exchange-in-the-Indian-Ocean-and-Overland-Eurasian-Trade-Systems
3) http://asiasociety.org/education/chinese-inventions
4) The Origins of the Modern World, the 3rd Edition, by Robert B. Marks