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New Forms of Social Organization and Modes of Production (1450-1750 CE)


Although the world’s productive systems continued to be heavily centered on agricultural production throughout this period, major changes occurred in agricultural labor, the systems and locations of manufacturing, gender and social structures, and environmental processes. A surge in agricultural productivity resulted from new methods in crop and field rotation and the introduction of new crops. Economic growth also depended on new forms of manufacturing and new commercial patterns, of humans interacting with their environments. New forms of coerced and semi-coerced labor emerged in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and affected ethnic and racial classifications and gender roles.

View of Kalgan in 1698
View of Kalgan in 1698

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What pre-requisite conditions made these changes possible?
-Advancements in maritime technology (such as compass, ships, sails, etc.)
-Discovery of the New World
-Initial monetary investments in plantations/exploration
-Source of labor (slaves, indentured servants)
-Initiative to attain more raw materials through expansion

I. Traditional peasant agriculture increased and changed, plantations expanded, and demand for labor increased. These changes both fed and responded to growing global demand for raw materials and finished products.


rotating gif.gifFor growth of commerce and towns in China before 1800, see World History I.24

How did agriculture’s role change between 1450-1750?
Prior to 1492, there was minimal contact between the new world and Eurasia and Africa. Once Columbus made contact with North and South America the exchange of crops, slaves, and diseases began, known as the Columbian exchange. Agriculture became a way of exploiting underdeveloped nations. Europe used the raw materials of the America’s to make themselves wealthier. Before, agriculture was primarily used as a food source for a population. Afterwards, agriculture was also used to produce commodities such as tobacco and sugar cane (meaning agriculture also became more important in global trade).

A. Peasant labor intensified in many regions.


[Teach one illustrative example of the intensification of peasant labor, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: The development of frontier settlements in Russian Siberia, Cotton textile production in India, Silk textile production in China]

For Information on the life of a Peasant in Central Europe click: Peasant Life

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"Fresh Captives"

How was peasant labor affected between 1450-1750?
In regards to the end of industrialization, peasant labor shifted from farms to factories. In the Americas, indentured servants began to decrease as more slaves were shipped across the Atlantic. Also, in Europe here was a shift in the control of peasant labor. Tighter control and less freedom for the laborers emerged.



B. Slavery in Africa continued both the traditional incorporation of slaves into households and the export of slaves to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.


Multimedia.pngTo Watch a Video on the African Slave Trade click: African Slave Trade


How did slavery within Africa compare to the pre-1450 era?
Slavery within Africa increased to match demands of the slave trade. Cities also grew along the eastern border of Africa. These towns became hubs of the salve trade. Slavery enabled towns to grow in Africa. Slavery became a source of income for African towns.


How did the Atlantic slave trade affect both African societies and the economy of the Americas?
The Americas benefited from the slave trade because the increase in labor allowed for an increase in productivity. This also helped the economies of European nations because they reaped the benefits of the American colonies.

C. The growth of the plantation economy increased the demand for slaves in the Americas.

How did labor systems develop in the colonial Americas?
There was a need for labor force in the New World to work the tobacco and sugar cane plantations. Initially, indentured servants were sent to the New World. These servants were promised a head right of 50 acres after 7 years of service. Indentured servants became more risky because they were prone to rebellion. As a greater need for labor arose, slaves also were forced to migrate from Africa to the New World.

How did labor systems develop between 1450-1750?
As imperialism picked up speed there was a growing need for labor. Europe began to exploit what they thought of as the “inferior” races. Forced labor included natives and African Americans.
Traditional peasant agriculture increased and changed due to systematic developments. The demand for labor increased as populations rose due to a need to produce more consumer goods. In response to growing global demand for raw materials and products.


For Information on Slavery and American Plantations click:Slavery on the Plantation


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D. Colonial economies in the Americas depended on a range of coerced labor.

In the Americas, Spain faced severe labor shortages because everyone kept dying. The created an
administrative system giving priority to mining and silver trade, social and legal institutions forcing the native people to work in mines and commercial agriculture. The majority of slaves were sent to Brazil and the Carribbean to work the sugar plantations.

[Teach one illustrative example of coerced labor, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Chattel slavery, Indentured servitude, Encomienda and hacienda systems, The Spanish adaptation of the Inca mit'a]
For Information on the Movement of Slaves to the Americas click: Movement of Slaves to the Americas

II. As new social and political elites changed, they also restructured new ethnic, racial, and gender hierarchies.


How did the post-1450 economic order affect the social, economic, and political elites?
It directly benefited the merchant class due to the increase in trade. The gap between the powerful elite (plantation owners) and the indentured servants and slaves increased as well as the rich became richer but the lower class did not change in economic status. 2

A. Both imperial conquests and widening global economic opportunities contributed to the formation of new political and economic elites.


[Teach one illustrative example of new elites, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: The Manchus in China, Creole elites in Spanish America, European gentry, Urban commercial entrepreneurs in all major port cities in the world]

dollarsign.pngFor Information on the Changing European Economies and the Rise of the Gentry click:Economic Trends and Conditions of the Sixteenth Century

For Information on the rise of the Manchus in 1644 click: The Early Qing Dynasty, Rise of the Manchu

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The "Qing"





B. The power of existing political and economic elites fluctuated as they confronted new challenges to their ability to affect the policies of the increasingly powerful monarchs and leaders.


How did pre-existing political and economic elites react to these changes?
Due to the rise of aristocracy, power shifted from the important members of social groups to smaller family units who were wealthy and well-connected. Therefore, these important members lost their social status.

[Teach one illustrative example of existing elites, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: The zamindars in the Mughal Empire, The nobility in Europe, The daimyo in Japan]

For a Deeper Understanding of the European Monarchs and the Elites click: The Historical Roots of Early Modern European States

C. Some notable gender and family restructuring occurred, including the demographic changes in Africa that resulted from the slave trades.


How were gender and family structures affected to these changes?
There was an increase in women rulers during the 16th century, For example Mary Queen of Scots of Catherine de’Medici, Regent of France. These women were often more respected as rulers during these times; however, women were still seen as their husbands property. Since aristocracy became increasingly favored by society, the family unit became more prevalent.

[Teach one illustrative example of gender and family restructuring, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: The dependence of European men on Southeast Asian women for conducting trade in that region, The smaller size of European families]

Multimedia.pngTo Watch a brief Video on the effects of Slavery on the African & African American Families click: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

D. The massive demographic changes in the Americas resulted in new ethnic and racial classifications.


How did societies in the Americas reflect the post-1450 economic order?
Due to the insurgence of slaves and immigrants, new societies and social standings developed in the Americas according to race. Native American societies withered as European elites continued to conquer their land and exploit their natural resources. At the same time, European conquest enabled new leaders to arise in the Americas, such as powerful Native Americans. British attacks on French Acadia sent the French to become refugees and moved them into Louisiana. They formed a socitety of workers known as the Cajun.



[Teach one illustrative example of new ethnic and racial classifications, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Mestizo, Mulatto, Creole]


For More Information on the Demographic Changes of America in the 1700s click: The People of British America 1700-1750

rotating gif.gifFor background on the Enlightenment and its connections to democratic political philosophies, see