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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 11 - Changes in Europe

What will we be learning in this unit?

  • How did European explorations lead to a global exchange?
  • What impact did the commercial revolution and mercantilism have on European economies?
  • How did these changes affect ordinary people?


A Global Exchange

  • When Columbus returned to Spain in March 1493, he brought with him "new" plants and animals that he had found in the Americas. Later that year, Columbus returned to the Americas. With him were some 1,200 settlers and a collection of European animals and plants. In this way, Columbus began a vast global exchange that would have a profound effect on the world. In addition to people, plants, and animals, it included technology and even disease. Because this global exchange began with Columbus, we call it the Columbian Exchange. 
  • From the Americas, Europeans brought home a variety of foods, including tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers. Perhaps the most important foods from the Americas, however, were corn and the potato. Easy to grow, the potato helped feed Europe's rapidly growing population. Corn spread all across Europe and to Africa and Asia, as well.


 A Global Exchange

  • At the same time, Europeans carried a wide variety of plants and animals to the Americas. Foods included wheat and grapes from Europe itself, and bananas and sugar cane from Africa and Asia. Cattle, pigs, goats, and chickens, unknown before the European encounter, added protein to the Native American diet. Horses and donkeys also changed the lives of Native Americans. The horse, for example, gave the nomadic peoples of western North America a new, more effective way to hunt buffalo.
  • The transfer of food crops from continent to continent took time. By the 1700s, however, corn, potatoes, manioc, beans, and tomatoes were contributing to population growth around the world. While other factors help account for the population explosion that began at this time, new food crops from the Americas were probably a key cause.


 A Global Exchange

  • The Columbian Exchange sparked the migration of millions of people. Each year, shiploads of European settlers sailed to the Americas. Europeans also settled on the fringes of Africa and Asia. The Atlantic slave trade forcibly brought millions of Africans to the Americas. The Native American population declined drastically.
  • The vast movement of peoples led to the transfer of ideas and technologies. Language also traveled. Words such as pajama (from India) or hammock and canoe(from the Americas) entered European languages.


A Commercial Revolution

  • In the early modern age, prices began to rise in parts of Europe. The economic cycle that involves a rise in prices linked to a sharp increase in the amount of money available is today called inflation
  • European inflation had several causes. As the population grew, the demand for goods and services rose. Because goods were scarce, sellers could raise their prices. Inflation was also fueled by an increased flow of silver and gold. By the mid-1500s, tons of these precious metals were flowing into Europe from the Americas. Rulers used much of the silver and gold to make coins. The increased money in circulation, combined with the scarcity of goods, caused prices to rise.


A Commercial Revolution

  • Expanded trade and the push for overseas empires spurred the growth of European capitalism, the investment of money to make a profit. Entrepreneurs, or enterprising merchants, organized, managed, and assumed the risks of doing business. They hired workers and paid for raw materials, transport, and other costs of production. 
  • As trade increased, entrepreneurs sought to expand into overseas ventures. Such ventures were risky. Capitalist investors were more willing to take the risks when demand and prices were high. Thus, the price revolution of the early modern age gave a boost to capitalism. 
  • Entrepreneurs and capitalists made up a new business class devoted to the goal of making profits. Together, they helped change the local European economy into an international trading system.


 A Commercial Revolution

  • Early capitalists discovered new ways to create wealth. From the Arabs, they adapted methods of bookkeeping to show profits and losses from their ventures. During the late Middle Ages, as you have read, banks sprang up, allowing wealthy merchants to lend money at interest. The joint stock company, also developed in late medieval times, grew in importance. It allowed people to pool large amounts of capital needed for overseas ventures. 
  • The growing demand for goods led merchants to find ways to increase production. Traditionally, guilds controlled the manufacture of goods. But guild masters often ran small-scale businesses without the capital to produce for large markets. They also had strict rules regulating quality, prices, and working conditions.


 A Commercial Revolution

  • Enterprising capitalists devised a way to bypass the guilds. The "putting-out" system, as it was called, was first used to produce textiles but later spread to other industries. Under the "putting-out" system, a merchant capitalist distributed raw wool to peasant cottages. Cottagers spun the wool into thread and then wove the thread into cloth. Merchants bought the wool cloth from the peasants and sent it to the city for finishing and dyeing. Finally, the merchants sold the finished product for a profit. 
  • The "putting-out" system separated capital and labor for the first time. From this system controlled by merchants, the next step would be the capitalist-owned factories of the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s, as you will read.


   Mercantilism

  • European monarchs enjoyed the benefits of the commercial revolution. In the fierce competition for trade and empire, they adopted a new economic policy, known as mercantilism, aimed at strengthening their national economies.
  • Mercantilists supported several basic ideas. They believed that a nation's real wealth was measured in its gold and silver treasure. To build its supply of gold and silver, they said, a nation must export more goods than it imported.


 Mercantilism

  • Overseas empires were central to the mercantile system. Colonies, said mercantilists, existed for the benefit of the parent country. They provided resources and raw materials not available in Europe. In turn, they enriched a parent country by serving as a market for its manufactured goods.
  • To achieve these goals, European powers passed strict laws regulating trade with their colonies. Colonists could not set up their own industries to manufacture goods. They were also forbidden to buy goods from a foreign country. In addition, only ships from the parent country or the colonies themselves could be used to send goods in or out of the colonies.


Mercantilism

  • Mercantilists urged rulers to adopt policies to increase national wealth and government revenues. To boost production, governments exploited mineral and timber resources, built roads, and backed new industries. They imposed a single national currency and established standard weights and measures.
  • Governments also sold monopolies to large producers in certain industries as well as to big overseas trading companies. Finally, governments imposed tariffs, or taxes on imported goods. Tariffs were designed to protect local industries from foreign competition by increasing the price of imported goods.


 Lives of Ordinary People

  • How did these economic changes affect Europeans? In general, their impact depended on a person's social class. Merchants who invested in overseas ventures acquired wealth. But the price revolution hurt nobles. Their wealth was in land, and they had trouble raising money to pay higher costs for stylish clothing and other luxuries. Some sold off land, which in turn reduced their income. In towns and cities, the wages of hired workers did not keep up with inflation, creating poverty and discontent. 
  • Most Europeans were still peasants. Europe's growing involvement in the world had little immediate effect on their lives. Changes took generations, even centuries, to be felt. For example, tradition-bound peasants were often reluctant to grow foods brought from the Americas. Only in the later 1700s did German peasants begin to raise potatoes. Even then, many complained that these strange-looking tubers tasted terrible.


  Lives of Ordinary People

 

  • Within Europe's growing cities, there were great differences in wealth and power. Successful merchants dominated city life. Guilds, too, remained powerful. And as trade grew, another group-lawyers-gained importance for their skills in writing contracts. Middle-class families enjoyed a comfortable life. Servants cooked, cleaned, and waited on them. Other city residents, such as journeymen and other laborers, were not so lucky. They often lived in crowded quarters on the edge of poverty. 
  • Regardless of social class, European families were patriarchal. As husband and father, a man was responsible for the behavior of his wife and children. Women had almost no property or legal rights. A woman's chief roles were as wife and mother. Society stressed such womanly virtues as modesty, household economy, obedience, and caring for the family. Middle-class women might help their husbands in a family business. Peasant women worked alongside their husbands in the fields.


  Looking Ahead

  • In the 1500s and 1600s, Europe emerged as a powerful new force on the world scene. The voyages of exploration marked the beginning of what would become European domination of the globe. In the centuries ahead, competition for empire would spark wars in Europe and on other continents. 
  • European expansion would spread goods and other changes throughout the world. It would also revolutionize the European economy and transform its society. The concept of "the West" itself emerged as European settlers transplanted their culture to the Americas and, later, to Australia and New Zealand. 
  • For centuries, most Europeans knew little or nothing about other lands. Exposure to different cultures was both unsettling and stimulating. As their horizons broadened, they had to reexamine old beliefs and customs.