Big Era Five Patterns of Interregional Unity

Student Handout 3.1—Trade and Transfers of Products and Technology

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Student Handout 3.1—Trade and Transfers of Products and Technology


Probable place of origin

Type of person who transferred it

Type of place where it might be transferred

Regions it reached

Modifications to the technology across regions




books on law

books on astronomy and mathematics

books on medicine

stringed instruments

navigation instruments



Lesson 4
Spread of Religions

Have students examine the map showing the spread of belief systems on slide 31 in the PowerPoint Overview Presentation for Big Era Five. Then ask students to complete the chart (Student Handout 4.1).

If this Panorama Teaching Unit is used as an introduction to Big Era Five, have students fill in the chart drawing on their prior knowledge. If this unit is used as a summative or review activity for Big Era Five, then students should fill it in based on what they have learned. Use the information on the chart to discuss the following questions:

  • What were the major religions or other belief systems that spread widely during Big Era Five?

  • In which regions of Afroeurasia did the spread of belief systems overlap? Which regions were relatively homogeneous in belief systems?

  • What factors might have contributed to the spread of belief systems from 300 to 1500 CE?

Have students read “Overview of the History and Teachings of Islam” (Student Handout 4.2). This essay introduces the last of the major world religions, which emerged in Big Era Five. Have students compare and contrast Islam with the major religions that emerged in Big Era Four, in terms of origin, beliefs, geographic spread, and cultural impact.

Ask students to compare the maps of trade routes and spread of religions in the PowerPoint Overview Presentation to hypothesize about possible relationships between routes of trade and the spread of particular religions in this era. Students may also compare the maps on the rise and fall of empires with the spread of religions map to hypothesize about possible relationships between the success of particular religions and the status of particular empires.

Lesson 4

Student Handout 4.1

Name of belief system

When was the origin of this belief system?

Region of origin

Regions where it spread

States & empires associated with the belief system









Lesson 4

Student Handout 4.2—Overview of the History and Teachings of Islam

Islam is the third of the major monotheistic faiths, meaning those whose followers believe in One God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their origins to the teachings of prophets, or messengers, who received revelations passed down as holy scriptures. Followers believe that these scriptures are the word of God, or inspired by God.

Based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the holy scripture of Islam, Muslims trace the origins of their faith to the first prophet, Adam, to whom God revealed Himself. The Qur’an teaches that God repeatedly sent prophets to humankind with the same basic message of belief in One God and of the necessity to worship and act according to strong moral standards. The prophets and their scriptures are recognized by Muslims as having the same divine source, so the major biblical prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, as well as lesser known prophets, are honored in Islam. This religion teaches that earlier scriptures were sometimes lost or altered, or were superseded by later revelation. Therefore, Muhammad, the final prophet, completed God’s message to humankind.

The word Islam means “peace through submission to God.” A Muslim is “one who seeks peace through submission to God,” that is, a follower of Islam. The Qur’an teaches that all prophets were Muslim in the sense that they were models of submission to God and seekers of truth. Muslim practice is defined by the Qur’an and also by the Sunna, which is the example of thinking and living set by the Prophet Muhammad and transmitted through the Hadith, his recorded words and deeds. The Islamic requirements of worship are set down in the Five Pillars. These are:

  • Shahada. To testify to belief in One God and the prophethood of Muhammad.

  • Salat. To pray five obligatory prayers each day.

  • Siyam. To fast from dawn to sunset annually during the month of Ramadan,

  • Zakat. To pay annual obligatory charity,

  • Hajj. To make the pilgrimage to the city of Mecca (Makkah) at least once in a lifetime.

Islamic teachings also lay out a way of life based on moral values and commandments for just relations among human beings in the community and the world. Islamic law, or shari’a, is a system of interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunna based on scholars’ study of the Islamic sources and related disciplines, including logic and Arabic grammar.

Historically, the origin of Islam is the revelation received by Prophet Muhammad, a man born about 570 CE in the city of Mecca, a caravan stop on a trade route that ran along the western side of the Arabian Peninsula between Yemen and the Mediterranean region. Mecca was also the site of an important house of worship called the Ka’bah, which the Arabs associated with the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) and his son Ishmael (Ismail).

Muhammad was born into the Quraysh, which was the ruling tribe of Mecca. The Quraysh were caretakers of the Ka’bah and leaders in the regional caravan trade. Orphaned at an early age, Muhammad spent his youth in the care of his socially prominent grandfather and uncle. He worked as a caravan trader, which led to his marriage to the wealthy widow Khadijah. He was known for wisdom and honesty. At about the age of forty, after years of spiritual searching and meditation, he reported receiving a revelation through the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) in a mountain cave outside the city. These revelations continued for the following twenty-three years, between about 610 and 622 CE.

The revelations were transmitted by Muhammad to his followers in Arabic, and they were memorized and committed to writing during his lifetime. These words were known as the Qur’an. Muslims believe this text to be the direct word of God, whose name in Arabic is Allah. The names of the religion, Islam, and its followers, Muslims, were given in the Qur’an.

Soon after Muhammad’s special experiences started, he began to carry out the duties of prophethood, preaching first to members of his family, then to members of his tribe, and finally beyond Mecca. While a few members of his immediate family and others in Mecca accepted his prophethood and its teachings, the leaders of his tribe rejected it. They tried to turn him away from preaching by persuasion and coercion. Finally, with the number of Muslims growing, and the message reaching beyond Mecca, Muhammad and his followers fled to the city of Yathrib which is north of Mecca, where the residents offered them protection. The people of Yathrib agreed to Muhammad’s leadership of the city, and renamed it Madinat al-Nabi, or “City of the Prophet” (shortened to Madina). The migration to Madina is called the Hijrah, and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The Hijrah of year one occurred in 622 CE (Common Era).

The leaders of Quraysh, fearing loss of control and influence if Islam continued to gain strength, continued to oppose Muhammad and his followers. The Muslims, on the other hand, had lost all their property and family ties in order to escape persecution. The years following the Hijrah were marked by conflict between Quraysh and the Muslims, including several major battles and a treaty. The conflict ended with the surrender of Mecca to Muhammad. This was a bloodless victory. Islam had experienced overwhelming growth in strength during the ten years at Madina, attracting followers throughout Arabia and coming to the attention of the Byzantine and Persian Empires, the two major regional powers.

Following Muhammad’s death in 632 CE, the Muslim community became well established in the Arabian Peninsula. Muslims represented a growing political, military, and religious force in the region. Four successors to Muhammad’s political power, called the “Rightly Guided Caliphs,” carried on the legacy of his leadership, but not his prophethood or revelation. Caliph, or in Arabic khalifa, means “successor of the messenger of God.” During the following century, the Muslim state expanded to incorporate a vast territory extending from North Africa to Inner Eurasia. The early state of the “Rightly-Guided Caliphs” gave way to a civil war over the succession in 660 CE, resulting in the founding of the Umayyad dynasty, with its capital at Damascus, Syria. In 750 CE, a revolution against the Umayyads resulted in the founding of the Abbasid dynasty, with its capital at Baghdad, which lasted until 1258 CE.

During the centuries following the rise of Islam and the expansion of the Muslim state, the religion spread among the populations of Muslim-ruled territories in Afroeurasia. The growth of cities was both a cause and an effect of the spread of Islam and of economic growth in Muslim-ruled areas. Cultural developments in literature, arts, sciences, manufacturing, and trade accompanied the spread of Islam and its influence on religious, intellectual, economic, and political life in a large part of Afroeurasia. Although unitary Muslim rule lasted only about a century, both the spread of Islam and the development of Muslim culture and society continued to flourish. By 1500, Islam had spread to West and East Africa, to western and coastal China, and to India and parts of Southeast Asia. It was also advancing in southeastern Europe and experiencing permanent loss of territory only in the Iberian Peninsula owing to the conquests of Christian Spanish and Portuguese.

Lesson 5
Scientific and Intellectual Exchanges

In this lesson students analyze historical evidence and interpretations of scientific and intellectual transfers during Big Era Five. For homework, have students read Shaffer’s essay “Southernization,” or the summary of this essay (Student Handout 5.1). The full text of this article may be found in:

  • Journal of World History 5 (Spring 1994): 1-21.

  • Ross E. Dunn, ed., The New World History, A Teacher’s Companion (Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2000), 175-191.

  • Heidi Roupp, Ed., Teaching World History: A Resource Book (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 110-118.

As they read the essay, students should consider the following questions:

  1. What does Lynda Shaffer mean by “southernization”?

  2. What is the thesis of her essay?

  3. How did Arabs and Mongols contribute to southernization?

  4. Why does she say that Europeans were most fully affected by southernization after they acquired tropical colonies?

  5. Do you agree with her thesis? Why or why not?

Discuss “Southernization” in a brief Socratic seminar. Split students into two groups, A and B. Students in group A discuss the essay based on questions 1 and 2. The second group discusses it based on questions 3 and 4. The whole class discusses question 5. The teacher only speaks to start and end the discussion session, reminding the students that each one must make one comment about the article and must ask one question of the group or an individual about the reading. Students get full credit if they make two contributions to the discussion but lose points if they prevent others from making two contributions. The entire discussion (both groups) should only last about 20 minutes, 10 minutes for each group.

Use the map activity titled “Paper Trail” (Student Handouts 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4) to help students trace and date the spread of papermaking technology across Afroeurasia and to identify some historical evidence documenting its diffusion. The transfer of papermaking is a good example of a technology transfer during Big Era Five. Its diffusion is historically well documented for parts of Afroeurasia. Paper also had a wide-reaching cultural, intellectual, religious, and economic impact because as a writing material it is lightweight, inexpensive, forgery-resistant, recyclable, and easy to manufacture from a variety of fibers. Have students cut out the callouts about evidence of the spread of paper and glue them onto the outline map in the proper geographic location.

Lesson 5

Student Handout 5.1—Summary of essay by Lynda Shaffer titled “Southernization.”

This article has generated controversy in the field of world history for making sweeping claims about the contribution of Asians to the development of ideas, agriculture, and material life across the world. The argument contrasts with the familiar claim that the making of the modern world has been a process of Westernization led by Europe and Europeans. Many scholars have found her thesis convincing. Others have not, rejecting, for example, her suggestion for a revised periodization of world history.

Summary of her major arguments: “Southernization” is Shaffer’s term for the contributions of Asians to the development of ideas, agriculture, and material life between the fourth and eighteenth centuries. She deals with the major crops, ideas, and inventions that Indians, Malays, and Chinese developed. Her argument is that southernization preceded westernization and that the economic development of Europe was dependent on Asian inventions and ideas. A list of relationships among key foods, ideas, and goods follows:

  • Cotton from India contributed to sail-making for Chinese ships.

  • Gold from Siberia, the Malay peninsula, and Zimbabwe contributed to production of coins for trade.

  • Indian, Persian, Arab, East African, and Malay knowledge of monsoon wind patterns contributed to the development of trade routes throughout the Indian Ocean basin.

  • Indian development of cinnamon and pepper production and trade made these spices available throughout Afroeurasia. Malay development of nutmeg, clove, and mace production and trade had similar impact.

  • New Guineans originally grew sugar cane, and Indians later invented crystallized sugar.

  • Indians’ full development of the concept of zero in Afroeurasia contributed to advances in mathematics in Southwest Asia, China, Europe, and all over the world.

  • Fast-ripening Champa rice from the Malay peninsula contributed to China’s population increase during Sui and Tang Dynasties (sixth-tenth centuries), which in turn contributed to China’s remarkable urbanization, commercialization, and industrialization between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

  • Chinese invention of the compass contributed to advances in maritime navigation that allowed longer sea voyages out of sight of land.

Shaffer then explains how Muslim and Mongol empires contributed to spreading ideas and goods throughout Afroeurasia, and very importantly to the European peoples north of the Mediterranean. Without southernization first, the Portuguese would not have rounded Africa and reached the coast of India in the sixteenth century. Moreover, she argues that the early European nations needed to make colonies in tropical and subtropical areas in order to control basic goods like sugar, cotton, spices, and rice, whose spread had resulted from southernization. Shaffer concludes that “westernization” which is associated with industrialization, capitalism, and international trade, owes a debt to the peoples who earlier achieved southernization.

Lesson 5

Student Handout 5.2—Paper Trail Map Key

Map from S. Douglass and K. Alavi, Emergence of Renaissance Cultural Interactions between Europeans and Muslims (Council on Islamic Education, 2000), 127-129.

Lesson 5

Student Handout 5.3—Paper Trail: The Spread of Paper-making Technology
Map adapted from S. Douglass and K. Alavi, Emergence of Renaissance Cultural Interactions between Europeans and Muslims (Council on Islamic Education, 2000), 127-129.

Lesson 5

Student Handout 5.4—Paper Trail Text Balloons

Lesson 6
Transfer of Crops and Agriculture

Have students read Student Handout 6.1. Discuss factors necessary for a new plant or animal to be introduced by farmers. Have students think about or research specific historical examples of agents and media for diffusion, and how the political, cultural, and economic features of societies may have encouraged or discouraged crop or animal diffusion. Students can use the key on the map in Student Handout 6.1 to trace the routes by which major crops diffused before and during Big Era Five. Have them make historical hypotheses about paths of diffusion, agents, cultural mediums, and demand and supply factors in relation to particular regions shown on the map. How accurate might such a map be? What examples of evidence are likely valid or questionable in explaining the appearance of a new food in a place?

Use Student Handout 6.2 to help students discover the characteristics of particular crops that diffused during Big Era Five. Have students identify what created demand for the crop, where it grows today, and what conditions it needs to grow (for example, irrigation or rainfall, hot or cold weather, special means of propagation). Have students use the Internet to find out the volume of trade in these crops today, and the major importers and exporters. What additional crops have become important globally since 1500 CE?

Lesson 6

Student Handout 6.1—Transfers of Crops and Agricultural Techniques Across Afroeurasia, 300-1500 CE

Between 300 and 1500 CE, many of the food and industrial crops that we know today diffused over great distances across Afroeurasia. Important nutritional staples such as rice, hard wheat, and sorghum were added to the diets of larger numbers of people in areas where they were never grown before. Vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, artichoke, and eggplant enriched cuisine in new places, and fruits such as oranges, bananas, apricots, and melons added vitamin-rich refreshments to peoples’ tables. Sugar became an irresistible and increasingly affordable sweetener in many new lands. Cotton, a vegetable fiber that was inexpensive, washable, absorbent, and colorful, was made into fabrics for all classes of people. It could be woven strong enough for sails and tents, and fine enough for see-through veils and laces. Animal products such as silk, wool, milk, and meat also traveled along the routes of diffusion. Some domestic animals—camels, horses, oxen, donkeys—were bred for pulling and carrying products along the trade routes.

The story of how these crops and animals traveled across the hemisphere is less famous than the trans-oceanic “Columbian exchange” of the sixteenth century CE. In fact, earlier exchanges across Afroeurasia paved the way for the Columbian exchange between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. Historians have asked questions about:

  • Paths of diffusion: By what routes did plants and animals reach new lands, and when?

  • Agents of diffusion: Who first brought them to new lands?

  • Mediums for diffusion: How did culture play a role in encouraging or resisting diffusion?

  • Demand and Supply: Why did people in particular regions want to raise new crops? What factors enabled farmers to grow new crops?

Paths of diffusion: Tropical Southeast Asia was the source of many food and fiber crops that diffused during Big Era Five. First cultivated by farmers there, they spread to India, where they were first cultivated on a large scale. As they passed through India, the plants were refined for higher yields and other desirable qualities that improved their value as field crops. Another pathway to India led from East Africa via Yemen at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Other crops originated in India, and its women and men played important roles in the agricultural development of Afroeurasia. Evidence from literary and other sources shows that during the Islamic period, starting in the seventh century CE, many crops diffused rapidly across the Mediterranean to North Africa, Spain, and West Africa and eastward to China. During the Mongol empire, a species of lemon was introduced from Persia to China, and a type of millet from China to Persia. After 1500 CE, certain crops, including sugar, rice, bananas, indigo, and cotton, crossed the Atlantic, where they played important roles in European colonization of the New World. Many are still global cash crops today.

Agents of Diffusion: Many sorts of people were involved in diffusing crops across Afroeurasia. The most obvious agents of transfer were farmers who migrated to new lands, taking seeds and animals with them. After all, they had direct knowledge of how to grow and raise these products. Some plants do not multiply by seeds, but by cuttings and grafting. Others, such as rice, need special care at certain times. Rice seedlings have to be put into flooded fields at a particular time of year and the fields later drained so that the crop will ripen. Both irrigation and animal breeding techniques are specialized skills required for success in a new environment. At the top end of the social scale, royalty also played an important role in diffusion. Kings and queens received gifts from ambassadors that sometimes included rare plants for royal gardens and even a gardener to go with these plants. Military expeditions sometimes included scientists and geographers who collected plant and animal specimens, for example the scholars who accompanied Alexander the Great on his conquests in the fourth century BCE. Traders and pilgrims were more likely to bring news of new products than the plants or animals themselves, but they might also be harbingers of later diffusion.

Mediums for Diffusion: Movement of people, goods, and ideas favors diffusion. A major reason for the rapid transfer of crops during Big Era Five was the rise and spread of Islam. The conquest of a huge territory at the center of Afroeurasia and the subsequent creating of human links through a common religion and language (Arabic) encouraged rapid diffusion. The diverse regions connected together contributed native crops and farming practices, aided by economic prosperity and urbanization. The development of Muslim culture was a dynamic process of mingling among ethnic and religious groups. People were encouraged to make pilgrimages, trade, migrate, and spread learning. Further east, China under the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) reached a high level of manufacturing, trade, and agricultural production that involved diffusion of important crops such as sugar, cotton, and new varieties of rice. Along the trade routes, fruits and vegetables traveled in iced packing for the wealthiest consumers, but dried fruits and grains reached ordinary tables in quantity. Books on medicinal plants, veterinary medicine, and nutrition carried with them the seeds of demand for new crops. Wealthy rulers and elites opened new lands to irrigation and farming on a large scale.

Demand and Supply: Introduction of a crop or domestic animal alone does not amount to diffusion, because it may not become established in its new home. For example, finding historical evidence in a document of the introduction of a plant to a particular society is helpful but insufficient. The mention of a crop in a marketplace, cook book, poem, picture, song, or land tax records is evidence that it was successfully introduced. To become important, however, a new crop had to be in demand. Farmers are almost always conservative, because their investments in land, seed, and labor must succeed every year if they are to survive. They cannot risk producing what people may not want to buy. People do not easily change what they eat and wear, but an expanding society that is prosperous and open to novelty more easily creates demand. For example, the development of a sophisticated, urban Muslim society encouraged acceptance of new ideas, demand for new products such as cotton textiles, and desire among ordinary people to imitate what the wealthy elite consumed. Opening new lands to farming, building and maintaining irrigation works, providing ample labor, and encouraging merchants and sellers to ply their trades all increased the supply of new products.

The most remarkable part of the story of agricultural diffusion is the long period of time and the diversity of people involved in the cultivation, refinement, and spread of crops and animals. Also, intellectual and spiritual influences were as important as the economic and political factors. Crops evolved and moved with the history of human civilization from earliest farming to the present day. Today, rice, wheat, silk, cotton, sugar, coffee, tea, bananas, citrus fruits, olive oil, sheep, cattle, and thousands of other products travel around the world from one marketplace to another.

Map reprinted by permission from Douglass and Alavi, The Emergence of Renaissance: Cultural Interactions between Europeans and Muslims (Council on Islamic Education, 2000)

Lesson 6

Student Handout 6.1—Botanical And Zoological Travelers

COFFEE In early Islamic times, coffee began to be grown in Arabia, near the Red Sea. Coffee cultivation did not, however, become important until the 15th and 16th centuries, when many trees were planted in Yemen, and the taste for coffee began to spread to other Muslim lands. Coffee merchants became very wealthy in cities like Cairo, and coffee drinking spread to Europe. After a Turkish diplomat introduced it to Parisians in 1669, the consumption of coffee skyrocketed in Europe during the 17th century, with the growth of coffeehouses that also sold two other new drinks—chocolate and tea. Coffeehouses played an important role in the social and political life of European cities. Like sugar, coffee was introduced into Europe’s overseas colonies, and became a vital cash crop. In 1714, the French brought a live cutting of a coffee tree to Martinique in the West Indies. With this single plant, the coffee business in Latin America began. Today, it is a major source of revenue for several African and Latin American countries. A global commodity, coffee may be a major contributor to the modern work ethic.

(Sources: Ferdinand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 256-260; “Coffee,” Microsoft¨ Encarta¨ 96 Encyclopedia (Microsoft 1993-95).

CITRUS FRUIT Lemons, limes and oranges were once rare, exotic items. A few hundred years ago, a child who received a single orange as a gift would have been quite happy. Citrus fruits grow on trees whose fragrant blossoms made them a favorite in royal gardens. The use of citrus juice and rinds in cooking, for marmalade, in candied lemon and orange rinds, and in various cosmetics and medicincs helped this crop spread around the world. Cultivation of citrus fruits began in China, India and Malaysia. Each region domesticated different varieties, like kumquat, sweet orange, sour orange, lemon, lime, and citron. Grafting produced new varieties as cultivation spread. Some types of citrus had not spread west of India before Islamic times. Possibly reintroduced to the Mediterranean, the citron became widespread, and other types of citrus, like the lemon, the lime, and the sour orange were commonly mentioned in literature by the tenth century. Spain became the most famous place for oranges and other citrus, with its famous gardens celebrated in poems and songs, and in groves planted by royal gardeners that still stand today, like the Patio de los Naranjos in Cordoba. From royal plantations to backyard gardens, citrus trees have been part of Muslim culture. Citrus played an important role in the Age of Exploration itself, when captains learned to protect their crews from scurvy (a seaman’s disease caused by lack of vitamin C) by carrying preserved lemons or limes on board. English seamen, for this reason, were called “Limeys.” European explorers, once in India, are credited with introducing varieties of sweet oranges from there to the rest of the world, but as with cotton, the techniques for growing them had been learned centuries earlier. Citrus is an important global cash crop today, and a vital source of Vitamin C.

COTTON This fiber crop may have originated in India or ancient Egypt, and its textile varieties and cultivation techniques were certainly developed in India. Indian cotton goods were exported widely from India in ancient times across the monsoon and overland routes, but its cultivation spread slowly. During pre-Islamic times, it had spread into China, and probably as far west as East Africa. Much of this early diffusion, however, is cotton of an annual variety. High-yielding annual varieties of fine cotton fiber and their widespread cultivation diffused as a result of the economic development of Muslim lands, with their vast production of textiles of all kinds. Cotton was grown on a very wide scale, and processed at many centers. This new cotton plant spread as far as the frontiers of Christian Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Techniques for growing cotton became known to the Spanish and became very important in the New World. There, Old World familiarity with cotton and the methods for growing it united with New World varieties that produced longer fibers. With that, another of the cash crops that supported European colonization and economic growth of the Americas was born. Importation of these varieties back into the Old World gave the early industrial revolution a great push. The cotton mills of England, by 1830, were importing raw cotton from the Middle East and the American South, and selling calico printed cottons (whose styles and techniques were learned at Calicut, India) all over the world, fueling both industrial revolution and the growth of empire. Cotton, the word for which came from the Arabic qutn, also contributed to the development of the United States’ economy and global trade. On a personal level, cotton has also played a role in providing inexpensive, comfortable clothing for the masses, contributing to health and hygiene.

SUGAR CANE This is another “industrial crop” that has had a major impact on agriculture, economics, and social life around the world. It may also have encouraged the professional development of dentistry more than any other food. Sugar cane produces more calories per acre than anything else known, and it has many uses. Its juice can be sucked raw on the stalk or cooked and eaten. Its best-known use is refined sugar, crystallized from the juice boiled to syrup. Depending on how many boilings, it may be brown, red or white. Molasses is a mineral-rich byproduct of sugar. The crushed cane is excellent for feeding cattle. Sugar cane, like so many other important crops, was originally cultivated and refined in India, Southeast Asia, or Indonesia, from a wild grass high in sugar content. It has been grown for so long that it is not known when it was first domesticated. Imay have reached China as early as 1000 BCE, and Yemen and Persia by the seventh century. Small amounts of sugar may have been exported to western Afroeurasia as medicine or curiosity in ancient times. From Persian areas to the Levant, Cypress, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, sugar cultivation and refining followed the spread of Muslim culture. By 1500, it had reached some islands in the Atlantic, like Madeira and the Canaries. It was produced on a large scale for domestic use and for export in Muslim lands, India, and China. Sugar, whose name is derived from the Arabic sukkar, most likely became known to Western Europe by way of Muslim Spain. We can imagine the Christian rulers and elites adopting candies (also a word derived from Arabic) and sweetened desserts from their Muslim counterparts. There is also literary evidence of this transfer. One of the lasting memories of the translator-scholars who visited Toledo’s famous libraries must have been marzipan, a confection of almond paste and sugar that was a specialty of the city. The Crusaders tasted sugar and saw it growing in the Levant. European visitors to the Ottoman court tasted Turkish delight and other sweet pastries, and wrote rapturously about it to folks back home. Nevertheless, sugar remained a luxury until the seventh century, when supplies from plantations, worked by slave labor, began to arrive in larger quantities. Sugar is another cash crop that financed Europe’s colonization of the world, both as refined sugar and as rum, one of the products of the triangular trade that bought African slaves to the Americas. The popularity of sugar in Europe stimulated production in other places, too, and another global commodity was born. In 1747, German chemist Markgraff isolated sugar from the sugar beet. This brought the sweetener within reach of northern climates and within the budget of the masses. Sugar had conquered the world and made fortunes for many.

HARD WHEAT (pasta and semolina) Italian food calls to mind pasta and sauce, but it might surprise you to know that both tomatoes and the hard wheat used to make all sorts of pasta were introduced not too many centuries ago to Italy and the rest of Europe. Pasta is an invention of long distance travelers. Hard wheat was ground into flour, mixed with water and salt to make a dough and sieved into couscous, formed into small balls, rings, or tubes that could be strung on strings to dry, or laid in the sun. A highly nutritious, compact traveling food that stored well for a long time, it needed only to be boiled in water to eat. It could be mixed with meats, beans and sauces. Hard wheat is important because it can grow with less rainfall than other types, and it can also be stored longer without spoiling. Hard wheat contains a lot of gluten—the substance that makes its dough very elastic. Its flour is also excellent for making flatbreads. Hard wheat may have originated in East Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean, but its cultivation spread widely under Muslim influence. It became an important crop in Spain and Italy, from where it spread to Europe. Along with the spread of hard wheat, which is high in gluten, went the art of making many forms of pasta. The proof of its spread to Europe from Muslim lands lies in the various words for noodles derived from Arabic terms. Thin pastry is also a product that must be made with hard wheat flour.

TOMATOES The other spaghetti ingredient—tomato sauce—did not appear until tomatoes were brought from the Americas during the Colombian Exchange. Tomatoes were first thought to be poisonous, as members of the nightshade family, but they soon caught on, and became so much wedded to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking that it is hard to imagine them as not being a very old food item in the region. The rapid spread of tomatoes around the world offers a good example of rapid global diffusion of new products and foods after 1500, when the routes of the Columbian Exchange linked up with existing cultural connections in the Old World.

RICE This grain originated as a food crop in the Far East, except for some wild varieties in the Americas and elsewhere. Rice is the only grain that can be eaten just by boiling it; most others must be ground into flour. Rice offers excellent nutrition and high yield per acre. Rice, however, can only be grown where there is enough water for the fields to be flooded for the young plants; therefore, rice cultivation spread hand-in-hand with Muslim irrigation technology and widespread organization. A staple food crop in the Far East, rice was often a luxury, though a very popular one, in other lands where it was not so heavily cultivated. Muslim farmers, merchants, and even monarchs contributed to bringing cultivation of Asian rice from China and Southeast Asia into Muslim lands around the Mediterranean, then on to East and West Africa, and to Spain and Italy. Rice was also imported into Europe from Muslim lands, as it does not grow in colder regions. Rice and its cultivation played a decisive role in the colonization of the Americas, where it was an important crop used to feed slaves. It was grown together with cotton and with sugar cane to feed those who labored on the plantations. It also became an American food staple that is still grown.

Excerpted by permission from S. Douglass and K. Alavi, The Emergence of Renaissance: Cultural Interactions between Europeans and Muslims (Council on Islamic Education, 2000).

This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking

Historical Thinking Standard 1: Chronological Thinking

The student is able to (F) reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration in which historical developments have unfolded, and apply them to explain historical continuity and change.

Historical Thinking Standard 2: Historical Comprehension

The student is able to (G) draw upon data in historical maps in order to obtain or clarify information on the geographic setting in which the historical event occurred, its relative and absolute location, the distances and directions involved, the natural and manmade features of the place, and critical relationships in the spatial distributions of those features and historical event occurring there.

Historical Thinking Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

The student is able to (D) draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries. 

Historical Thinking Standard 4: Historical Research Capabilities

The student is able to (C) interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.


Instructional resources for teachers

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Bentley, Jerry H. Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Christian, David. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Curtin, Philip D. Cross-Cultural Trade in World History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Douglass, Susan L. World Eras, vol. 2, Rise and Spread of Islam, 622-1500. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2002.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam. 3 Vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

McNeill, J. R., and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History. New York: Norton, 2003.

Pearson, Michael. The Indian Ocean. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Risso, Patricia. Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Shaffer, Lynda. “Southernization.” Journal of World History 5 (Spring 1994): 1-21.

Watson, Andrew M. Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700-1000. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.

Instructional resources for students

“Rise of the Shogun: Life in Medieval Japan.” Calliope: Exploring World History 16 (Jan. 2006).
“The Silk Road.” Calliope: Exploring World History 12 (Feb. 2002).
“When Spice Ruled.” Calliope: Exploring World History 16 (Feb. 2006).

The World in Ancient Times Series. New York: Oxford UP, 2005.

Bingham, Marjorie Wall. An Age of Empires, 1200-1750.

Des Forges, Roger and John S. Major. The Asian World, 600-1500.

Hannawalt, Barbara A. The European World, 400-1450.

Kelly, Donald R. and Bonnie G. Smith. The Medieval and Early Modern World: Primary Sources & Refernce Volume.

Pouwels, Randall. The African and Middle East World, 600-1500.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. An Age of Voyages, 1350-1600.

“The World’s Oldest Revealed Religion: Good Words, Good Thoughts, Good Deeds: Zoroastrianism.”

Calliope: Exploring World History 15 (Jan. 2005).

Correlations to National and State Standards

National Standards for History

Era Four: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 2A: The student understands the emergence of Islam and how it spread in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe. 3A: The student understands China’s sustained political and cultural expansion in the Tang period.

Era Five: Intensified Hemispheric Interactions, 1D: The student understands how interregional communication and trade led to intensified cultural exchanges among diverse peoples of Eurasia and Africa. 5B: The student understands transformations in Europe following the economic and demographic crisis of the 14the century. 6A: The student understands the development of complex societies and states in North America and Mesoamerica.7: The student understands major global trends from 1000-1500 CE.

California: History-Social Science Content Standards

Grade 7.2: Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages.

Grade 7.3: Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of China in the Middle Ages.

Grade 7.4 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Sub-Saharan civilizations of Ghana and Mali in Medieval Africa.

Grade 7.6 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Medieval Europe.

Grade 7.7 Students compare and contrast the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social and structures of the Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies

113.33 World History Studies. (c) Knowledge and Skills. 19) Culture. The student understands the history and relevance of major religious and philosophical traditions.

Virginia History and Social Science Standards of Learning

World History and Geography to 1500 AD. Era III: Postclassical Civilizations, 500 to 1000 A.D.

WHI.7 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Byzantine Empire and Russia from about 300 to 1000 A.D.

WHI.8 The student will demonstrate knowledge of Islamic civilization from about 600 to 1000 A.D.

WHI.9 The student will demonstrate knowledge of Western Europe during the Middle Ages from about 500 to 1000 A.D. in terms of its impact on Western civilization.

World History and Geography to 1500 AD. Era IV: Regional Interactions, 1000 to 1500 A.D.

WHI.10 The student will demonstrate knowledge of civilizations and empires of the Eastern Hemisphere and their interactions through regional trade patterns.

WHI.11 The student will demonstrate knowledge of major civilizations of the Western Hemisphere, including the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan.

WHI.12 The student will demonstrate knowledge of social, economic, and political changes and cultural achievements in the late medieval period.

WHII.2 The student will demonstrate an understanding of the political, cultural, and economic conditions in the world about 1500 A.D.

World History for Us All

A project of San Diego State University

In collaboration with the

National Center for History in the Schools (UCLA)

Directory: units
units -> Unit 2/3 Industrialization and the Gilded Age / American Society In Transition (3 weeks) Big Picture Questions: Describe the factors that led to the dramatic expansion of American industry in the late 1800s
units -> Global History and Geography Name Date Absolute Monarchy
units -> Use the story (p. 228 229) to answer the following questions
units -> Age of Revolution
units -> American History: a survey, 13
units -> American History: a survey, 13
units -> Unit 1 and 2 Short Answers Exam The Columbian Exchange: Please complete the following three tasks
units -> K-8 Communication Arts iefa integration Book List Updated on 04-23-14
units -> Unit: War and Oppression 26 Day Unit Jennifer Ballard Valdosta State University November 2008
units -> Sir Apirana Ngata and Waiata-a-ringa – a very brief history

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