The Making of a Global World | Revision Notes

The Making of a Global World | Revision Notes

The Making of a Global World

Trade Routes, Goods and Trading Practices

Globalisation is an economic system or the trade links which exist across countries or continents. Globalism which exists at present was much different from the one which existed in the beginning of the modern period. Trade was carried out through various routes by traders and merchants. Priests and pilgrims also travelled from one country to another in search of knowledge, for spiritual fulfilment or to escape persecution. However, in this process, disease-carrying germs were also carried along by traders and explorers.

The Silk Route

The Silk Route was mainly a trade route which connected Asia with Africa and Europe. Silk was the chief commodity which was traded on this route. However, many other commodities such as gold, silver, precious stones, wool, cotton and carpets were also traded on this route. This route also enabled cultural exchanges from one country to another. Many Buddhists, pilgrims and priests travelled in search of spiritual and religious knowledge. The Silk route thrived during the ancient period and survived till the end of the fifteenth century.

Columbus discovers the sea route to America

Food Travels

  • Various food items and seeds were carried from one part of the country to the other. These food items then assumed different names and forms in different countries. For example, it is believed that noodles became spaghetti after they were taken from China to the West.
  • Many common and staple foods such as potato, tomatoes, chillies and maize were not known in many countries in the ancient period. These food items were introduced in Asia and Europe after the continent of America was discovered.
  • Introduction of these food items changed the lifestyle of Europeans.

Conquest, Disease and Trade

  • Discovery of sea routes and geographical explorations significantly changed the geography and lifestyle of Europeans in particular.
  • After the discovery of America, its vast lands, minerals and abundant crops changed the lives of people living elsewhere. For example, silver mines in present-day Peru and Mexico financed European trade with Asia.
  • The Portuguese and the Spanish began to conquer and makeinroads in the American continent. They were able to conquer the Americas not because of their superior weapons but because of germs which they carried along with them.
  • Because the natives of America were cut off from the world, they had no immunity against the diseases which came from Europe. Small pox, to which the Europeans were immune, killed thousands of natives and paved the way for the colonisation of America.
  • Many Europeans migrated to America in order to escape religious persecution and to begin a new life. Many cotton and sugarcane plantations were established in America where several Africans captured as slaves worked.
  • India and China were among the richest countries. However, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, their position began to decline and Europe emerged as the centre of world trade.

A painting depicting the death of Native Americans because of the outbreak of small pox

The Nineteenth Century

There were significant political, cultural and technological changes in the nineteenth century in Europe.

Changes in Economy

  • In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the demand of food grains increased in Great Britain. This increased the prices of food grains. Under pressure from landowners, the Government put a ban on the import of corn, which came to be known as the Corn Laws.
  • This further increased the prices of food grains. This led the Government to scrap the Corn Laws. Thus, food began to be imported into Britain in such large quantities that British agriculture was unable to compete with imports. Many agricultural labourers migrated to cities in search of work.
  • The reduction in food prices in Britain increased consumption. After the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average income rose. Lands were cleared in Eastern Europe, Australia, America and Russia to meet the food demands of Britain. This also led to the development of ports, transport and settlements in these regions.
  • Many Europeans also migrated to Australia and America as labour was in short supply and in search of a better future.
  • By 1890, agriculture had become global in nature as food came not necessarily from a nearby village but from thousands of miles away. Railways and ships built for exporting and importing food grains also provided employment to workers from southern Europe, Asia and Africa.
  • The British Government also built a network of canals in many colonies, such as in west Punjab in India, to reduce the dependency of agriculture on rainfall.

Role of Technology

  • The railways, steamships and telegraph were some important inventions of the late modern period. These inventions came to be increasingly used in colonies to further help in the transport of food grains and raw materials.
  • The invention of refrigerated ships enabled the preservation and transport of perishable food items such as meat. This reduced meat prices in Europe. Better living conditions in Europe promoted social peace which led these countries to establish colonies in various parts of the world.

Colonialism in the Late 19th Century

  • One negative result of expansion of trade and industrial growth in Europe was the spread of colonialism in many countries of Asia and Africa. The big European nations divided the African continent among each other in 1885. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and USA were some major African landholders.
  • Levying high taxes and changing inheritance laws were measures which were taken by the colonial powers to force the native Africans to work for wages in Africa. Later, the spread of a cattle disease called rinderpest killed about 90% of cattle in Africa. This loss of cattle destroyed the African livelihood forcing the Africans to work for European planters and mine owners.
  • In the nineteenth century, many indentured labourers were sent from India and China to various regions of the world to work on plantations, mines and in road and railway construction projects.
  • The indentured labourers had to sign a contract in which they had to work for five years on their owners plantations before returning to their lands. If they left their jobs before the end of their tenure, the owner had the right to send them to jail.
  • Most of the indentured labourers came from Uttar Pradesh, central India, Bihar and the dry regions of South India. Many Indian workers migrated to the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. These labourers worked under extremely harsh conditions and did not earn enough. This became a new system of slavery.

Indentured labourers moving to other countries in search of employment

Indian Trade, Colonialism and the Global System

  • The British Government imposed several restrictions on the import of Indian cotton clothes into Britain to protect local industries. The tariff duties however were removed on the British mill-produced cloth imported into India.
  • This led to the decline in the Indian textile industries which were not able to face competition from the cheap mill-produced cloth from Britain.
  • While the export of Indian cotton cloth declined, the export of raw materials such as cotton, indigo and opium increased. In India, the value of British exports was higher than that of British imports. Britain thus maintained a favourable balance of trade with India. It helped Britain to balance its trade deficit with other countries, to pay its officers in India, to pay interest on India’s external trade and to pay the pensions of the British officials in India. This resulted in the drain of Indian wealth to Britain.

The Economy during the First World War

  • The First World War (1914-18) fought between Britain, France and Russia (later also joined by the USA) on one hand and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey on the other hand brought large-scale economic changes in the world.
  • Machine guns, tanks, aircraft and chemical weapons were used on a large scale. During the war, many industries were producing goods related to the war. Women began to work as men went to the battlefield to fight the wars.
  • Britain borrowed large sums of money from the banks and the public of the United States. After the end of the war, the citizens of the US had owned more overseas assets than in the US.

The First World War saw an increase in the production of weapons.

Post-War Recovery

  • By the end of the war, Britain was heavily in debt. The end of the war led to an increase in unemployment. Production also decreased.
  • The revival of wheat production in Canada, America and Australia led to the fall in the prices of wheat. This led to a decline in rural income and high debts for farmers.
  • The US was quick to recover from the effects of the First World War. One of the features of its economy in 1920 was mass production. Henry Ford increased the production of cars by following the method of assembly line production.
  • This method of mass production was soon followed by other industrialists in USA and was then followed in Europe. Many electronic items came to be produced in a similar way which led to the boom in the US economy.

The Great Depression of 1929

  • A great economic depression hit the United States and other European countries in 1929. There was decline in the production of industrial goods, employment opportunities, incomes and trade. Farmers were worst affected because of the decline in food grains.
  • Countries which depended on US finances faced acute crises. The withdrawal of loans from the US led to the failure of major banks in Europe and the value of the pound deteriorated. The attempts by the US to protect its trading interests by increasing import duties also hit the world markets.
  • The depression also hit the US hard. The conditions of farmers, workers and the middle class worsened.

The Great Depression of 1929 hit the western countries hard.

The Great Depression - Impact on India

  • Indian trade was hit hard by the Great Depression. India’s exports and imports were halved. The prices of food grains decreased, but the Government refused to decrease the taxes.
  • Peasants who produced commodities for the world market such as cotton and jute suffered great losses. Rural indebtedness increased, and many farmers lost their lands.
  • The depression did not impact urban Indians much. Decrease in the prices of food grains benefited fixed salaried employees. Investments in industries also grew as the Government protected the industries by imposing tariffs under the mounting pressure of the nationalists in India.

The Second World War and Recovery

  • The Second World War broke out in 1939. The destruction in this war was larger than the previous war. This war saw the rise of two powerful nations-the United States and the Soviet Union of Russia.
  • The governments of the European and American nations realised that for economic recovery, it is important to preserve economic stability and guarantee full employment to the people. The conference was held at Bretton Woods in USA in 1944 to discuss ways to achieve these aims. This system came to be known as the Bretton Woods system.
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF) was set up to finance the post-war reconstruction process. The World Bank and the IMF were controlled by the Western powers, especially by the US.
  • The Bretton Woods system led to the beginning of growth of trade and income in many western industrial regions and in Japan.

The Bretton Conference held at Bretton, USA


  • After the end of the Second World War, many Asian and African countries became independent. These countries however emerged poor as these countries were exploited by colonial powers.
  • The World Bank and the IMF began to shift their focus towards the development of newly independent nations. However, many western nations also secured the rights to exploit the natural resources of the poor countries and further exploited them.
  • Many developing nations did not benefit from the rapid growth of the western nations, and thus, they organised themselves into a group of 77 or G-77 to demand a new economic order which will also protect their trading interests in the long term.

Beginning of Globalisation

  • Because of the rising costs of goods, the US Dollar began to depreciate. This led to the collapse of fixed exchange rates (when the rates of exchange are fixed and the Government interferes in the system to keep them fixed) and the introduction of floating exchange rates (the rates are not fixed as they fluctuate depending on the demand and supply of currencies in the foreign markets; the Government does not control the rates).
  • The developing countries were forced to borrow money from the western commercial banks and private lending institutions. This increased debt traps, poverty and lower incomes in borrowing countries.
  • As the costs of running production and labour became expensive in the western nations, these countries began to shift their centre of production to the Asian and African nations.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union brought many socialist countries into the world economic fold.
  • Because the wages of workers were extremely low in China, many traders and businessmen set up their industries there.
  • The shifting of industries to low-wage countries resulted in larger trade and flow of capital from the developed to the developing nations. Many countries such as China, India, Brazil and the Philippines have seen rapid economic construction and transformation.