“Crossroads of Globalization”
The first year of the “Crossroads of Globalization” program will examine four hot spots in the Western Hemisphere. Potential locales include Potosí, Whydah, the Lower Savannah River, Beverwijck (later Albany), Detroit and Québec. Similarities in European overseas expansion are evident in each area: the problems in organizing and maintaining trade routes to the hot spot, the formation and mastery of protocols to facilitate interaction and exchange, and the adaptation and transformation of polities and economic behavior to accommodate international markets.
Potosí was a remote hot spot in the Bolivian Andes that brought together a diversity of people from Europe, Africa and South America, Potosí grew from a small hamlet in 1545 to over 120,000 inhabitants by 1620, and the city had great impact on the larger Andean region. Silver from Potosí was shipped by sea either to Manila or to Panama, where it was sent by boat and dragged overland across the Isthmus of Panama and then across the Atlantic to Spain. In this way, the Pacific trading zone became a vital component in both the Pacific and the Atlantic worlds. Globalization transformed Potosí’s environment and peoples, yet the locale had its own transforming power on the world economy: Potosí silver stimulated the creation of other hot spots, such as Manila and Havana. Potosí became the linchpin in the forging of complex trade routes linking South and North America to Europe, but also for establishing the first sustained and direct linkage between the Americas and Asia.
As Potosí connected continents, so, too did Whydah, though its impact was more confined to the Atlantic world. Whydah can be envisioned as the center of a wheel with spokes extending in all directions. An extraordinary hot spot in terms of the sheer variety of peoples engaged in exchange as traders or as commodities, it was neither an important link in an imperial chain like Potosí, nor a place at which a single European power could dominate and monopolize access. Yet it would be difficult to overestimate Whydah’s importance in the development of plantation slavery in the Americas, and capital accumulation in Europe.
Compared to Whydah and Potosí, the hot spot of the Lower Savannah River region had limited impact on empires and the larger story of globalization, but it did share transforming qualities upon a vast region. This hot spot remained relatively insignificant in terms of local governance—groups came and went with little attempt to control the area–the site had little inherent economic importance. But as a crossroads for diplomacy and trade between the English and a variety of indigenous peoples, it was a hot spot for globalization. New native polities formed in the larger region, becoming militarily powerful confederacies, in large part, to better treat with each other and the English at this hot spot. The English fumbled to establish political institutions to bring order to the area—their failure led to a pan-Indian war against nearby South Carolina, which nearly wiped out the colony; in the war’s aftermath the Lower Savannah River lost its purpose and disappeared as a hot spot.
Finally, Québec also served as a hot spot for French-Amerindian interactions in Canada. As the political, military, economic and religious heart of the French empire in Canada, Québec wielded significant influence in all directions. Yet there were geographic limitations as well. As a result of its distance from so many activities and peoples within North America, Québec had to concede much of its power over Canadian affairs to small outposts, religious orders, and both official and unofficial traders. Conversely, native peoples sometimes dealt directly with Québec, and sometimes bypassed the administrative center in pursuit of their interests. Québec thus offers us a hot spot that frequently ran cold—and thus another avenue for examining the relationship between locale and globalization.
All together, these Atlantic World hot spots varied in terms of governance and purpose, but they all served as conduits for exchange that influenced the globalization of much larger regions and the imperial powers who conducted trade and diplomacy there.
Brief summary of potential hot spots for the “Crossroads of Globalization” program for 2007-2008
Potosí—location in the Andes of the world’s greatest silver mines, where indigenous peoples, imported African slaves, and Spanish all labored and interacted.
Whydah—most important port in the African slave trade, where Europeans competed with one another to obtain slaves.
Lower Savannah River—key locale in English trade relations with the peoples of the American Southeast. Also central for the conduct of the Indian Slave Trade.
Beverwijck—small fortified Dutch village at the head of navigable waters on the Hudson River 150 miles north of New Amsterdam where trade and diplomacy were conducted with Iroquois—furs from over 1,000 miles away traded there, in dyadic tension with the French on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the English Puritan colonies to the east.
Detroit—French outpost crucial for diplomatic and trade relations with Algonquins throughout the Great Lakes in the 18th century, inland hub of a tenuous continental empire.
Québec—French capital and economic center, with much engagement of native peoples throughout Canada