Commerce and Culture in World History



Spring 2013

HIST 5062

Commerce and Culture in World History

Robert P. Geraci

This colloquium for advanced undergraduates and graduate students will explore recent scholarship on the role of commerce in shaping world histories and cultures primarily in the early modern and modern periods.  We shall view the issues of commerce and its cultural roles from five different standpoints:  1) the specific objects and commodities that have circulated on the globe; 2) the people engaged in trade: their motivations, worldviews, and relationships to the peoples among whom they trade; 3) the means of exchange (money and credit); 4) the trade routes and their economic and geo-political significance; and 5) the consumers whose ways of life and everyday demands have shaped and been shaped by the world economy. 

Some of the readings will explore topics of global significance using case studies from particular countries.  But many have been chosen for their inherent “world history” approach, that is their examination of a topic not from the perspective of a single nation or culture but with significant attention to two or more, and especially if spanning different continents or world areas.  Although most of the major world areas will be represented in the reading list  -- Europe, Asia, the United States, Latin America, and Africa -- because of the instructor’s background and interests the readings will give particular emphasis to Europe’s relations with the world outside Europe, and to the relationship between commerce and imperialism.  Readings will include:  Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Centuries (selections); Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power:  The Place of Sugar in Modern History; and Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence:  China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy.  Other readings will cover the evolution of international trading companies, trade in socialist countries, and the role of pirates in world trade.

Students will be required to make short in-class presentations on required readings, write two short papers (4-6 pages each), and submit a longer paper (12-15 pages) on a topic chosen with the instructor’s approval.  There are no exams. 



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904



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