DBQ 3: Mattwell’s Silver Hammer

For today’s revised DBQ (the 2006 exam on the global silver trade), I wanted to think a little more about how to prepare students to analyze context, both the smaller context of each individual source and the larger historical context of the whole essay.  Back before the changes, I think this was the essay that both I and my students really learned how to teach or write DBQs, all thanks to Angela Lee and Bill Strickland’s excellent annotated rubric for this exam.

Update: Here is the revised revised 2006 DBQ, based on your feedback! 2006 Revised DBQv2

Old draft: 2006 Revised DBQ (Working Draft)

Teaching Context: Teacher Resources

What can get you ready to plunge down the silver rabbit hole?  I’ve got a few suggested reading, some long and some short, to get you started.  

Andre Gunder Frank, an economic historian who helped create the “dependency theory” of global economics and leading thinker of the world-systems school, wrote a provocative and quite good book on the early modern world economy.  In ReOrient (heh, I see what you did there Andre), Frank argues that East (and South) Asia had always been the center of gravity of the world economy.  And in fact, these regions remained the center throughout the early modern era.  The age of exploration and the first imperial age can be told as a story of backwards Europeans “hitching” a “third-class seat” onto the powerful Chinese economic locomotive.  How did they pay?  Silver.  Africa’s role gets a short shrift, but, overall, ReOrient is brilliant survey of the mechanics and dynamics of global trade up to about 1750.  ReOrient is popular enough that you can find it at most good public libraries.  Be warned, it’s 350+ pages!

Frank, Andre Gunder. ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998

Frank draws upon a pair of articles (both quick and easy reads) by two economists, Denis O. Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, that argue that the first truly global economy was forged out of silver.  Their first article in the JWH tracks these flows in an accessible paper.  In fact, I (and I believe many others) would reccomend using this article with students.  This could be even more useful since the new multiple-choice section is likely to have arguments by historians.  Their follow-up piece shows the varying bimetallic ratios across the globe and identifies two main periods to the silver trade.  The first, dominated by silver from Potosi, ended with the general crisis (Dutch independence, Thirty Years War, Qing conquest of the Ming, etc) of the mid-seventeenth century.  The second, dominated by the Zacatecas mine in New Spain, ended with Latin American independence and the rise of opium exports to China.  

Flynn, Dennis O., and Arturo Giraldez. 1995a. “Born with a ‘Silver Spoon’: The Origin of World Trade.” Journal of World History 6, no. 2 (Fall): 201­22.

———. 2002., “Cycles of Silver: Global Economic Unity through the Mid-Eighteenth Century,” Journal of World History 13, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 391–427.

In looking for the global significance of all this American (and Japanese!) silver, it’s often easy to forget the local and regional consequences of the silver trade.  Carlos Marichal’s chapter in From Silver to Cocaine does a great job of tracking the circulation of silver pesos within Iberian America.  

“The Spanish-American Peso” in From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000. Ed. by Topik S, Marichal C, Frank ZL.  Durham, N.C: Duke University Press; 2006.

Zooming in even closer, I would also recommend Jane Mangan’s chapter in Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America.  The chapter examines the flexible and contested roles of indigenous and mestizo women in the markets of Potosi.  

Jane E. Mangan“A Market of Identities: Women, Trade, and Ethnic Identities in Colonial Potosi”  in Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America ed. by Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

What about the Pacific?  Matt Matsuda’s Pacific World examines this period with a focus on Oceania, Southeast Asia, and Japan.  Encounters between Pacific Islanders and the Spanish, the VOC and Javanese traders, and the Dutch and Japanese, can all be traced, in part, to links forged by the silver trade.  Each chapter, I would recommend 5, 6, and 7 for this topic, is short and might even be appropriate for students.  

Matsuda, Matt K. Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures. Cambridge;New York;: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

*Bonus recommendation: 1492 by Charles Mann, has some great and engaging writing on Spanish Manilla and the effects of the Columbian exchange in China.  

Teaching Context: Student Lessons

What about for our students?  The biggest change, as I see it, to the new DBQ, is that the essay is on something that students are expected to know a good deal about.  There are already a good deal of resources on the the global silver trade.  Personally, I would recommend that students read a section from their textbook on global trade (chapter 14 from Strayer’s Ways of the World is quite good) and perhaps an additional secondary source, such as a short chapter from Pomeranz (may he live long and prosper) and Topik’s popular The World that Trade Created.

Students should also get some practice (since this is definitely going to be taught first semester) analyzing these documents in the context of what they just learned.  Part 15 of Bridging World History just can’t be beat here.  They’ve got a short video on the silver trade and its consequences, along with some activities analyzing some great primary sources.

Bridging World History, Unit 15 “Global Commodities:” http://www.learner.org/courses/worldhistory/unit_main_15.html

Document Activity: http://www.learner.org/courses/worldhistory/support/activities_15.pdf

*East Asia for Educators also has some short readings on the silver trade: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/chinawh/web/s5/s5_4.html

Checklist: What terms/concepts should students know before they write this DBQ?

  • Ming Single Whip System
  • Ming-Qing Transition
  • The Magellanic Exchange
  • Manilla
  • Tokugawa Japan
  • Spanish Colonial Labor and Race Structures
  • Mid-Seventeenth Century European (or Global) Crisis
  • Mughal India and European trade in the Indian Ocean
  • “Arbitrage” Trade

Adding Visual Documents to the DBQ


1616-de-bry-potosiI like this woodcut of the miners in Potosi, but the information given is too much in-line with the Spanish source on the same.  I do love how similar this sixteenth century visual is to La Capilla del Hombre in Quito, Ecuador.  

ming_moneyMaybe some Ming paper money.  But the only person I know who would translate this for me was not returning my texts. Damn!

1888_México_8_Reals_Trade_Coin_SilverWikipedia delivers!  Unfortunately, these are from the nineteenth century.

jacques-le-moyne-pack-train-of-llamas-laden-with-silver-from-potosi-mines-of-peru-by-theodore-de-bry-1528-98_a-g-1342321-8880731I love llamas.  This woodcut (a De Bry, I think) is based off of a drawing (now lost) by a Frenchmen.  I love that we have an American domesticated pack animal, Andeans, and Spaniards all in one shot!  


I settled on an embroidered wedding coverlet I found on the Met’s website.  Many of the above readings discuss the availability of Chinese silks and Porcelains in Spanish America.  The coverlet shows the meeting of European fashion, household handicrafts, mexican cloth, Chinese silk, and traditional Aztec and Central American dyes!  Boom!  I think this document shows both an economic and social consequence (rich/middle class folks in European dress with access to Chinese goods, evolving art and tastes, and the role these goods (paid for with Zacatecas silver) played in the household).

Finally, the new DBQs seems to have a lot of charts and tables.  I put together a chart from Garner and Tepaske’s data on Latin American silver production.  I think it clearly shows the two “phases” of American production.  Students might guess as to what the cause/consequences of the drop in the mid-seventeenth century or as to the shift to Mexican sources had for the both the Spanish, Americans, and East Asians.  

Poll: Who will make the cut?

You may have already noticed I have 8 documents, not the required 7, in the file posted.  The original essay had 8, with ZERO visual documents.  I felt like original documents 1 and 5 were the weakest and most repetitive.  But if we want visual sources, we need to get rid of one more!  So here is a quick poll?  Which of the remaining documents should get the ax?  And why? Thanks again for your help and feedback! I’ll post a trimmed-down version after the poll and feedback comes in.  

Link to the poll (AP WH teachers only!)

Update: Thanks for the feedback!  I removed both the de Mercado document from the original, and replaced the colcha (which would be great document analysis practice) and added the de Bry engraving of the llama pack-train!

*One more thing!  If you think the final document should be in a different format, such as, a single graph with two lines or a chart by decade and by viceroyalty, this is something I can make!

DSC00062Having to spend a summer at the Sevilla archive ain’t all bad!


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