Expansion and Consequences: Crash Course European History #5 (2)
discussed earlier, a process that accelerated in Central and South Americas through the
In Europe, sugar was initially such a precious luxury that a sprinkle of it was all that
even the wealthy could afford.
Queen Isabella of Castille and Spain gave a small box of sugar to her daughter as a
Christmas present to be treasured.
[[TV: Chocolate]] Chocolate began as a ceremonial drink for the powerful, as it was among the
But as European communities became wealthier, more people transitioned from subsistence
living to being able to afford goods from distant places.
Treats of sugar, chocolate, tea, coffee and tobacco transformed attitudes, while the hot
water that was needed for making tea and coffee and hot cocoa is thought to have extended
the life spans in Europe by killing water-born germs.
And slowly the English and some of Spain and Portugal's other competitors established
their own colonies—the English had the unsuccessful colony of Roanoke in the 1580s, and then Jamestown
in 1607, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620.
Some of these settlers came in families but many came as single men and occasionally single
And in the developing propaganda war among these rivals, English latecomers to the Atlantic
world promoted an idea that came to be called the “Black Legend.”
It maintained that unlike the tolerant and kind English Protestants, the Spanish were
bigoted Catholics, brutal and destructive of local people.
That would be what Psychologists call “projection.”
Today we know that English settlers slaughtered local peoples with abandon—even people on
whom their own survival depended because many adventurers had no knowledge of farming.
Moreover most English settlers were as bigoted as other Europeans in those days.
But the “Black Legend” was a really powerful idea in history for a long time--in fact,
when I was a kid growing up in Florida, I was told that it was unfortunate Florida had
been a Spanish colony, because the English were much kinder rulers.
So by the end of the seventeenth century, the rush for trade and empire was in full
Plantations based on New World tobacco had been set up in North America and sugar mills
in the Caribbean and South America.
Mining and many other lucrative enterprises as well as the promise of exploitable land
kept the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans crowded with voyagers.
All the while most native people ruled by colonizers saw the vast majority of their
labor's value exported.
It was the beginning of the true globalization we experience today, complete with all of
its contradictions and complexities.
We live in a world today of tremendous abundance where a pinch of sugar is not generally seen
as a great Christmas present.
Starvation and child mortality are more rare than they have ever been.
But we also live in a world with profound inequality and injustice, where the powerful
have legal and social protections that the weak do not.
It's important to remember that in all those senses we are the products of history--but
of course we are also producing history.
Thanks for watching.
I'll see you next time.
[i] Bernal Dias, quoted in Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization, 7th ed.
(Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009) 419.
[ii] Bartolomé Las Casas, “Thirty Very Juridical Propositions” (1552) quoted in
Bonnie G. Smith, ed., Modern Empires: A Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018)