Prologue
Making Global History in the Spanish Empire
The world BeCame whole in the sixteenth century. Popula-
tion growth, rising trade, and tax collections mandated in silver
set off a burgeoning demand for the metal in Ming China just as Span-
iards conquered American dominions and found mountains of silver.
From the 1550s rising streams of silver from Potosí, high in the Andes,
and Zacatecas, far north of Mexico City, flowed west to Europe, to be
traded on to China for silks, porcelains, and other goods. Before 1600
a second flow annually sailed west from Acapulco on galleons bound
for Manila, again traded for Chinese wares. Silver mined in American
colonies of a European empire met a rising Chinese demand, fueling
global trade and commercial ways that eventually led to capitalism.1
Globalization began in unplanned and little understood encounters
among peoples who lived in villages, mining centers, and trading cities
ruled by diverse empires, speaking distinct languages and worship-
ping in varied ways. Around 1500 Ming China included the largest,
densest population of any world region; most people there lived by
household production in communities linked by growing local mar-
kets and regional trade; an empire that took taxes in silver added pres-
sures to put produce into markets, further stimulating trade. At the
same time western Europe emerged from the century of depopulation
and depression inflicted by the plague of 1348; the sixteenth century
saw its populations finally grow again, its cultivation expand, and its
trade deepen, while its states continued to fight for survival and domi-
nance, and Iberians led unprecedented overseas expansion. Mean-
while the Americas faced European incursions, bringing devastating
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