How did transoceanic trade networks create vast wealth and new kinds of inequality? What group of people gained the wealth, and which groups of people lost the wealth? What do you think about this historical phenomenon?

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A historical example of a transoceanic trade network that created vast wealth for some and immense inequality and a loss of wealth for others is the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This triangular trade system lasted from the late sixteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century and was rooted in the immense inequality of enslavement and genocide. This trade system created vast amounts of wealth for some European countries, such as Britain and Portugal, while destroying the lives of the estimated 25 million to 30 million African people who were stolen from their homelands, forced to endure the often deadly Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean, and sold into torturous slavery in the Caribbean, South American, and North America. The European, Arab, and African slave-catchers also made a fortune from stealing people from their villages and selling them from the shores of West Africa in exchange for British and Portuguese goods. Fierce resistance among enslaved Africans aboard the ships was common, as well as resistance from free Africans who attacked the slave ships from the shores.

In the first leg of this genocidal triangular trade, merchants brought goods to trade for kidnapped Africans on the coast of West Africa. In the second leg of the triangular trade, enslaved Africans endured the Middle Passage journey that resulted in the selling of human lives in the horrible slave auctions in the Caribbean and North America. In the third leg of the triangular trade, merchants shipped the goods, such as sugar and cotton, produced by enslaved people back to European countries for sale. This trading system relied entirely on stealing human beings and forcing them to work for no pay. Individuals and European countries such as Spain, Britain, and Portugal gained great wealth from this trading system, while the enslaved people producing the goods sold back to Europe suffered unthinkable horrors.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 29, 2019
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