Globalization is so well established in today’s world that we don’t think twice about where our bananas or socks come from.
Long before fleets of container ships criss-crossed the world’s oceans, camel caravans and single-sail cogs transported regional goods across the world.
Connecting the World
Today’s interactive map, by Martin Jan Månsson, is a comprehensive snapshot of the world’s trade networks through the 11th and 12th centuries, which helped to connect kingdoms and merchants throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe.
A confluence of interesting factors helped bring these markets together to encourage commercial activity:
Crusading’s Commercial Corollary
The First Crusade kicked off in 1096, sparking a trend that would have an undeniable economic and cultural impact on Europe and the Middle East.
European fighters arriving in the Middle East came into contact with civilizations that were, in many ways, more advanced than their own. Merchants in the area had already been been trading with places further east, and demand for “exotic” goods shot up when crusaders returned to Europe with items both plundered and purchased.
The maritime infrastructure used to deliver all those soldiers laid the groundwork for moving goods between ports along the Mediterranean. Some ports, such as Alexandria, had separate ports for Muslim and Christian ships, which helped create a more stable pipeline of trade.
The Growing Influence of Cities
The dissolution of the Byzantine Empire and the Italian Kingdom left a vacuum that allowed Italian coastal cities to claim prominent roles in regional trade. The port cities of Venice and Genoa were transporting crusading soldiers to the front lines, so becoming hubs of trade in the Mediterranean was a natural evolution. Their geographic locations were also ideal entry points for goods moving along inland European trade routes.
In the 10th century, word of Ghana’s abundant gold supply spread to Middle East and actually triggered a rush by Muslim merchants to build connections in the region. A lucrative gold export industry encouraged the growth of cities to the south of the Sahara Desert, which formed critical links between Africa and the Mediterranean trade network.
While Italian cities were cementing their role in Western trade, the Song Dynasty introduced an innovation that has important implications today: paper currency.
Paper notes, known as flying cash, backed only by the government’s word, helped eliminate the need for heavy coinage and allowed trade to flourish in China. Later on, Marco Polo would famously deliver this idea back to Europe.
The Silk Road
“The Silk Road” is a catch-all term for the many overland and maritime routes linking East Asia with Europe and the Middle East. Cities and towns along busy Silk Road routes thrived, and during the 12th century, Merv (in present day Turkmenistan) was actually the largest city in the world until it was decimated in 1221 by the Mongol Empire.
Trade routes like the Silk Road made the movement of physical goods possible, but perhaps more importantly, they facilitated cross-cultural exchange of ideas, religion, technology, and more.
The History of the World, in One Video
This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.
Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.
You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?
Visualizing the History of the World
Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.
Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.
Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.
750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate
One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.
Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.
1279: Mongol Dominance
No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.
Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.
Under the leadership of Temüjin — also known as Genghis Khan — the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.
The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.
Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.
1346: The Black Death
The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.
In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.
The Black Death — one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world — hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.
1418: The Age of Discovery
The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.
This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.
In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.
Playing the History Game
While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.
One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.
Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.
What is a Commodity Super Cycle?
The prices of energy, agriculture, livestock and metals tell the story of human development. Learn about the commodity super cycle in this infographic.
Visualizing the Commodity Super Cycle
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world has seen its population and the need for natural resources boom.
As more people and wealth translate into the demand for global goods, the prices of commodities—such as energy, agriculture, livestock, and metals—have often followed in sync.
This cycle, which tends to coincide with extended periods of industrialization and modernization, helps in telling a story of human development.
Why are Commodity Prices Cyclical?
Commodity prices go through extended periods during which prices are well above or below their long-term price trend. There are two types of swings in commodity prices: upswings and downswings.
Many economists believe that the upswing phase in super cycles results from a lag between unexpected, persistent, and positive trends to support commodity demand with slow-moving supply, such as the building of a new mine or planting a new crop. Eventually, as adequate supply becomes available and demand growth slows, the cycle enters a downswing phase.
While individual commodity groups have their own price patterns, when charted together they form extended periods of price trends known as “Commodity Super Cycles” where there is a recognizable pattern across major commodity groups.
How can a Commodity Super Cycle be Identified?
Commodity super cycles are different from immediate supply disruptions; high or low prices persist over time.
In our above chart, we used data from the Bank of Canada, who leveraged a statistical technique called an asymmetric band pass filter. This is a calculation that can identify the patterns or frequencies of events in sets of data.
Economists at the Bank of Canada employed this technique using their Commodity Price Index (BCPI) to search for evidence of super cycles. This is an index of the spot or transaction prices in U.S. dollars of 26 commodities produced in Canada and sold to world markets.
- Energy: Coal, Oil, Natural Gas
- Metals and Minerals: Gold, Silver, Nickel, Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, Potash, Lead, Iron
- Forestry: Pulp, Lumber, Newsprint
- Agriculture: Potatoes, Cattle, Hogs, Wheat, Barley, Canola, Corn
- Fisheries: Finfish, Shellfish
Using the band pass filter and the BCPI data, the chart indicates that there are four distinct commodity price super cycles since 1899.
The first cycle coincides with the industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century.
The second began with the onset of global rearmament before the Second World War in the 1930s.
The third began with the reindustrialization of Europe and Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
- 1996 – Present:
The fourth began in the mid to late 1990s with the rapid industrialization of China
What Causes Commodity Cycles?
The rapid industrialization and growth of a nation or region are the main drivers of these commodity super cycles.
From the rapid industrialization of America emerging as a world power at the beginning of the 20th century, to the ascent of China at the beginning of the 21st century, these historical periods of growth and industrialization drive new demand for commodities.
Because there is often a lag in supply coming online, prices have nowhere to go but above long-term trend lines. Then, prices cannot subside until supply is overshot, or growth slows down.
Is This the Beginning of a New Super Cycle?
The evidence suggests that human industrialization drives commodity prices into cycles. However, past growth was asymmetric around the world with different countries taking the lion’s share of commodities at different times.
With more and more parts of the world experiencing growth simultaneously, demand for commodities is not isolated to a few nations.
Confined to Earth, we could possibly be entering an era where commodities could perpetually be scarce and valuable, breaking the cycles and giving power to nations with the greatest access to resources.
Each commodity has its own story, but together, they show the arc of human development.
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