Labor Systems: c. 1450 - c. 1750

AP Concept: 4.2 New Forms of Social Organization and Modes of Production
Key Concepts
  • Labor systems grew and changed in response to the demand for labor and goods
New World Labor Systems
  • Spanish settlers in the Caribbean set up the encomienda system, a form of forced labor, in which Spaniards demanded labor from conquered Native inhabitants
  • Favored Spanish immigrants to the New World forced Native Americans to work in mines, landed estates, and public works
  • Due to the brutality of this system, Spanish officials changed it to the repartimiento system, in which Natives were forced to provide labor for Spanish projects, but for a limited amount of time for which they were compensated
  • Ultimately this system was unsustainable, which led Europeans to develop the slave trade
  • Europeans adapted and expanded the African slave trade, using Africans to work in forced labor in the New World
  • By the 1500s, when Portugal began exploring the west coast of Africa, tribes had already been engaged in slave trade for hundreds of years Portugal and other European powers made this a part of the Atlantic triangular trade
  • African tribes kidnapped members of other tribes and sold them into slavery to Europeans, who shipped them to the Americas on the deadly Middle Passage
  • Most slaves were sent to the Caribbean to replace other slaves who died under the brutal conditions; a comparably small amount of slaves was sent to North and South America
  • Slaves were put to work growing cash crops (sugar, tobacco, cotton, and coffee), the profits of which ultimately benefited European powers
  • Europeans then sold manufactured goods such as guns to African tribes offering slaves, and the trade began again
  • European Labor Systems
    • The collapse of major empires could lead European powers to establish hierarchical labor systems in which peasants were bound to provide labor
    • Following the collapse of the Mongol Empire, Russia developed a system of serfdom to maintain the wealth of the small nobility and monarchy; serfs, or peasants, were forced to work on large estates
    • Serfs typically lived together in communes, which provided extended kin networks to help workers survive under harsh conditions
    • In 1649, the Russian government legally bound serfs to nobles and the tsar, or king serfs had to provide labor and part of their produce to their lords, who in turn could buy, sell, and punish them

    Related Links:
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    AP World History
    AP World History Notes
    Global Exchange: c. 1450 - c. 1750