AP World History DBQ essay, February 7, 2008
| In the ancient world, civilizations in different parts of the world lived in almost total isolation. Long distance or international trade was virtually nonexistent, and many cultures were not even aware of the true size of the earth. Gradually, technology and knowledge increased and people were able to travel further distances and come in contact with foreign groups of people. There were many effects, both positive and negative, that resulted from this increased amount of cultural interaction.
Cultural interaction improved trade and society in many areas, and also helped create new mixes of people from different cultural backgrounds. Europe was a very culturally primitive society before the Crusades began in 1095. The Europeans mainly traded local goods and were governed through a feudal system. As Document 2 shows, such simple goods as linen, fish, wool and wheat were traded, and wealth was based on land ownership. However, after the end of the Crusades in 1204, more luxury and foreign goods began to appear in Europe. A focus on personal wealth and fortune was more prominent. These effects show that the Crusades not only opened up relations with areas such as the Middle East, but also helped to bring the area out of the feudal government that had previously dominated. The Crusades probably affected the economical system of Europe more so than any other area in the world, because Europe did not have the international trade and economic success that some of the other areas were already experiencing before the Crusades had begun. During the 600's, the new religion of Islam was spreading quickly. Muslims conquered and built an empire comprising of the areas of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Spain (document 4). This not only increased the influence and power of Islam, but also allowed easier passage of ideas and trade from one side of the empire to another. Because Muhammad was a merchant, trade would have flourished within the borders of the Muslim empire. This map displays the empire before the Crusades, which means that Europe would not have traded much with the Muslims. Therefore, it was important that the empire spanned such a large area so that goods could be freely traded back and forth. This also allowed them to trade more easily with lands such as western and eastern Africa. This presence of Arab merchants in East Africa led to the developments listed in Document 6. The chart states that Swahili, cultural blending, and Arab and Indian communities are some of the prominent features of East Africa today. These items would be nonexistent without the Arab merchants, and the city-states in general would not have been as prosperous. East Africa, and the African kingdoms collectively, would probably have only traded with other African kingdoms such as Great Zimbabwe, as their sea travel technology was nowhere near as advanced enough as was needed to trade overseas. This would have not only led to a lack of wealth and products such as textiles and pottery, but also to an absence of Arab knowledge and culture. Instead, the Arab merchants allowed East African city-states to thrive in the riches of Indian Ocean trade. Indian and Arab empires also benefited from this trade, as they brought in goods such as gold, ivory, and iron tools from Africa.
The interaction of cultures between 600 and 1450 CE also had some negative effects. For instance, the Crusades, which had so drastically improved the status of European society, consisted of many brutal conflicts between Christians and Arabs. The Christian Crusaders were so intent upon recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land that they often became ruthless in their attempts. This is evidenced by this attack on Jerusalem, in which the Franks "slaughtered more than 70,000 people" and stole many valuable items (document 1). In another situation which also involved the Muslims as victims, Genghis Khan led the Mongols on a series of conquests in the early thirteenth century. The Muslims killed some of his people, and he therefore chose to focus on taking and devastating Muslim lands (before later taking China). This revenge that he was seeking is the most likely reason for Genghis Kahn's harsh conquest methods and feelings that "the greatest joy is to conquer one's enemies, to pursue them, to seize their belongings, to see their families in tears, to ride their horses." (document 5). The Mongols built a large empire that spanned the majority of the Asian continent. The Bubonic Plague originated in Mongolia and once in Europe, spread across the continent relatively quickly, from 1347 to 1352 (document 3). This means that when the Mongol Empire promoted free trade and exchange of ideas, it also unknowingly promoted the fast travel of the plague along its trade routes. This plague had a huge effect on the world, lowering populations and slowing development in areas that were previously on the rise, such as Western Europe.
There are a few types of documents that would help create a better understanding of the interaction of cultures between 600 and 1450 CE. First of all, a chart or article showing the development of previously less-developed areas after they came in contact with new groups of people would tell whether cultural interaction was able to alter those regions which had not had power beforehand. For example, Russia, a land that was conquered by the Mongols and later became the Khanate of the Golden Horde, would fit under this category because it formed later than many other civilizations and never became involved in any major trade routes. Also, an article by the Pope or someone else with a viewpoint on the Christian side of the Crusades would help to determine whether the terrible destruction described in Document 1 was really true or whether it was over exaggerated. While there were quite a few negative results, the interaction of cultures produced many positive results as well and overall led to an increase in cultural blending throughout the world.