2.5 Cultural Effects of Trade

7 min readjanuary 3, 2023


Katie Moore

Riya Patel

Riya Patel

AP World History: Modern 🌍

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Cultural Consequences of Connectivity

Connectivity refers to the ability to communicate and exchange ideas, goods, and other forms of cultural expression. The cultural consequences of connectivity are the changes that occur in a society as a result of its ability to connect with other societies. These consequences can be both positive and negative, and they can affect various aspects of a society's culture, including its art, literature, religion, language, and values.
One positive consequence of connectivity is the exchange of ideas and cultural practices, which can lead to the enrichment and diversity of a society's culture. For example, the cultural exchange that occurred along the Silk Road and other trade routes contributed to the spread of ideas, religions, and technologies between the East and the West.
However, connectivity can also have negative consequences, such as the loss of cultural traditions and the homogenization of cultures. For example, the spread of global consumer culture has led to the proliferation of mass-produced goods and the erosion of local crafts and traditions in many parts of the world.
Overall, the cultural consequences of connectivity are complex and multifaceted, and they depend on the specific context and the nature of the exchange.
Topics like this show the real cultural impact of much bigger concepts like trade routes or economies-- how it affects everyday people. As you can imagine, these massive trade networks (the Silk Roads, Indian Ocean, and trans-Saharan)  grew rapidly, but it wasn’t just goods that were traded along those routes. Something much bigger-- ideas-- traveled across countries.

Cultural Effects of Trade Networks

As merchants traveled across the world, they carried their traditions with them. The most obvious of these is religion. There were three major religions that spread in this period. Buddhism spread into East and Southeast Asia, Hinduism spread into Southeast Asia, and Islam spread into sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Let’s look at some examples!
Due to trade with China and India, Japan adopted a version of Buddhism (called Zen Buddhism) that blended their traditional Shinto traditions with Buddhist ones.
Buddhism was often spread by travelers, especially Xuanzang. Xuanzang (also known as Hsüan-tsang or Yuanzang) was a Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar who is known for his journey to India in the 7th century to study Buddhism. Xuanzang was born in present-day Henan province in China, and he became a monk at a young age. He was a devout believer in Buddhism and was determined to learn more about the religion. In 629, Xuanzang left China and traveled overland through Central Asia and into India. He spent 17 years in India, studying Buddhist scriptures and teachings, and he traveled widely throughout the country. Xuanzang is known for his book, "The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions," which is an account of his journey to India. The book is an important source of information about the history, culture, and society of India in the 7th century, and it is also an important work of literature. Xuanzang is remembered as a pioneering figure in the study of Buddhism and as a cultural ambassador between China and India.
Additionally, in China during this period, Neo-Confucianism began to rise in response to Buddhism. Buddhism had gotten pretty powerful in China (specifically in the Tang Dynasty), and Confucianists wanted to put Confucianism back into power. So they adapted Confucianism to take on a few Buddhist characteristics. Voila! Neo-Confucianism was all the rage in China. This just goes to show how a religion not native to China could spread and take such a powerful hold.
Hinduism, too, continued to travel throughout Southeastern Asia. A perfect example of this is Angkor Wat in what is now Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a temple complex located in present-day Cambodia. It is the largest religious monument in the world, and it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century by the King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, but it later became a Buddhist temple as well. The temple is known for its impressive architecture and its beautiful carvings and bas-reliefs, which depict scenes from Hindu mythology and Buddhist teachings. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a major tourist attraction in Cambodia. How did it get there, you ask? Simple. Look at Cambodia on a map. It’s well within the Indian Ocean trade network. 

Angkor Wat. Image Courtesy of audleytravel.com

Islam also continued to spread in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Muhammad himself was a trader, so unlike many other empires at the time, trade in the Islamic caliphate was widely encouraged. As a result, Islam began to spread very rapidly. In Africa, beautiful mosques made of adobe, such as the Great Mosque of Djenne appeared, and Islam became quite powerful in many states (see Mansa Musa).

Example: Great Mosque of Djenne

The Great Mosque of Djenne is a mosque located in the city of Djenne, in present-day Mali. It is the largest mud brick building in the world and is considered a masterpiece of West African architecture. The mosque was built in the 13th century and has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the centuries. It is a major tourist attraction in Mali and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Great Mosque of Djenne is known for its distinctive architecture, which is characterized by its tall, thin towers and its elaborate ornamentation. It is made entirely of mud brick and is coated with a layer of mud plaster, which helps to protect it from the elements. The mosque is an important place of worship for the people of Djenne and is also a cultural and historical landmark. It is an important example of the Islamic architectural tradition in West Africa and is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the region's architects and craftsmen.

Diffusion of Scientific/Technological Innovations

Religion and tradition wasn’t the only thing that was unintentionally traded, though-- technology spread, too. The two biggest were from China: papermaking and gunpowder. Both of these were obviously huge, but in very different ways.
Papermaking, of course, was incredibly convenient since the paper was much lighter and easy to make-- and most importantly, cheaper. Paper money, especially, helped encourage increased trade along the various routes.
Gunpowder also had huge effects, but much more detrimental. It was originally made by a pacifist Daoist attempting to make fireworks, and from there, it was a bit of an explosion (pun absolutely intended). People very quickly realized that this could be used to reinvent weaponry, and it all went down from there. Before long, the Chinese were developing guns and using them to wage war, followed very quickly by Europe.

Famous Travelers

Not just traders traveled these routes-- travelers did, too! As trade routes got bigger, it became safer and easier for the average person to see the world and report back. There are three you’re going to need to know: Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, and Margery Kempe.
Let’s start with Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta was a 14th-century Moroccan scholar and explorer who is known for his extensive travels throughout the Islamic world and beyond. His journeys, which lasted a total of 29 years, took him to the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. Ibn Battuta is known for his book "The Travels of Ibn Battuta," which is an account of his journey. The book is an important source of information about the history, culture, and society of the Islamic world and the regions that Ibn Battuta visited. It is also an important work of literature and is considered one of the greatest travelogues in history.
Next, we have the most famous one, Marco Polo. Marco Polo was a 13th-century Italian merchant, explorer, and writer who is known for his travels to the Far East and his book "The Travels of Marco Polo," which is an account of his journey. Marco Polo was born in the Republic of Venice and grew up in a merchant family. He left Venice in 1271 with his father and uncle and traveled overland through Asia, eventually reaching the court of the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan. Marco Polo spent several years in the service of the Khan, and he traveled extensively throughout the Mongol Empire and other parts of Asia. He returned to Venice in 1295 and wrote "The Travels of Marco Polo," which is an important source of information about the history, culture, and society of the Far East in the 13th century. Marco Polo's book is considered one of the greatest travelogues in history and has been translated into many languages.

Image Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1998. Courtesy of apworldwiki

I’ve saved the best for last: Margery Kempe. Margery Kempe was an English mystic and religious author who is known for her book, "The Book of Margery Kempe," which is considered one of the first autobiographies in English literature. Kempe was born in the 14th century in King's Lynn, England, and she was a contemporary of the English mystic Julian of Norwich. Kempe was married and had several children, but she eventually devoted her life to religious contemplation and pilgrimage. She had a series of mystical experiences that she recorded in "The Book of Margery Kempe," which she dictated to a scribe. The book is an account of Kempe's spiritual journey and her encounters with God, and it is considered an important work of medieval literature and spirituality. Kempe is remembered as a pioneering figure in the history of English literature and mysticism.

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