In 1492, Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic linked Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean. As Columbus’ sponsor, Spain became the first European power to use the peoples, resources, and lands of the Americas and Caribbean as the basis for its Atlantic Empire.
How did this empire function and what wealth was Spain able to extract from these peoples and lands?
Molly Warsh, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and author of American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700, helps us investigate answers to these questions by showing us how Spain attempted to increase its wealth and govern its empire through its American and Caribbean pearl operations.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
Molly Warsh, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, helps us investigate how Spain attempted to increase its wealth and govern its Atlantic empire through its American and Caribbean pearl operations.
Using details from her book, American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700, Molly reveals details about the instructions King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave to Christopher Columbus for his voyage; Information about pearls and Spain’s pearl harvesting operations in the Americas; And the different ways Spain sought to use pearls to impose order on its vast Atlantic empire and why those different regulatory measures ultimately failed.
What You’ll Discover
- Christopher Columbus’ voyage to North America
- The instructions the Spanish monarchy gave Columbus
- The Spanish American pearl craze
- How oysters make pearls
- The labor of harvesting pearls in early America
- The relationship between slavery and pearls
- How indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans used pearls
- Early American valuations of pearls
- Pearls as money
- Spanish regulation and taxation of pearls
- Pearls and empire
- Pearls as a commodity of trade
- Spanish pearl harvesting along the California coast
- Pearl fishing voyages
- English pearl fishing in colonial Virginia
- What pearls reveal about the early American past
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Molly Warsh
- American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700
- William D. Phillips, Jr., and Carla Rahn Phillips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus
- Episode 015: Joyce Chaplin, Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit
- Episode 082: Alejandra Dubcovsky, Information & Communication in the Early American South
- Episode 139: Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: Indian Enslavement in the Americas
- Episode 167: Eberhard Faber, The Early History of New Orleans
- Episode 178: Karoline Cook, Muslims & Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America
- Episode 224: Kevin Dawson, Aquatic Culture in Early America
In your opinion, what might have happened if the European empires operating in the Atlantic World had found a way to successfully track and tax pearls? How would the history of the Atlantic World and of pearls be different?
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