“The Middle Ages around the World” Shows Global Trade’s Effects

world travel, trade shaped middle ages

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Events of the Middle Ages often occurred due to global interaction. Explorers and seafaring merchants reached certain civilizations and even continents for the first time. “The Middle Ages around the World” explains how.

Dr. Joyce Salisbury
Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury discusses her passion for the Middle Ages and her experience traveling the world that she brings to this new Wondrium series. Photo by Wondrium

During the 1,000-year period known as the Middle Ages, most of the planet was a beehive of activity—including international trade. Civilizations around the world interacted and depended on one another far more than we tend to imagine. Even part of the reason Rome fell, marking the beginning of the Middle Ages, was due to destabilization in India.

Wondrium’s new video series, The Middle Ages around the World, shows how interconnected people around the world were, even 1,600 years ago. In an exclusive interview, series presenter Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury, Professor Emerita of History at University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, discussed her passion for the subject and how she brought her experience traveling the world to the series.

No Island Is an Island

“We’re all, always, linked together,” Dr. Salisbury said. “[In the series] I’m talking about how widely Asia, Africa, and Europe were connected. But I also take a look at Polynesia, and I look at Central and South America, and those were very isolated from the rest of the world—but not completely. The Inuit came across and shoved the Vikings out of Greenland, so there was a connection; the Polynesians sailed all the way to South America.”

Dr. Salisbury said that travel connects people in the grand sense, but it also shows how similar we are all over the world. She is fascinated by the fact that major cities around the world only existed because, in her words, peasants could grow enough food to support the cities.

“I look at that underlying structure—what people eat, what they do, what they long for, what they want,” she said. “It’s both to show that we’re connected but also to show that we’re the same.”

All around the World, Same Song

Dr. Salisbury said that her passion for teaching about civilizations comes in part because, quite frankly, she finds it to be incredible fun. Some of this comes from her love of traveling.

“I got really invested in the Middle Ages around the world when I was able to teach on something called Semester at Sea,” she said. “That’s a ship with 500 students that sails all the way around the world for four months. I’ve done it three times. What I taught on there was following the footsteps of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and medieval travelers.”

She said that when the ship landed in India or Southeast Asia, for example, she could show the students actual medieval remnants that remained in those areas. To her, that reaffirmed how connected people are and how exciting it was to trace which plants and people came from where and traveled to new lands.

“I was really enchanted with it when I traveled around the world and walked in the medieval footsteps of [our] predecessors,” she said. “You can read about these other places and sort of intellectually understand the wheelbarrow came from China to Europe and revolutionized agriculture, but when you go to these places and feel them and see them, that’s a whole different matter.”

The Middle Ages around the World is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily