Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries V
Looking East, Looking West: Europe and Arabia, 1450-1750
July 18-25, 2005
Program home | About | Schedule | Application | Lesson Plans | Contact Us


View lesson worksheets.
View lesson power point presentation.

Lesson Title: Cultural Diffusion and the Columbian Exchange: Patterns of Trade from the Medieval Period to 1750 C.E.

Name: Emily Powell, Margo Schiavone, and Jo Anne Wilson

Discipline: Visual Arts, Special Education, et al. (Powell); Visual Arts, Social Studies (Schiavone); Social Studies, American Studies (Wilson)

School: Randolph Academy, Montgomery County, MD (Powell); Briggs Chaney Middle School, Montgomery County, MD (Schiavone); Walkersville Middle School, Frederick County, MD (Wilson)

Grade Level/Content Focus: World Studies (7), American Studies (8), Art History (9-12)

Time Required for Lesson: One week

Why This Unit? (Lesson Abstract):
World history textbooks for middle and high school students generally lack discussion of long-distance trade, or an overview of trade routes in the Eastern Hemisphere before the fifteenth century. Instead, trade is discussed as a subsidiary of lessons on regional civilizations, especially in chapters about the rise of towns and trade in Europe during the high middle ages. Students learn about the importance of European merchant classes, but the extensive merchant activity across Afroeurasia is often neglected. Textbooks from the collegiate market used for Advanced Placement World History all include hemispheric trade, but few primary source selections.
This unit provides both an overview and a close-up picture of locations, goods, and participants in trade in Afroeurasia. It allows students to compare primary source accounts of trade goods, merchants, types of markets, and effects of trade with more general secondary source information on trading societies. It also guides them in linking their understanding of how particular regions fit into the networks of Afroeurasia as a whole. Students will practice differentiating among various types of historical sources as well as moving from one geographic and historical scale to another—that is, from local to regional to hemispheric.

This unit is centered on the period from 1000 to 1250 C.E., but it encompasses related developments in the preceding and subsequent centuries.

Standards and Benchmarks:

Art Standards:

• To understand how factors of time and place give meaning or function to a work of art
• To understand the historical and cultural contexts of a variety of art objects
• To know a variety of historical and cultural contexts regarding characteristics and purposes of works of art
• To know the function and meaning of specific art objects within varied cultures, times, and places
• To demonstrate an ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to ideas, experiences, and the environment
• To demonstrate an understanding of visual art as a basic aspect of history and human experience
• To demonstrate the ability to identify, analyze, and apply criteria for making visual aesthetic judgments

World and American Studies Standards:

• Construct and interpret graphs, charts, databases, and thematic maps using map elements including a title, symbols, cardinal and intermediate directions, compass rose, border, longitude and latitude, legends/key and scale (SS.AS1.10.01)
• Explain interrelationships among physical and human characteristics that shape the identity of places (SS.AS1.10.02)
• Analyze geographic characteristics that influence the location of human activities in world regions (SS.AS1.10.03)
• Analyze characteristics that are used to organize people into cultures (SS.AS1.10.06)
--Describe the physical geography of North America and identify the common characteristics of geographic regions (SS.AS1.10.06.a)
--Analyze effects of supply and demand on the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services (SS.AS1.10.06.c)
• Interpret, evaluate, and organize primary and secondary sources of information, including pictures, graphics, maps, atlases, artifacts, timelines, political cartoons, videotapes, journals, and government documents (SS.AS1.10.07)

• Analyze population growth and settlement patterns and analyze how people and institutions experience scarcity (SS.AS1.20.02)
• Describe how and why people migrate and analyze consequences of the migration (SS.AS1.20.03)
• Evaluate ways and reasons why humans modify their natural environment to meet their wants and the consequences of the modification (SS.AS1.20.04)
--Identify reasons for French, Spanish, and English colonization of North America (SS.AS1.20.04.a)
--Analyze the role of opportunity cost as it relates to specialization, interdependence, and the need for trade using regional case studies (SS.AS1.20.04.b)
• Analyze how North America developed into a pluralistic society consisting of diverse cultures, customs, and traditions (SS.AS1.20.05)

Essential Objectives:

Art Objectives:

• To identify curved, diagonal, horizontal, and/or vertical lines which are depicted in a visual image
• To distinguish between various elements of art which are depicted in a visual image
• To distinguish between various principles of design which are depicted in a visual image
• To identify textures/patterns which are presented within a visual image
• To identify cues within a visual image (based on the presentation of people, objects, furnishings shown in the image) which make reference to or indicate a particular time period in history
• To recognize evidence of cultural diffusion by identifying objects of trade noted within a given visual image

World and American Studies Objectives:

• To define and explain the causes and effects of the Columbian Exchange
• To define and write an example of cultural diffusion
• To complete (using a chart and world map) a map showing the exchange of goods that resulted from the Columbian Exchange
• To identify the artifact and its place of origin found in a given painting
• To look at a visual image and interpret cues that represent cultural diffusion
• To analyze and give a written description of the positive effect of cultural exchange or diffusion between the Islamic world and the Christian world of Christopher Columbus
• To write a paragraph justifying, defending, or supporting a prediction about the Columbian Exchange

Specific Objectives:
Upon completing this unit, the students will be able to:

• describe the impact of trade on selected societies in Africa, Asia, and Europe during the period from 800 to 1500 C.E., and describe how regional trade relates to long-distance trade across Afroeurasia;
• compare primary source accounts of trade goods, customs, and socioeconomic effects of trade with secondary sources on trading societies;
• analyze the connection between specific marketplaces and the trading zones of Afroeurasia as a whole; and
• analyze how selected technologies, ideas, and goods were disseminated among various regions of Afroeurasia.


Afroeurasia cultural diffusion perspective
Columbian Exchange trade textile
trade routes migration cross culturalism
voyage astrolabe monks
Sufi orders missionaries Islam
Christianity Judaism universal religions
scholars arts literature
philosophy sciences architecture
natural sciences regions origins
Renaissance global convergence texture
line diagonal horizontal
vertical perspective curved line
dimension dark light
contrast rhythm emphasis
primary colors neutral colors velvet
satin linen cotton
silk carpets  



Armento, B., J. Klor de Alva, G. Nash, F. Ng, C. Salter, L. Wilson, and K. Wixkson. Across the
. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Garcia, Jesus. Creating America: A History of the United States. Houghton Mifflin College
Division, 2000.

Hume, Helen D. Art History and Appreciation Activities Kit: Ready to Use Lessons, Slides, and Projects for Secondary Students. West Nyack, NY: The Center for Applied Research in Education, 1992.

Hume, Helen D. The Art Teacher’s Book of Lists. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Web Resources:

World History for Us All
• a project of San Diego State University, in collaboration with the National Center for
History in the Schools (UCLA)

Other Resources:

Student Worksheets/Transparencies:
• Columbian Exchange Vocabulary
• Elements of Art
• Principles of Design
• Early Northern Renaissance Genre Painting of a Goldsmith’s Shop
• A Merchant’s List: Import and Export in Iraq (Ninth Century)
• Map of Trade Routes
• From Ibn Battuta, The Rihlah (Travels in East Africa, Fourteenth Century C.E.)
• Hindi-Arabic Numerals and Paper’s Journeys Across Afroeurasia

Lesson Components:

• Ask students to describe in words or in a picture what they think of when they hear “Columbian Exchange.”
• Hand out the Columbian Exchange Vocabulary worksheet and ask the students to check the words that they know, to star the words that they will learn from the PowerPoint lesson, and to put a question mark next to the words they still need to have defined.

• Give PowerPoint lesson.
• Display and discuss the Elements of Art worksheet and the Principles of Design worksheet.
• Display the Early Northern Renaissance Genre Painting of a Goldsmith’s Shop and model how to interpret a painting using the vocabulary given.
• Ask the students to identify objects in the painting that show evidence of trade beyond Europe. How would they prove their hypotheses?

Guided Practice:
• Hand out A Merchant’s List: Import and Export in Iraq (Ninth Century) worksheet.
• Divide the students into groups by region and have each group identify which products originated in their region.
• Hand out the Map of Trade Routes worksheet.
• Ask each group to shade their particular region in one different color.
• Jigsaw the students into groups so that each student can complete the shading of the entire map.

Independent Practice/Discussion:
• Distribute either From Ibn Battuta, The Rihlah (Travels in East Africa, Fourteenth Century C.E.) worksheet, or the Hidi-Arabic Numerals and Paper’s Journeys Across Afroeurasia worksheet.
• Ask students to read the handouts and then write a paragraph that relates the reading to the painting.

Students will have a choice of completing any of the following four assessments:

  1. You are an apprentice to a master Renaissance painter. You have been commissioned to paint/draw a picture of a prosperous Mediterranean merchant. Your painting/drawing must have a minimum of three to five trade items and three symbols embedded in it.
  2. In order to prepare for your Columbian voyage west, pretend that you are a merchant from the Ottoman Empire explaining what goods you are willing to trade with him in return for the goods that you need to complete the exchange. (Be specific! You must include at least three products indigenous to the “Near East” and at least three products indigenous to the “Far East” in your letter.
  3. You are the servant of a prosperous merchant on your first journey to the Middle East. Prepare a “triptick” that includes: a detailed map from Point A to Point B; a description of the cities visited from Point A to Point B; and a picture of the products that were traded in each city.
  4. Imagine that you are a mathematician. You have received an invitation to teach at Prince Henry’s School of Navigation in Portugal. When preparing your lecture, include the history of numbers and how they applied to navigational rules.

• Briefly explain how the painting, the project, and the PowerPoint presentation tie into the Columbian Exchange.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Utilize the provided worksheets which integrate art concepts with language arts, science, and social studies. These activities serve as follow-up/extension activities to reinforce the use of art across content areas.

Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education