Truth of the Trade: Globalization

Dr. Douglas Smit
University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department
Teen Ambassadors


*Written by Sabirah Mahmud, 10th-grade Teen Ambassador at the Penn Museum*

In “Truth Behind the Trade,” the Penn Museum Teen Ambassadors hosted a Teen Science Cafe on February 26th, 2019 on globalization: the history, the impact, and the truth behind the trade. Globalization refers to the process of interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments worldwide.

At the beginning of the Cafe, we did a very interesting and engaging activity with the help of Penn Museum Collections Assistants — Stephanie Mach and Emily Moore. There we looked at many items from the Penn Museum’s collections such as a cocoa pouch, Egyptian funerary tags, a family heirloom teapot from China, and more! However, with these items, we did not know their purpose or where they came from beforehand. We were split into groups so that we could observe these objects and make inferences to their origins. For some items we were surprised to know that they were not from the place we guessed. An example of this was a pair of moccasins which were from North America. Initially, we believed the pair was from Latin America, but we were surprised to learn that it had parts and pieces from all over the globe, such as glass beads from Europe and deer hide from North America.

Dr. Douglas Smit, Adjunct Professor for the University of Pennsylvania, does research in the political economy of colonialism — more specifically how the silver trade affected mercury miners and their families in Peru. Dr. Smit led an insightful and engaging presentation on globalization to tie the initial activity together. He spoke about McDonaldization and the definition of a “melting pot” as opposed to a “salad bowl.” A melting pot blends cultures together as opposed to a salad bowl which allows them to co-exist together. Regarding McDonaldization, he spoke on the fact that India has very different tailored foods as opposed to the generic American menu, because the popularity of McDonald’s, which was born in America, has now been interpreted into Indian cuisine.

Additionally, we spoke about the first global product — sugar. As sugar originated in New Guinea it soon appeared in India and was brought to Europe. Sugar was used for a variety of reasons different from today such as medicine, to show off wealth and even as decor. Nonetheless, during the 19th century, the consumption of sugar quickly increased. This occurred due to industrialization because machines would produce sugar and easily gave calories and energy to workers who could not afford any other food.

Lastly, we spoke about how colonialism andglobalization relate to one another and still impact how we perceive the world today, such as the implicit bias in maps. When you look at a map, many could see that Africa looks small in comparison, however, Africa is so much larger than what is represented. This shows that there is still implicit bias in today’s world. Moreover, colonialism still relates to globalization because it has changed the culture and perception of the entire world. People, foods, and cultural traditions have intermixed and changed throughout the centuries. It has created new tastes, new ways and — above all — it has created the *truth of the trade.*



Hands on Activity

***Since the activity was in the beginning, I included it in the “Describe” box so that it didn’t disrupt the flow of the blog narrative. Please email if you have any questions!