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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caribbean Trade and Slave Routes, and Parasitic Privateering

In search of another broken/lost network...

Spanish domination of the Caribbean and South American trade routes created a network of goods and human transfer, featuring finished goods and population transfer from Europe, and mined gold, silver and plunder from the Americas. In order to protect the ships transferring the goods (particularly the valuables sent back to Europe), the ships formed large convoys that sailed together.

Other countries, with smaller outposts in the Caribbean, developed other trade mechanisms, but these were not as lucrative as the precious metals gained by the Spanish. A semi-formalized privateering system was developed by the English and Dutch (both violently anti-Catholic, providing an psuedo-moral foundation for the action); this allowed the smaller, agriculturally-focused outposts to share in the valuables taken from South America.

Thus, we have a well-traveled network path presenting an accessible target to parasitic (and small-scale/low-cost) attack, providing a network for simulation. An interesting secondary angle is to look at the other import from Europe: disease. The disease brought from the Old World decimated the local indigenous populations, producing a shortage of workers for either agriculture or mining. This shortage was offset by the introduction of African slaves, largely managed by English, French and Dutch traders.

Another case where it is easy to over-simplify the model, but this is an interesting case where a primary network is seen to create both secondary and predatory networks.

Added note: If you are wondering where this one came from: I had a long drive from Denver to Minneapolis to attend the Spark Festival. The only way to survive these trips is to rely on books-on-CD. I stopped at the B&N on the way out of town, looking for a book I'd be interested but hadn't yet read. Ran across Pirate Latitudes, the posthumous release from Michael Crichton. I'd always found his work a guilty pleasure, so I bought the unabridged version, then hit the road. Since I'd just gotten out of the networks class, my head was seeing everything as a potential network.

Of course, the Pirate Caribbean seemed like one heck of a network, and I ended up sketching the basic idea on a napkin perched on the dashboard. Further reading pointed to the interrelation with the slave trade, and the deed was done. Of course, I have no idea of how this could possibly end up as more than a map/sketch...


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