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A Theme of Global Capitalism in Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook and Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker

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Timothy Brook falls upon Johannes Vermeer’s grave under the Church in the city of Delft, Netherlands, which inspired him to write about global capitalism during the 17th century in Vermeer’s Hat. He compared eight different pieces of art, six of which are paintings by Vermeer depicting the daily life in Delft. On the other hand, Marcus Rediker’s Slave Ship – A human history talks about the new slave trade being brought into the 18th century. They both used historical accounts and anecdotes to add to their beliefs and ideas. The common theme in these books is how global capitalism affected the world at this time. Both Brooks and Rediker focus on different parts of the world and therefore come to different conclusions on how capitalism impacted the world’s society. Even though they have different styles of presenting their ideas, they still used similar ways to persuade their audiences.

During the 17th century, Europe became one of the great leaders of globalization and was the catalyst for the rise of capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system in which the production of goods and services that are privately or corporately owned is based on supply and demand in markets. Global capitalism is the same concept but it exceeds national borders. Brook’s main idea in Vermeer’s Hat is that global capitalism and trade in the 17th century positively impacted European society. Global capitalism connected new groups of people and their cultures. In the fourth chapter, Brooks talks about how new people discovering new cultures was a main benefit to the city of Delft. He references the painting “The Geographer”, most likely commissioned by Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek, and explains that it was the sign that showed that Europe was becoming more open to a broader world. This painting shows a geographer reading a map, the sea charts with the coast of Europe and a terrestrial globe. Brooks mentions “Vermeer includes just enough detail on the Hondius globe to show that it is turned to expose what Hondius calls the Orientalus Oceanus, the Eastern Ocean, which we know today as the Indian Ocean. Navigating this ocean was a great challenge for Dutch navigators in the opening years of the seventeenth century.” This shows that not only was this geographer in Delft is interested in the world surrounding him, but most likely the entire population. From this painting, Brooks was able to conclude that educating the population and connecting different cultures was one of the main positive impacts of capitalism on European society. In Vermeer’s Hat, Brooks also brings up the effect of transculturation, which is “the process in which habits and things move from one culture to another so thoroughly that they become part of it and in turn change the culture into which they have moved”. This transculturation is described in chapter five, where the start of globalization of tobacco is prevalent as it travels from America, to Europe and Asia. At the beginning of the 17th century, tobacco became an important commodity in trade and there was a huge increase in smoking in China. The tobacco trade was an important element of global capitalism which shows how one simple good can completely transform a culture and the prevalent market of that country. Brooks writes about discovering new cultures and transculturation in Vermeer’s Hat which illustrates the power of capitalism and how it can connect new societies through international trade and promote their economies. He comes to this conclusion because he views the world from a Eurocentric point of view. He based his historical book on the way that Europeans viewed the world and the way that their trade evolved. Brooks uses transculturation and the meeting of new people to explain why he believes that capitalism boosted economies around the world in the 17th century.

Rediker, on the other hand, has a completely different point of view on capitalism and its impact on society as a whole. In Slave Ship, Rediker proves that capitalism in the 18th century was negative and harmed millions of people. At the time the triangle trade was the main device for global capitalism. The triangle trade, comprised of Ports in Europe, in Africa and in America. From Europe are shipped manufactured goods, such as guns, iron or luxuries. Then from Africa, the slave traders sell to Westerners gold, ivory, spices and slaves. And then in America rice, silk, indigo, tobacco and sugar are produced and sent back to Europe to be sold. Rediker believes that capitalism had a negative impact on society since he found real excerpts from different people all involved in the slave trade. Rediker’s entire book was based on real evidence, true facts and accounts. For instance, he includes testimonies from slaves and sailors or an excerpt from the “Enquirer” of September 1804. He starts his book with a personal account from a young woman who was captured and brought to a slave ship in Africa. Her accounts are poignant and heartbreaking as she describes what her life had become and how she could not do anything to change it. She explains that she had been sold several times before arriving to the the slave ship. Once she got there, she knew that it would be a living-hell, “the ship grew larger and more terrifying with every vigorous stroke of the paddles. The smell grew stronger and the sounds louder – crying and wailing from one quarter and low, plaintive singing from another; the anarchic noise of children given an under beat by hands drumming on wood”. This woman’s testimony proves that what slaves had to endure was inhumane. Rediker’s beliefs that capitalism impacted the world in a negative way come from these accounts. He also explains that this form of capitalism brought to Africa dramatically divided different populations. At this time, societies and cultures were still discovering each other and did not have much information about one another. When Europeans came to Africa and decided to create a market between different groups and ethnicities problems were inevitable. Europeans treated them horribly since they saw the slaves as commodities and not human beings. Rediker comes to such a different assessment on capitalism’s impact than Brooks since he used real accounts on the triangle trade and the divide that grew between the populations.

While Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat explains new ideas and the new connections that global capitalism introduces to the world, his book is not completely persuasive. His Eurocentric point of view limits the way that a reader can agree with his ideas and beliefs. He shows the Europeans as leaders of globalization and as the only ones with developed knowledge from their travels and trade. While the Chinese, according to Brook’s, remained centralized and reluctant to discover new cultures and trade with different societies. In chapter four, he mentions how Chinese were coming into contact with men of different ethnicities and how they were reacting. For instance, he describes how a Chinese geographer named Wang Shixing pictures a black man “[…] black men in Macao as having ‘bodies like lacquer. The only parts left white are the eyes.’ He gives them a fearsome reputation.” This description provides examples to show that the Chinese at the time were still discovering new cultures, but were not open to understanding them.

While Vermeer’s Hat is not the persuasive enough on how capitalism affected society in the 17th century, Brook’s way of using the rhetoric logos to prove his point does give him credibility. Using logical and factual explanations provides a basis on what his beliefs are. He also uses paintings by Vermeer to connect his international historical facts and the small anecdotes from the city of Delft, which connects the reader to the story. He uses different paintings with depictions of individuals with back stories that he can connect to historical moments. Brooks depicts a new world organization from a Eurocentric point of view, which hinders his persuasiveness.

Throughout Slave Ship, Rediker uses many different techniques to persuade his reader. He uses personal accounts and historical facts to back his ideas, which makes him a credible source. For instance, he has a multitude of footnotes and a bibliography filled with evidence from autobiographies, letters, diaries, captain logbooks, and even testimonies from abolitionists in court hearings. His accounts are very striking and easy to remember since they are real stories. The reader is bound to identify himself with one speaker and think of his story often. In chapter four, the story of Olaudah Equiano is explained, in which he was kidnapped and sold off to be a slave as a child. Equiano endured the Middle Passage voyage and the Long Passage, as he traveled from Africa, to Barbados and then to England. During these trips he learned about how the sail boats functioned, and once he was old enough worked as a deep-sea sailor and bought his freedom. His story is especially touching since he unfortunately was separated from his sister twice, in which he recalls being “one of the most emotional moments of his life: ‘As soon as she saw me she gave a loud shriek, and ran into my arms. – I was quite overpowered: neither of us could speak; but, for a considerable time, cling to each other in mutual embraces, unable to do anything but weep.’ The tearful embrace seemed to move all who saw it, including the man Equiano considered to their joint owner” In this passage, Equiano has found his sister once again after they have been separated, but is only allowed to spend one night with her before they go again on different voyages with their owners. The narrative of Equiano is one of many in which families are separated and never reunited. Rediker is not only persuasive because of his historical facts and accounts, he also uses the rhetoric pathos to appeal to the reader’s senses and emotions. The story of Equiano is remembered because the audience feels bad for this man and all the things he endured.

Though, Rediker is not completely persuasive since he only puts the blame on one society: Europe. He makes it seem as if they were the only ones acting in this trade and bringing this capitalism to Africa. However, the slave trade already existed in Africa and people were being sold and bought as commodities within the state. In Africa, the people are part of different ethnic and tribal cultures and do not see themselves as one group, which can create conflict between one another, as it does in Europe or Asia. A lot of Africans are victims of war, and the African tribal chiefs traded them as war captives. The failure to participate in the slave trade made one more likely to be a victim of slavery. Rediker’s position is more persuasive since he uses personal accounts, historical facts, and the rhetoric pathos to appeal to the reader, but some may also wonder how persuasive since his point of view is very much against Europeans’ colonization and how they affected global capitalism. In conclusion, capitalism had a major impact on the world’s society in the 17th and 18th centuries in different ways. For Brooks global capitalism connected new people together and changed cultures, while for Rediker it effected the population in a negative way since it grew a divide between them. Although Rediker’s way of presenting the argument is more persuasive, because he uses personal accounts, and different rhetoric. Brook does also try to persuade his audience but his bias proves to hinder his ability.

After reading these books, the audience can also reflect on how global capitalism affects the world today. Nowadays, global capitalism has evolved differently and impacts every society and their individual politics and economies. For instance, China is now the world’s largest exporter and second largest economy. The ideas of capitalism are continuously evolving throughout the world.

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