Recently, Sixth Grade learned about the Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire, contracts between the Ottoman Empire and European powers. As a result of these contracts, factors were imposed on the Ottomans during the late 1700s that made it easier for the British to trade in the Ottoman Empire. Students learned the history, then played a game consisting of three rounds, created by Sixth Grade Assistant Teacher Matt to highlight inequalities in trade and the effects it has on nations.
Students were split into three teams: Ottoman Elites, Ottoman Merchants, and British Merchants. The Ottoman Elites needed to buy supplies for a dinner party. Overhead for both groups of Merchants was the cost of the material, the cost of the labor, and taxes. These funds had to be paid out from whatever profit the Merchants held before they could count a net yield, with the British Merchants having significantly lower overhead rates than the Ottoman Merchants.
In the first round, played as if taking place before the British Merchants started selling their goods in the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Elites bought solely from the Ottoman Merchants, who were selling paper plates and plastic forks. The second round took place when the British Merchants started selling in the Ottoman Empire; the British Merchants offered much nicer plates and silverware; they were able to bring better quality products with a lower overhead. The third round featured the Ottoman Merchants’ response to the British Merchants and the Capitulations, wherein they marked down prices and cut labor costs. The Ottoman Merchants also had to buy the British Merchants’ better-quality goods to compete with the British Merchants.
In the end, the Ottoman Merchants were left with two shekels profit, while the British Merchants had 35 shekels. The Ottoman Elites were the richest group, as they earned even more than the British Merchants after collecting taxes (3% of sales from the British Merchants and 15% from the Ottoman Merchants).
This complex exercise integrates math, history, economics, and more. It highlighted for students the complexities of trade and systems, in this case showing how foreign nations can dismantle a middle class while benefiting elite benefactors of that foreign nation.
The Ottoman Elites buying lower-quality goods from the Ottoman Merchants
The competition begins: British Merchants (background) creeping in on Ottoman Merchant’s (foreground) territory
The Ottoman Elites setting their dinner tables with British Merchants’ goods