AP World History DBQ: Servitude

6 June 2016

During colonial times, indentured servitude became increasingly popular, notably in the Americas. Underprivileged natives of places including India, China, and Japan sought a better life in the Americas and Africa; however, lacking a sufficient amount of money for basic commodities, such people were promised food and housing from their employers in exchange for their labor. During the 17th and 18th centuries, these people migrated to the Americas to work on plantations, cultivating cash crops like tobacco and bringing great wealth to plantation owners. Unlike slaves, indentured servants were only required to work for as long as their contracts stated. Caused by underprivileged individuals’ desires for better lives and plantations’ need for labor to meet the growing demand for resources, indentured servitude had a negative impact on the world by altering global demographics and forcing servants to face arduous living and working conditions.

Indentured servitude, like slavery, was necessary in order to meet growing demands for labor, although indentured servants were not seized by violence and ultimately aimed to better their lives. In Document1, Herman Merivale makes indentured servitude seem almost ethical as compared to slavery. However, as British Undersecretary of the Colonies, Merivale is a government official who obviously benefits from the servants’ labor. As a man of high status, he profits from their work and feels as if servants are treated fine, at least far better than slaves.

His position influences his opinion, making his statement completely biased. An additional diary or journal entry from an indentured servant himself would further support the thesis by providing personal reasons for why someone of a lower status would join the indentured servitude workforce, rather than a statement from an elite official. Furthermore, in Document 2, an editorial from a South African newspaper explains how the need for labor is increasing exponentially, especially in South Africa, which eventually welcomed a great influx of indentured servants from India. Although indentured servitude seemed like the ideal solution to the problems faced by both the underprivileged and the elite, it still had an overall negative effect on the world.

Indentured servitude had an effect on global demographics. Documents 3, 4, 6, and 9 illustrate the influx of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese servants into areas in Africa, Latin America and the Polynesian islands. Although this allowed for cultural diversity in areas such as the Americas, these migrations caused somewhat of an imbalance in regional populations. Large countries such as India, China, and Japan witnessed population decreases while small islands such as Mauritius, where most of the population consisted of indentured servants and former slaves, might have been suffering from overpopulation.

Overpopulation, which subsequently causes food shortages, was just one of the many negative working conditions that indentured servants faced. A graph or chart recording the migrations’ effects on native societies’ populations would globalize the view of its effects.

Indentured servitude called for many immigrants to work under unfair policies and arduous conditions. Document 5 depicts the crowded plantations and dense fields in which indentured servants were required to work. The images demonstrate working conditions similar to those of slaves. Moreover, Document 7 demonstrates that servants faced tedious, laborious lifestyles, often working several hours a day, six days a week for little in return. Contradicting Document 7, Document 8 presents a hardworking female servant expressing her discontent with her lifestyle.

Due to both her low status and her gender, she is subject to even greater discrimination within the plantation; thus she is treated very unfairly, working longer hours for even less pay than others. Access to a journal kept by a servant would provide for a more thorough view on the hardships of being indentured. Sadly, this was the case for such servants who devoted themselves to lives of labor ultimately to no avail.

Indentured servitude had an overall negative impact on the world. Although employers benefited from their work, most others had suffered, and this had a definite impact on the lower classes. Despite the fact that indentured servitude was a more attractive alternative to slavery, it still had a somewhat equally negative global effect.

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