World Trade Organization breaks down in Seattle

World Trade Organization, Seattle Round title page. Washington State Archives. Auburn Police Department. 1999.


In November and December 1999, demonstrators took to the streets to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The violence of the confrontation between the Seattle Police Department and the demonstrators surprised many.


Start with secondary sources 

Use secondary sources to gain basic knowledge of your topic, its significance, and historical context.

Ask a Librarian online at Washington State Library to get expert help in locating useful secondary sources. 


Then use primary sources

Use primary sources to deepen your understanding of the topic, and assemble evidence to support your own analysis and interpretation.

Ask an Archivist online at Washington State Archives to get expert help in locating useful primary sources.


Some key historical research questions:

  • What is the WTO, and why was it established?
  • How has it developed?
  • How was world trade managed or regulated prior to the WTO?
  • What role has exploration played in the development of the world economy?
  • How does the WTO reflect the way the economies of the world communicate and interact with each other?
  • Why were people demonstrating against the WTO meeting in Seattle?
  • What groups and interests did the protesters represent?
  • What do GATT and IMF stand for, and how do they relate to trade and other economic ties between nations?
  • Why was Seattle chosen as the site for the 1999 meeting?
  • What role has Seattle played in world trade?
  • How has the flow of trade between the United States and other countries affected Seattle’s economy?
  • How did the encounters and exchanges that took place in Seattle reflect the conflicts revolving around trade and economic development throughout the world?
  • What planning took place to prepare for the demonstrations?
  • What role did the media play?
  • Were the demonstrators’ tactics necessary, appropriate, or successful?
  • How many different levels of government were involved in law enforcement?
  • What has happened at WTO meetings before and since 1999?
  • Consider other possibilities for historical questions as you analyze and interpret this topic.
    • The WTO and a number of organizations that monitor its activities maintain extensive websites. When doing website research, evaluate the sites’ credibility, and bear in mind that information on websites often represents specific points of view rather than a balanced analysis of the topic.


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