The initial voyages that took place in the late fifteenth century and early sixteenth century are the most important events to understanding the modern world. Although humans had been migrating to different areas since they could walk, it was these voyages that opened up the entire world to all people. Trade, globalization, intermingling of races, science, technology, religion, and people discovering new lands are all a product of these initial voyages.
Christopher Columbus, with the backing of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain in 1492, headed west across the Atlantic to find a more direct and lucrative route to China and Japan. Although he never made it to either, he opened the door to the Americas, and also set the wheels in motion for the demise of the indigenous people there. Columbus never believed that he had found an unknown continent, but after the first voyage the Americas would never be the same. This is critical to world history due to the fact that North America especially has had such an influence on the world for the last few hundred years. After the United States gained independence from Britain they have been a major player in the world ever since.
Unlike the Spanish, the Portuguese sailors headed south, hoping to arrive in Asia by going around the southern tip of Africa. The Portuguese were the most advanced maritime nation in the world at this time. Their ships were far superior to anyone else’s and their knowledge of the compass and astrolabe gave them an edge over other maritime nations. The Portuguese also were able to sail into the wind-- not against it-- which brought them into a lucrative trading area with India and China first. Both the Spanish and Portuguese alike made these journeys in an attempt to convert new people to their religion, as well as getting involved in the profitable trading that was occurring in the Indian Ocean.
As the two nations adventured into the unknown, the lands that they encountered...