Changes/ Continuites from 1492-1750

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The Renaissance in Western Europe marked the end of the middle Ages and the start of Europe’s rise as a global power. States in Western Europe became more centralized, and monarchs exercised more control over their subjects. Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America and triumphant return signaled the beginning of a new era of exploration. Likewise, Prince Henry the Navigator’s expeditions along the West African coast led to increased trade with Africa. Long isolated from the rest of the world, the Native Americans’ lives were drastically changed by the presence of European explorers, and later, colonists. Some aspects of life, such as domination by the elite in Europe, trade in Africa, and Native American ways of life in the Americas, have remained the same through the period. New contacts among Western Europe, Africa, and the Americas, however, led to interaction that has only increased with time.

New contacts and increased trade led to the rise of a middle class in Western Europe. Traditionally, and throughout the feudal period, nobles had controlled government and wealth. As trade with Africa and the Americas increased, however, a new merchant class rose. As the new class became wealthier, they began to agitate for political power, eventually leading to conflicts such as the 1789 French Revolution.

In the Americas, social transformations were huge. Deadly diseases brought by the Europeans decimated local populations, who had no resistance to smallpox, measles, etc. In one notorious case, during Spaniard Hernan Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs, the Spanish intentionally gave the Aztecs disease-ridden blankets. Such tactics also led to the downfall of the Incas, who were conquered by Francisco Pizzaro. From residing in mighty cities and presiding over huge empires, the Native American people were reduced to serving as servants or slaves of the new conquerors. A similar trend occurred in North America. Unlike the Aztecs or Incas, North American natives were...
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