Honors Global History, Period 10
The Age of Exploration
The Age of Exploration can be seen as a link between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era, starting during the early 1400s through the early 1600s, when Europeans ventured to areas beyond the horizon in search of new trade routes to feed the growing capitalism of Europe. The Age of Exploration was an essential period of time for the advancement of the human race, due to its significant economic, political, and cultural effects on the world.
The Age of Exploration was primarily lead by the Spanish and the Portuguese. However, before the Europeans discovered the new world, they were preoccupied by the frustrating religious divide within their own countries between the Christians and the Muslims. The process where the Spanish and Portuguese Christians reclaim the Iberian Peninsula is called the Reconquista. It is after the Reconquista, that the Europeans start to expand and explore the new world for new trade routes to the riches, i.e. spices, of Asia. The Portuguese however, had finished their Reconquista first, which gave them an advantage over the rest of Europe, specifically Spain, and allowed them to explore the Atlantic coast of Africa under the sponsorship of Prince Henry, who established the Sagres Point Institute for ship ware and supplies there. In effect, this had also given them greater political and economic power through territorial expansion, as well as improved shipping technology, making ocean navigation more exact. It was through this route that Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese nobleman and explorer, reached the southern tip of Africa and eventually the Indian Ocean. Later when the Spanish caught up, they sent Christopher Columbus to sail west to reach the Indies by crossing the Atlantic. He ended up landing in uncharted territory, America, which was known as the New World. The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed to prevent conflict between Portugal and Spain, dividing the western hemisphere in two, Northern America belonging to Spain and Southern America belonging to Portugal.
The expansion of Portugal and Spain by way of seafaring led to the Age of Exploration. This encouraged other European Nations such as France and England to seek new sources of wealth and new economic theories and practices to deal with this new-found wealth. So while Spain and Portugal were concentrated in South and Central America, France and England explored North America. This small idea had increased ten-fold its potential, from the trade of spices to the desire for increased world power through their colonial empires, highly impacting their economic and political aspects. These European nations were inspired to expand for God, gold, and glory. Other nations such as Italy and China were less inspired to do so. These nations already had existing trade route monopolies and had little interest in risky sea explorations, rendering exploration and expansion to an unnecessary level. However, that did not cease the flow of increased power and wealth made by the countries that had chosen to explore and expand. All this exploration even introduced a new kind of wealth; the slave trade. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began during the 1600s when Europeans captured West African slaves and shipped them to the Americas and Caribbean Islands to work on plantations, which also started the beginning of the global plantation economy. Of course, this had a major cultural impact that still affects our society today. The slave trade incited ideas of prejudice, discrimination, and racism among people, i.e. mostly against the Africans. Many West Africans were discriminated against because of an assumed biological commonality. The ethnocentrism of the Europeans, coupled with discrimination, had effectively created the culturally induced idea of race. Eventually, the Columbian Exchange began as a result of the ongoing exploration and trade, where a widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations, communicable diseases, technology and ideas between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres took place. Many invasive species of plants, animals and diseases were introduced throughout the Triangular Trade. Some of these species benefitted the receiving regions, whereas others had quite the opposite effect. For example, diseases such as smallpox, measles, malaria, yellow fever, and the common cold brought to the new world from the old world annihilated entire groups of Native Americans, much to the convenience of the European conquistadors who were trying to kill them in the first place…. In conclusion, significant economic, political, and cultural impacts had been made during the Age of Exploration. European overseas expansion led rise to colonial empires, with the commingling of the Old and New Worlds producing the Columbian Exchange. European exploration allowed global mapping and trade, resulting in a new world-view and the acknowledgment of distant civilizations, without which the current society of the world may have been quite contrary.