A changing World

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2.1 Notes – “A Changing World”

Essential Question – What events and technological advances paved the way for European exploration?

European interest in Asia began to grow during the Middle Ages. The Crusades in 1095 brought Europeans into contact with Middle East where Arab merchants sold spices, sugar, silk, and other goods from China and India.

In 1296, Marco Polo wrote Travels, an account of his trip to China. This was widely read in Europe and even inspired Christopher Columbus 200 years later.

European merchants knew they could make a fortune selling goods from Asia. Arab merchants, however, charged high prices for their goods when they sold their goods overland by caravan along the Silk Road. Europeans began looking for a route to the East that bypassed the Arab merchants.

The Renaissance changed the way Europeans thought about themselves and the world and paved the way for the Age of Exploration (or Age of Discovery).

New technology also paved the way for European voyages and exploration. Better maps showed the directions of ocean currents and lines of latitude. Inventions like the astrolabe and magnetic compass improved navigation. The Portuguese also developed the three-masted caravel, a ship that could sail faster and carry more cargo (see page 37).

2.2 Notes – “Early Exploration”

Essential Question – Why did Spain and Portugal want to find a sea route to Asia?


Portugal was the first country to explore the boundaries of the known world. The country’s rulers wanted to find a new route to China and India. Also, they hoped to find a more direct way to get West African gold.

In about 1420, Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as Henry the Navigator, helped lay the groundwork for the Age of Exploration by setting up a school for exploration and navigation.

In 1487, Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias explored the southernmost tip of Africa and named it the Cape of Good Hope.

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama completed the eastern sea route to Asia when he reached India by sailing around Africa in 1498.

Another Portuguese explorer, Pedro Cabral, tried to follow Vasco da Gama’s route but swung so wide around Africa he reached Brazil in South America. He claimed the land for Portugal.


Even though the Viking Leif Eriksson may have landed in North America first, Christopher Columbus is given the credit for this “discovery.” His idea was to sail west to find a sea route to Asia. He was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In 1492, he set sail with three ships – the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. On October 12, 1492, his crew spotted a small island, part of the Bahamas today, and named it San Salvador. Convinced he had reached the East Indies, he called the local people Indians. Columbus made three more voyages and claimed the land for Spain leading to a Spanish Empire in the Americas.

Another Spanish explorer, Amerigo Vespucci sailed along South America’s coast in 1502. Geographers soon began calling the continent America, in honor of him.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first explorer to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas after crossing through Panama in 1513.

In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew set out to find an all water route to Asia. He and his crew sailed around the southern tip of South America (called the Strait of Magellan today), into the Pacific Ocean, and returned to Spain in 1522. They were the first to circumnavigate the world.

2.4 Notes – “Exploring North America”

Essential Question – Why did European nations establish colonies in North America?

Mercantilism is an economic theory that said a nation’s power is based on its wealth. Several European countries competed for overseas territory that could produce wealth. They wanted to acquire colonies in the Americas that could provide valuable resource, such as gold and silver, or raw materials.

The voyages of Columbus and the other explorers brought together two parts of the globe that had previously had no contact. The exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between Europe, Asia, and Africa in one hemisphere and the Americas in the other is called the Columbian Exchange.

England, France, and the Netherlands sent explorers to chart the coast of North America and establish trade and colonies. They also hoped to discover the Northwest Passage, or direct water route to Asia through the Americas.

List of explorers searching for the Northwest Passage:





John Cabot



Explored present-day Newfoundland; England based its claims on his voyage

Jacques Cartier



Sailed St. Lawrence River; founded Montreal

Henry Hudson



Discovered Hudson River and Hudson Bay

France made profits in North America from fur trading and fishing, rather than establishing an empire. Samuel de Champlain was sent by a French fur-trading company in 1609 to found a settlement in Quebec. From Quebec, the French moved into other parts of Canada and built trading posts to collect furs gathered by Native Americans and French trappers.

The Netherlands explored North America to increase trade around the world. In 1621, the Dutch West India Company set up the colony of New Netherland. The center of the colony was New Amsterdam, known today as New York City. The Dutch paid the local Native Americans, the Manhates, about $24 for the land.

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