Part IV the Early Modern Period, 1450–1750: The World Shrinks The World Map Changes

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The Early Modern Period, 1450–1750: The World Shrinks
The World Map Changes. Two maps illustrate major changes in world history between 1450 and 1750. The first is the formation of new empires. Several of these were European, but the Ottoman Turks, Mughal India and Russia also expanded. The other big change came in trade routes, which shifted from land routes and seaways via the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Triggers for Change. The early modern period was distinguished by renewed empire building. The Ottoman Empire is a notable example, taking over the former Byzantine Empire, and its capital at Constantinople. European exploration of the margins of the Atlantic also separated this period from earlier eras. A third development is encompassed by the term gunpowder empires, characterized by their use of new military technology. However, other technologies also made their mark, including the compass, and improved sailing techniques.
The Big Changes. Reactions to the changing world affected all parts of the world, but differently. The three major changes are discussed below.
A New Global Economy. International trade increased in volume, and now the Americas were part global commerce. Changes after 1450 brought the regions of the world into much closer contact.
Biological Exchange. All manner of living things now moved or were moved around the world. Population often followed the introduction of new foodstuffs. At the same time, disease was often transmitted. The Atlantic slave trade had enormous consequences on both sides of the ocean.
New Empires. The new empires formed in this period often represented significant shifts in power. The power of Europe, in particular, increased, although it was not alone. These shifts in some cases translated into serious imbalances.
Continuity. Preexisting trade routes continued to be important. Culturally as well, a great deal of continuity prevailed. Although world religions spread, many major areas also maintained their religious traditions. In gender relations too, little systematic change occurred. In the area of technology, this area was relatively stagnant until after 1750. Earlier developments, such as the use of gunpowder, continued to spread. In the face of pressure from other regions, some cultures such as the Chinese embraced their cultures more firmly than ever.
Impact on Daily Life: Work. Diseases, introduced to those with no immunities, were devastating in many areas of the world. Many Chinese found themselves reduced to poverty when unable to pay taxes in silver, now the common currency of the wealthy. Millions of Africans died on the trip to the Americas or became slaves. The most widespread change was in the nature of work. Working conditions were more crowded, and the workload was often increased to keep pace with competitors. Child labor increased in many areas. The term for the period, early modern, reflects the fact that the period shared many features with the modern world, while still bearing a resemblance to the past.
Trends and Societies. The chapters of this section examine in more detail the changes highlighted above. Chapter 21 provides an overview of changing international trading patterns. Internal changes affecting western Europe is the focus of Chapter 22. The case of Russia, one of the gunpowder empires, is the subject of Chapter 23. Chapters 24 and 25 turn to the Atlantic world. The Americas saw the formation of a new society as indigenous peoples were conquered by Europeans, with African slaves adding to the mix. Chapter 26 focuses on the Muslim world. In Chapter 27, the Asian world presents the example of an area of the world that was more affected by internal developments in this period, than by global changes.


The World Economy

Chapter Outline Summary

I. The West’s First Outreach: Maritime Power

Increasing contact from 12th century

from Crusades, Reconquista

familiarity with imports


Mongol fall

Ottomans intervene

European efforts to expand

A. New Technology: A Key to Power

Deep-draught ships

better on ocean voyages

Armaments better

Compasses, mapmaking helped navigation

B. Portugal and Spain Lead the Pack

Prince Henry the Navigator

expeditions along African coast

1488, passed Cape of Good Hope

1498, Vasco Da Gama reached India

1514, Portuguese to Indonesia, China


to Americas, 1492

Ferdinand Magellan

1519, began circumnavigation of the world

C. Northern European Expeditions

England, Holland, France took the initiative

1588, British defeated Spanish Armada

1534, French crossed the Atlantic

settled in Canada

1497, British sailed to North America

1600s, began colonization


North American territory


Chartered companies

little government supervision

II. Toward a World Economy

A. The Columbian Exchange of Disease and Food

Native Americans, Polynesians lacks immunities to European disease

Slaves imported

New World plants

corn, sweet potato, potato

Old World animals

horse, cattle

B. The West’s Commercial Outreach


Asian shipping in Chinese, Japanese waters

Muslim traders along east African coast

Turks in eastern Mediterranean


remained on coast in Africa, Asia

C. Imbalances in World Trade

Spain and Portugal lacked financial systems

England, France, Holland

more lasting economic presence


exports, home production protected

dependent areas supplied raw materials

D. A System of International Inequality

Permanent state of dependence

but peasants mostly unaffected

forced labor became widespread to meet demand

E. How Much World in the World Economy?

Not all areas affected

East Asia self-sufficient

China uninterested in world economy

kept Europeans out


more open initially

closed doors, 17th to 19th centuries

F. The Expansionist Trend

Mughal Empire in decline

British, French filled power vacuum

Eastern Europe

exports grain to the West

III. Colonial Expansion

A. The Americas: Loosely Controlled Colonies


West Indies

1509, Panama

Aztec, Incas conquered

Loosely supervised conquistadors

Search for gold

took tribute rather than conquer

Administration developed

along with missionary activity

North America

from 17th century

French: Canada, Mississippi

Dutch, English, Atlantic seaboard

West Indies, colonized by all three

B. British and French North America: Backwater Colonies

Different pattern from Latin America

religious refugees

land grants


French established estates

controlled by state

Catholic church influential

1763, French relinquished Canada, Mississippi

Little merging of natives and immigrants

Enlightenment ideas popular

C. North America and Western Civilization

European-style family

European economic, political ideas

D. Africa and Asia: Coastal Trading Stations

Barriers: climate, disease, geography

Europeans stopped at coast

except in Angola, South Africa


Portuguese slaving expeditions

South Africa

1652, Dutch founded Cape Town

way station

Settlers moved into interior

conflicts with natives


Spain into Philippines



Dutch East India Company

also Taiwan briefly

French and British fought for control of India

1744, war began

British won out

E. Impact on Western Europe

Hostilities between countries exacerbated

Seven Years’ War

first global war

F. The Impact of a New World Order

Slave trade affected Africa

Latin America, eastern Europe

affected by slavery, serfdom

Populations grow following introduction of new food crops

Chapter Summary

Silver Currency. Silver became a commonly traded commodity after 1450, as new sources increased its availability. Silver mines in Mexico and Bolivia were worked by Spaniards, using the Inca mita system. Silver flowed through Spain, into the hands of European merchants, and thence to Asia. Indian spices and Chinese finished goods were eagerly sought by Europeans. Thus a preponderance of the silver ended up in these two world areas. China experienced economic growth, and an improved standard of living. These benefits were not without consequences, as some Chinese became concerned with economic polarization, and Europeans worried about the flow of silver through the continent.
Chapter Summary. The rise of the West between the 15th and 18th centuries involved distant explorations and conquests resulting in a heightening and redefining of relationships among world societies. During the classical era, larger regional economies and culture zones had developed, as in the Chinese Middle Kingdom and the Mediterranean basin, but international exchanges were not of fundamental importance to the societies involved. During the postclassical period, contacts increased and were more significant. Missionary religions—Buddhism and Islam—and trade influenced important changes. The new world relationships after 1450 spelled a new period of world history. The Americas and other world areas were joined to the world network, while older regions had increased contacts. Trade became so significant that new relationships emerged among societies and prompted reconsideration of existing political and cultural traditions.
The West’s First Outreach: Maritime Power. Europeans had become more aware of the outside world since the 12th century. Knowledge gained during the Crusades and from contacts with the great Mongol Empire spurred interest. European upper classes became accustomed to imports, especially spices, brought from India and southeast Asia to the Middle East by Arab vessels, and then carried to Europe by traders from Italian city-states. The fall of the Mongol dynasty in China, the strength of the Ottoman Empire, plus lack of gold to pay for imports and poor naval technology, hindered efforts for change. Europeans launched more consistent attempts for expansion from the late 13th century.

New Technology: A Key to Power. Technological improvements during the 15th century changed the equation. Deep-draught, round-hulled ships were able to sail Atlantic waters. Improved metalwork techniques allowed the vessels to carry armament far superior to the weapons aboard ships of other societies. The compass and better mapmaking improved navigational skills.

Portugal and Spain Lead the Pack. The initiative for Atlantic exploration came from Portugal. Prince Henry the Navigator directed explorations motivated by Christian missionary zeal, the excitement of discovery, and a thirst for wealth. From 1434, Portuguese vessels, searching for a route to India, traveled ever farther southward along the African coast. In 1488 they passed the Cape of Good Hope. Vasco Da Gama reached India in 1498. Many voyages followed. One, blown off course, reached Brazil. By 1514 the Portuguese had reached Indonesia and China. In 1542 they arrived in Japan and began Catholic missionary activity. Fortresses were established in African and Asian ports. The Spanish quickly followed the Portuguese example. Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, mistakenly calling their inhabitants Indians. Spain gained papal approval for its claims over most of Latin America; a later decision gave Brazil to Portugal. Sixteenth-century expeditions brought the Spanish as far north as the southwestern United States. Ferdinand Magellan began a Spanish voyage in 1519 that circumnavigated the globe. As a result, Spain claimed the Philippines.

Northern European Expeditions. In the 16th century, the exploratory initiative passed from the Portuguese and Spanish to strong northern European states: England, Holland, France. They had improved oceanic vessel design while Portugal and Spain were busy digesting their colonial gains. British naval victory over Spain in 1588 left general ocean dominance to northern nations. The French first crossed the Atlantic in 1534 and soon established settlements in Canada. The British turned to North America in 1497, beginning colonization of its east coast during the 17th century. The Dutch also had holdings in the Americas. They won control of Indonesia from the Portuguese by the early 17th century, and in mid-century established a relay settlement on the southern tip of Africa. French, Dutch, and British traders received government-awarded monopolies of trade in the newly reached regions, but the chartered companies acted without much official supervision. They gained great profits and acted like independent political entities.

Thinking Historically: Causation and the West’s Expansion. Historians desiring to understand social change have to study causation. The many factors involved in any one case make precise answers impossible, but when sufficient data is available, high probability can be attained. Scholars looking for single-factor determinants use cultural, technological, economic, or “great man” theory explanations. All of the approaches raise as many questions as answers. The best understanding is reached through debate based on all efforts chosen as explanations.

Toward a World Economy. Europe’s new maritime activity had three major consequences for world history: creation of a new international pool for exchanges of food, diseases, and manufactured products; formation of a more inclusive world economy; and opening some parts of the world to Western colonization.

The Columbian Exchange of Disease and Food. The extension of international interaction facilitated the spread of disease. Native Americans and Polynesians, lacking natural immunities to small pox and measles, died in huge numbers. In the Americas, Europeans forged new populations from their own peoples and through importation of African slaves. New World crops spread rapidly. American corn and the potato became important in Europe; corn and the sweet potato similarly changed life in China and Africa. Major population increases resulted. Asian and European animals came to the Americas.

The West’s Commercial Outreach. Westerners, because of their superior military might, dominated international trade, but they did not displace all rivals. Asian shipping continued in Chinese and Japanese coastal waters, Muslim traders predominated along the east African littoral, and the Turks were active in the eastern Mediterranean. Little inland territory was conquered in Africa or Asia; the Europeans sought secure harbors and built fortifications to protect their commerce and serve as contact places for inland traders. When effective indigenous states opposed such bases, Europeans gained protected trading enclaves within their cities.

Imbalances in World Trade. Spain and Portugal briefly held leadership the New World economy, but their economies and banking systems could not meet the new demands. New core nations, England, France, and Holland, established more durable economic dominance. They expanded manufacturing operations to meet new market conditions. The doctrines of mercantilism protected home markets and supported exports; tariff policies discouraged competition from colonies and foreign rivals. Beyond Europe areas became dependent participants in the world economy as producers and suppliers of low-cost raw materials; in return they received European manufactured items. Sub-Saharan Africa entered the world network mainly as a slave supplier. The Europeans controlled commercial and shipping services.

A System of International Inequality. The rise of core and dependent economic zones became an enduring factor in world economic relationships. Some participants in the dependent regions had an opportunity for profit. African slave traders and rulers taxing the trade could become rich. Indigenous merchants in Latin America satisfied regional food requirements. Many peasants in all regions remained untouched by international markets. Still, indigenous merchants and landlords did not control their terms of trade; the wealth gained was expended on European imports and did not stimulate local manufacturing or general economic advance. Dependence in the world economy helped form a coercive labor system. The necessity for cheap products produced in the Americas exploitation of indigenous populations or use of slaves. In the Dutch East Indies and British India, peasants were forced into labor systems.

How Much World in the World Economy? Huge areas remained outside the world economy. They were not affected politically or economically by its structure, and until the 18th century did not greatly suffer from the missed opportunities for profit or technological advance. East Asian civilizations did not need European products; they concentrated upon consumption or regional commerce. China was uninterested in international trading involvement and remained mainly outside the world economy until the end of the 18th century. It was powerful enough to keep Europeans in check. Some limited trade was permitted in Portuguese Macao, and European desire for Chinese manufactured items made China the leading recipient of American silver. In Japan early openness to Europeans, in missionary activity and interest in military technology, quickly ended. Most contacts were prohibited from the 17th to the 19th century. Mughal India, the Ottomans, and Safavid Persia all allowed minimal trade with Europeans, but concentrated upon their own internal development. Russia and African regions not participating in the slave trade lay outside the international economic orbit.

The Expansionist Trend. European dominance spread to new areas during the 17th and 18th centuries. British and French merchants strengthened their positions as the Mughal Empire began falling apart. Britain passed legislation designed to turn its holdings into dependent regions. Tariffs blocked cottons from competing with British production. India’s complex economy survived, but with a weakened international status. Eastern Europe joined world economic activity by exporting grain, mainly produced by serfs working on large estates, from Prussia, Poland, and Russia to the West.

Colonial Expansion. Western colonial dominance over many peoples accompanied the New World economic network. Two types of American colonies emerged, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in North America. Colonialism also spread to Africa and Asia.

The Americas: Loosely Controlled Colonies. Spain quickly colonized West Indian Islands; in 1509 settlement began on the mainland in Panama. Military expeditions conquered the Aztecs and Incas. The early colonies were formed by small bands of adventurers loosely controlled by European administrations. The settlers ruthlessly sought gold; when there were substantial Indian populations they exacted tribute without imposing much administration. As agricultural settlements were established, Spanish and Portuguese officials created more formal administration. Missionary activity added another layer of administration. Northern Europeans began colonial activity during the early 17th century. The French settled in Canada and explored the Mississippi River basin. The Dutch and English occupied coastal Atlantic territories. All three nations colonized West Indian islands and built slave-based economies.

British and French North America: Backwater Colonies. North American colonial patterns differed from those in Latin America and the Caribbean. Religious refugees came to English territories. Land grants to major proprietors stimulated the recruitment of settlers. The French in Canada planned the establishment of manorial estates under the direction of great lords controlled by the state. French peasants emigrated in small numbers, but increased settlement through a high birth rate. The Catholic church held a strong position. France in 1763 through the Treaty of Paris surrendered Canada and the Mississippi basin. The French inhabitants remained unhappy with British rule, but many American loyalists arrived after the 1776 revolution. The North American colonies were less esteemed by their rulers than Asian or West Indian possessions since the value of the exports and imports of their small populations was insignificant. Continuing settler arrival occurred as Indian populations declined through disease and warfare. Indians and Europeans did not form new cultural groups as they did in Latin America; Indians instead moved westward where they developed a culture based upon the imported European horse. North American colonial societies developed following European patterns. British colonies formed assemblies based upon broad male participation. The colonists also avidly consumed Enlightenment political ideas. Trade and manufacturing developed widely, and a strong merchant class appeared. The colonists retained vigorous cultural ties with Europe; an unusual percentage of the settlers were literate. The importation of African slaves and slavery separated the North America experience from European patterns.

North America and Western Civilization. Western habits had been transplanted into a new setting. Americans married earlier, had more children, and displayed an unusual concern for children, but they still reproduced the European-style family. When British colonists revolted against their rulers, they did so under Western-inspired political and economic ideology. Once successful, they were the first to implement some of the principle concepts of that ideology.

Africa and Asia: Coastal Trading Stations. In Africa most Europeans were confined, because of climate, disease, geographical barriers, and African strength, to coastal trading forts. The exceptions were in Angola and South Africa. The Portuguese sent disruptive slaving expeditions into Angola from established coastal centers. In South Africa, the Dutch founded Cape Town in 1652 as a settlement for supplying ships on the way to Asia. The settlers expanded into nearby regions where they met and fought indigenous hunters and herding peoples. Later they began continuing wars with the Bantu. European settlements in Asia also were minimal. Spain moved into the Philippines and began Christianizing activities; the Dutch East India Company administered parts of Indonesia and briefly had a presence in Taiwan. Asian colonization began a new phase when France and Britain, with forts along both coasts, began to compete for control in India as Mughal authority declined. Outright war began in 1744, with each side allying with Indian princes. French defeat destroyed their power in India. Unlike colonial rule in the Americas, European administration remained limited in India, as in most African and Asian territories. Officials were satisfied to conclude agreements with indigenous rulers. European cultural impact was slight, and few settlers, apart from the Dutch in South Africa, took up residence. Only in the Philippines were many indigenous peoples drawn to Christianity.

Impact on Western Europe. Colonial development affected western Europe economically and diplomatically. Colonial rivalries added to the persisting hostilities between nations. The Seven Years’ War, fought in Europe, Asia, and America, was the first worldwide war. The colonies brought new wealth to Europe, profiting merchants and manufacturers. New products changed lifestyles: once-costly sugar became available to ordinary people.

The Impact of a New World Order. The development of a world economy and European colonialism had major impacts. African populations were disrupted by the slave trade. Latin America and eastern Europe were deeply affected by slavery and serfdom. Despite the hardships imposed upon many societies, some benefits resulted. New food crops and increased trade allowed population growth. Individual landowners and merchants prospered. Out of a search for profits, or by necessity, increasing numbers of peoples became part of the world economy.

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: The World Economy—and the World. Western European economic and military power rapidly increased during the early modern period. Dramatic internal European changes also occurred. The relations of other civilizations to the new era varied. Some remained isolated. Others retained vibrant political and economic systems. Whatever the response, none were passive. If new ideas entered a civilization, they blended in with existing cultures.

Vasco Da Gama: Portuguese mariner; first European to reach India by sea in 1498.
Christopher Columbus: Italian navigator in the service of Aragon and Castile; sailed west to find a route to India and instead came upon the Americas in 1492.
Ferdinand Magellan: Portuguese captain in Spanish service; began the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1519; died during voyage; allowed Spain to claim possession of the Philippines.
East India Companies: British, French, and Dutch trading companies that obtained government monopolies of trade to India and Asia; acted independently in their regions.
World economy: created by Europeans during the late 16th century; based on control of the seas; established an international exchange of foods, diseases, and manufactured products.
Columbian Exchange: interaction between Europe and the Americas; millions of native Americans died from the entry of new diseases; New World crops spread to other world regions; European and Asian animals came to the Americas.
Lepanto: naval battle between Spain and the Ottoman Empire resulting in Spanish victory in 1571; demonstrated European naval superiority over Muslims.
Core nations: nations, usually European, that profited from the world economy; controlled international banking and commercial services; exported manufactured goods and imported raw materials.
Mercantilism: the colonial economic policy, by which a colonizing nation must import only from its own colonies, but sell exports as widely as possible.
Dependent economic zones: regions within the world economy that produced raw materials; dependent upon European markets and shipping; tendency to build systems based on forced and cheap labor.

Mestizos: people of mixed European and Native American heritage.
Vasco de Balboa: (1475?–1517), Spanish adventurer; explored Central America.
Francisco Pizarro (1478–1541); Spanish explorer; arrived in the Americas in 1502; joined Balboa in Panama, then successfully attacked the Inca Empire.
New France: French colonies in Canada and elsewhere; extended along St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes and down Mississippi River valley system.
Atlantic colonies: British colonies in North America along Atlantic coast from New England to Georgia.
Treaty of Paris: concluded in 1763 following the Seven Years’ War; Britain gained New France and ended France’s importance in India.
Cape Colony: Dutch colony established at Cape of Good Hope in 1652 to provide a coastal station for Dutch ships traveling to and from Asia; settlers expanded and fought with Bantu and other Africans.
Boers: Dutch and other European settlers in Cape Colony before 19th-century British occupation; later called Afrikaners.
Calcutta: British East India Company headquarters in Bengal; captured in 1756 by Indians; later became administrative center for populous Bengal.
Seven Years’ War: fought in Europe, Africa, and Asia between 1756 and 1763; the first worldwide war.

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