Social Studies Notes



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Social Studies Notes

Exploration of the New World


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The Vikings


  • Leif Eriksson was a Viking from Greenland that sailed the northern Atlantic Ocean and settled in North America for a short period of time.

  • He called this land Vinland because of the grape vines found there.

  • The Vikings’ combative relationship with other Europeans did not allow them to share their discovery, so North America remained unknown to most Europeans.


Economic factors that led to exploration of the New World

  • Merchants brought spices from the Far East to Europe to trade for a profit.

  • Other Europeans wanted more goods from the East without the extra cost from the “middle men”.

  • They went looking for ways to get these goods in order to make money.

  • This was the beginning of international trade which was a cause and result of the Age of Exploration.


Political factors that led to exploration of the New World

  • There was a lot of competition between nations.

  • The Spanish had become the most powerful nation in Europe because they had found gold and silver.

  • The English monarchs, or kings and queens, sent explorers to the New World so they would become the dominant country in the settlement of North America.


Technological factors/advances that led to exploration of the New World

European explorers discovered new navigational tools and different kinds of shipbuilding that would help them find their way across the oceans.



  • A caravel was a smaller and faster ship that had triangular sails that let it sail into the wind. This allowed explorers to travel farther out to sea.

  • The magnetic compass indicated north, south, east, and west.

  • The astrolabe measured the height of the sun above the horizon to help plot their location and course.

  • The telescope was important for sighting landmarks at great distances.

  • Cartography, map-making skills, helped explorers to share their knowledge with others. This was taught at the Portuguese School of Navigation.

European Explorers
Prince Henry, the Navigator

  • Portugal’s Prince Henry started a school for navigation to train sailors.

  • Because of the leadership of Prince Henry, Portugal was the first country to seek a water route to Asia.

  • Portugal sought to reach Asia by going south and then east around Africa.

  • They were eventually successful and came to control this trade route.



Christopher Columbus

  • Columbus sailed for Spain looking for a new and faster route to the Spice Islands in Asia.

  • He sailed west because the Portuguese had control of the eastern route around Africa.

  • Columbus, like many others at the time, did believe the world was round so he could sail west to get to the Far East.

  • Columbus did not reach his goal to bring back riches from the Far East.

  • He discovered the lands and wealth of North and South America.

  • This provided the gateway for Spanish settlement in the New World.





Ferdinand Magellan

  • Magellan sailed for Spain looking for treasures just like Columbus.

  • Although he died before the journey was complete, his expedition was the first to sail around the world.

  • Magellan claimed new lands for Spain.

  • His crew proved that sailing around the world was possible, but only at great cost.


Hernando de Soto

  • De Soto was a Spanish conquistador, or conqueror, looking for gold.

  • He explored throughout the southeastern United States and claimed this land for Spain.

  • As a result, other explorers eventually claimed Florida and the southwest region of what is today the United States and called this land New Spain.

  • He never found gold in the southeastern United States.


John Cabot

  • Cabot explored for England.

  • He wanted to find a quicker route to the Far East known as the Northwest Passage.

  • The belief that there was a Northwest Passage that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans continued to motivate other explorers, such as Lewis and Clark, into the 1800s.

  • John Cabot sailed near the Arctic Circle, but he had no success finding a water passage, since such a passage does not exist.

  • He claimed the lands he encountered for England.

  • The English eventually claimed the coast of North America based on the explorations of Cabot and called this land Virginia and New England.


Henry Hudson

  • Hudson explored for both the Netherlands and England.

  • He was looking for the Northwest Passage, but instead he claimed and mapped what is now New York for the Dutch.

  • He claimed lands in Canada for the English.

  • The Hudson River and Hudson Bay are named for Henry Hudson.

  • The Dutch claimed the area around the Hudson River and established New Netherlands and New Amsterdam in what is today New York.

  • The Dutch later ceded (gave up) their claims to the British (English), leading to the 13 original colonies.




Robert LaSalle

  • LaSalle explored for France.

  • He explored the Mississippi River down to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • He named this area Louisiana, claiming it for France.

  • LaSalle wanted to establish fur trade routes along the river.

  • LaSalle’s claims let to further exploration and claims of the area around the Mississippi River. This land became known as New France.



Columbian Exchange

  • Columbus’ voyages to North America helped develop an exchange between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres known as the Columbian Exchange.

  • This exchange included plants, animals, and diseases.

  • This exchange had positive and negative effects.

  • Some positive effects included:

    • Europeans introduced wheat, rice, coffee, horses, pigs, cows and chickens to the New World.

    • Native Americans taught the Europeans how to grow crops such as corn, potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, and squash through observation and cooperation.

    • The Europeans took these crops back to Europe, which improved the diet of Europeans.

    • The Europeans brought horses to the New World. This greatly improved how the Plains Native Americans moved and hunted buffalo and bison.

  • Some negative effects included:

    • Diseases were accidentally carried by the explorers to the New World and killed many Native Americans.

    • In New Spain, Native Americans were being enslaved. When disease killed many Native Americans, there was an increase in demand for African slaves.






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