European Exploration and Conquest, 1450–1650
After reading and studying this chapter, students should be able to describe the Afro-Eurasian trade world of the late Middle Ages. They should be able to offer explanations the launching of European voyages of expansion. They should also be able to assess the impact of overseas expansion on the conquered societies, on enslaved Africans, and on world trade. Finally, they should be able to discuss the impact of expansion on European art and culture.
I0. World Contacts before Columbus0
A0. The Trade World of the Indian Ocean
10. The center of the pre-Columbian world trade network was the Indian Ocean.
20. Since Han and Roman times, seaborne trade between China, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe had flowed across the Indian Ocean.
30. Merchants congregated in port cities with diverse populations.
40. China played a key role in the fifteenth-century revival of Indian Ocean Trade.
50. Admiral Zheng He led seven voyages of exploration between 1405 and 1433.
60. India was the crucial link between the Persian Gulf and the South-East and East Asian trade networks.
10. Africa played an important role in world trade before Columbus.
20. Cairo was a hub for Indian Ocean trade goods.
30. Most of the gold that reached Europe in the fifteenth century came from Africa.
40. Slaves were another key African commodity.
50. Legends about Africa played an important role in the European imagination about the outside world.
C0. The Ottoman and Persian Empires
10. The Middle East was crucial to the late medieval world trade system.
20. The Silk Road linked the West to the Far East.
30. The Turkish Ottomans and the Persian Safavids dominated the region.
40. Turkish expansion badly frightened Europeans.
50. The Safavids opposed Ottoman regional ambitions.
D0. Genoese and Venetian Middlemen
10. Europe was the western terminus of the world trading system.
20. Venice grew in importance with the creation of the crusader kingdoms and reached the height of its power in the 1400s.
30. Venice specialized in luxury goods and slaves.
40. Genoa was Venice’s ancient rival.
50. The Genoese focused on finance and the Western Mediterranean.
60. The Genoese were active in the slave trade.
II0. The European Voyages of Discovery
A0. Causes of European Expansion
10. A revival of population and economic activity increased demand for Eastern luxury goods.
20. Religious fervor was another important catalyst for expansion.
30. Curiosity and a desire for glory also played a role in European expansion.
40. Political centralization in Spain, France, and England helps explain their expansion.
B0. Technological Stimuli to Exploration
10. Developments in shipbuilding, weaponry, and navigation provided another spur to expansion.
C0. The Portuguese Overseas Empire
10. Portugal led the expansion, seeking to Christianize Muslims, import gold from West Africa, find an overseas route to India to obtain Indian spices, and contact the mythical Christian ruler of Ethiopia, Prester John.
20. Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) played a leading role in the early phases of Portuguese exploration.
30. Beginning in 1415, the Portuguese sent their ships further down the west coast of Africa until they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached India in 1497–1499.
40. The Portuguese reached Brazil in 1500.
50. The Portuguese fought Muslim rulers to control the Indian Ocean and won.
D0. The Problem of Christopher Columbus0
10. Columbus was an extremely religious man.
20. Columbus was very knowledgeable about the sea.
30. Columbus aimed to find a direct sea route to Asia.
40. Columbus described the Caribbean as a Garden of Eden.
50. When he settled the Caribbean islands and enslaved their inhabitants, he was acting as “a man of his times.”
E0. Later Explorers
10. News of Columbus’s voyage quickly spread throughout Europe.
20. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal.
30. The search for profits determined the direction of Spanish exploration and expansion.
40. In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan, working for Spain, rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific Ocean, eventually circumnavigating the globe.
50. The Dutch East India Company expelled the Portuguese from many of their East Indian holdings in the first half of the seventeenth century. The Dutch West India Company established outposts in Africa, Spanish colonial areas, and North America.
60. In 1497 John Cabot, working for England, explored the northeast coast of North America.
70. From 1534–1541, Frenchman Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River region of Canada.
F0. New World Conquest
10. From 1519–1522, Hernando Cortés sailed from Hispaniola to Mexico and crushed the Aztec Empire of central Mexico.
20. Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire of the Andes between 1531 and 1536.2
III0. Europe and the World after Columbus
A0. Spanish Settlement and Indigenous Population Decline
10. In the sixteenth century, 200,000 Spaniards immigrated to the New World, altering the landscape and bringing with them disease.
20. The Spanish established the encomienda system, giving conquerors the right to employ groups of Amerindians.
30. Disease, malnutrition, overwork, and violence led to catastrophic drops in the indigenous population.
40. Missionaries sought to convert Amerindians to Christianity.
50. The decline in the Amerindian population created a labor shortage in the Americas.
B0. Sugar and Slavery
10. Before the 1400s, virtually all slaves in Europe were white.
20. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople cut off slaves from the Black Sea region.
30. With Portuguese voyages to West Africa and the occupation of the Canary and Madeira islands, slavery hooked up with sugar culture.
40. Native Americans did not survive long under conditions of slavery and forced labor.
50. The Spaniards brought in enslaved Africans as substitutes.
60. The Atlantic slave trade reached its peak in the eighteenth century.
C0. The Columbian Exchange
10. The most important changes brought by the Columbian voyages may have been biosocial in nature.
20. Flora, fauna, and diseases traveled in both directions across the Atlantic.
30. New World foods became Old World staples.
40. Domestic animals were brought to the New World.
50. European diseases ravaged Amerindian populations.
60. Sailors and settlers brought syphilis back with them to Europe.
D0. Silver and the Economic Effects of Spain’s Discoveries
10. During the 1500s and 1600s, there was a huge influx of precious metals into Spain from its American colonies.
20. Population increase in Spain and the establishment of new colonies created greater demand for goods in Spain. The economy could not meet the demands. Together with the influx of specie, this led to inflation.
30. Inflation caused the Spanish government to go bankrupt several times.
40. Payment of Spanish armies in bullion created inflation throughout Europe, which greatly hurt nobles on fixed incomes.
50. Chinese demands for payment in silver for its products and taxes shaped the world silver trade.
E0. The Birth of the Global Economy
10. The new intercontinental seaborne trade brought into being three successive commercial empires: the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch.
20. In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese enjoyed hegemony over the sea route to India.
30. Portuguese Brazil produced most of the sugar consumed in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
40. The Spanish established a land empire in the New World and a seaborne empire in the Pacific.
50. The world experienced a commercial boom from about 1570 to 1630.
60. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the Dutch seaborne trade predominated.
F0. Spain’s Global Empire
10. Spanish expansion in the New World and Asia was combined with Spanish expansion within Europe itself.
20. Philip II inherited a vast, but unwieldy empire.
30. Philip’s intense religiosity bred political inflexibility.
40. Philip backed a plot to replace Elizabeth I with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.
50. When the plot failed and Mary was executed, Philip assembled a vast fleet to invade England. The Spanish Armada sailed on May 9, 1588.
60. A combination of factors led to the total destruction of the Spanish Armada.
70. While Spain quickly recovered, the defeat of the Armada prevented Philip from reimposing religious unity on Western Europe by force.
IV0. Changing Attitudes and Beliefs0
A0. New Ideas about Race
10. There was no particular connection between race and slavery in the Ancient world.
20. European settlers brought their ideas about race with them to the Americas.
30. Medieval Christians and Arabs shared negative views of blacks.
40. Slavery in the new world contributed to the dissemination of more rigid notions of racial inferiority.
B0. Michel de Montaigne and Cultural Curiosity0
10. Montaigne (1533–1592), a French nobleman, created the essay as a means of clarifying his own thoughts.
20. Montaigne was a skeptic; that is, he rejected the notion that any single human being knew the absolute truth. He also rejected the notion that any one culture was inherently superior to any other.
C0. Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature0
10. Literature and drama flowered in England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I (r. 1603–1625).0
a0) William Shakespeare’s plays
b0) The King James Bible
10. “The Legendary Armada.” How did the English perceive the invincible Armada before English seamen actually had to face it? Did the English victory cause Spain’s immediate collapse? Sources: G. Mattingly, The Armada (1959); G. Parker and C. Martin, The Spanish Armada (1988).
20. “Slavery and Race.” How did slavery and race come to be so tightly interconnected in the Americas? Why was slavery in the Americas different than slavery in the ancient world? Sources: J. L. Watson, ed. Asian and African Systems of Slavery (1980); G. M. Frederickson, The Arrogance of Race (1988).
30. “Explorers and Their Thoughts.” How did explorers feel about their voyages? How did they view the new lands and the new peoples they encountered? Sources: B. del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521 (1986); S. E. Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (1946).
0Using Primary Sources
Have students read the excerpts from Book of the First Navigation and Discovery of the Indies (in S. E. Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea). Then show the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Have students write a short paper describing how the movie treated the character of Christopher Columbus in light of their reading of primary source material.0
00classroom 0Activities 00
I0. Classroom Discussion Suggestions
A0. What was it like to embark on a voyage such as the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan?
B0. How should we view Columbus? Was he a hero, a villain, or neither?
C0. How important was slave labor to the success of overseas empires?
D0. How do we explain Shakespeare’s tremendous success?
II0. Doing History0
A0. Have students trace the voyages of da Gama, Magellan, de Soto, Cortés, Pizarro, Cartier, and Hudson for a better understanding of the geographical context of the Age of Exploration and Discovery.
B0. Have students trace the origins and eventual destinations of African slaves in the Americas. Where did slaves most often come from? Where did they most often end up? How did patterns of slave trading intersect with the larger Atlantic trade?
C0. Have students read selections from Montaigne’s writings on tolerance and then lead a discussion of the historical origins of tolerance? Does tolerance have a history? Are some societies more tolerant than others? If so, why?
III0. Cooperative Learning Activities0
Have student teams write biographical accounts of leading explorers and share their findings with the class. Teams might choose some of the following:
20. da Gama
60. the Cabots
100. De Soto
10. Have students trace the routes of Columbus, Magellan, and da Gama on an outline map of the world.
20. Using Map 15.1 (Afro-Eurasian Trading World Before Columbus) as a reference, answer the following questions.
a0. Why was the Indian Ocean trade so critical before the discovery of the Americas?
b0. Which civilizations benefited the most from pre-Columbian trading patterns?
c0. How did the advent of the Atlantic trade shift the balance of world commercial power? Who benefited the most from the altered trading patterns?
10. William Shakespeare. (25 min. Color. Encyclopedia Britannica Films.)
20. The Struggle for the Mediterranean in the Sixteenth Century. (33 min. Color. Encyclopedia Britannica Films.)
30. The Return of Martin Guerre. (111 min. Color. Films, Ltd.)
40. Christopher Columbus. (30 min. Color. Time-Life Films.)
50. The Spanish Armada. (31 min. Color. McGraw-Hill Films.)
60. Civilization Series: Grandeur and Obedience. Parts I and II. (26 min. each. Time-Life Films.)
70. The Beginnings of Exploration: Why Did Europe “Discover” the Americas in 1492? (Videodisc. Color. 11 min. Britannica Videos.)
80. Christopher Columbus: His Voyages and His Legacy. (Videodisc. Color. 14 min. Britannica Videos.)
90. Europe Explores the Americas: Northern Voyages and Settlements. (Videodisc. Color. 15 min. Britannica Videos.)
100. Europe Explores the Americas: Southern Voyages and Settlements. (Videodisc. Color. 16 min. Britannica Videos.)
110. Francisco Pizarro. (30 min. Color. Time-Life Films.)
120. 1492: Conquest of Paradise. (137 min. Color. Films, Ltd.)
130. Cortez and the Legend. Parts I and II. (26 min. each. Color. McGraw-Hill Films.)
140. The African American Experience: A History. (CD-ROM. National School Products.)
150. Australia Down Under. (Videodisc. 3 discs, each disc 48 min. Color. Films for the Humanities and Sciences.)
160. Black Robe. (DVD, 2001.)
170. Much Ado About Nothing. (DVD, 1993.)
180. Hamlet. (DVD, 2004.)
10. European Voyages of Exploration (www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/eurvoya)
20. The Columbian Exchange (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbian_Exchange)
30. 1492: An Ongoing Voyage (www.loc.gov/exhibits/1492)
40. The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record (http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/index.php)
50. Africans in America (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html)
60. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (the-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/works.html)
70. Conquistadors (www.pbs.org/conquistadors/index.html)
On the Afroeurasian trade world, see J. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony (1991) and P. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984); an outspoken statement of pre-modern Eastern trade superiority is in A. Gunder Frank, Re-Orient, Global Economy in the Asian Age (1998); on the Indian Ocean world, see K. McPherson, The Indian Ocean: A History of People and the Sea (1998) and A. Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450–1680 cited in the notes. For a cultural focus on pre-modern global contacts, see Jerry H. Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (1993).
On exploration and empire, the sources cited in the notes are all excellent starting points. On Iberian exploration and empire, see J.H. Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire (1966); C.R. Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825 (1969) and S. Subrahamanyam, The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500–1700 (1993). Subrahamanyam also wrote a probing biography of Vasco da Gama, The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (1998). An excellent biography of Christopher Columbus is F. Fernández-Armesto, Columbus (1992). Further sources on Europeans’ encounters with non-Western peoples are T. Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (1984); U. Bitterli, Cultures in Conflict: Encounters Between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492–1800; and S. Schwarz, ed. Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting and Reflecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era (1994). Recent re-examinations of Spanish conquest are M. Restall, Seven Myths of Spanish Conquest (2003) and S. Wood, Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico (2003). L. Jardine, Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance (1996) argues that the expansion of commerce with the east spurred the cultural developments of the Renaissance.
As background to slavery and racism in North and South America, see J. L. Watson, ed., Asian and African Systems of Slavery (1980), as well as the works by Davis and by Mannix and Cowley mentioned in the Notes. For North American conditions, see The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States (1974). The excellent essays in G. M. Frederickson, The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism, and Social Inequality (1988), stress the social and economic circumstances associated with the rise of plantation slavery. For Caribbean and South American developments, see F. P. Bowser, The African Slave in Colonial Peru (1974); and J. S. Handler and F. W. Lange, Plantation Slavery in Barbados: An Archeological and Historical Investigation (1978). On early concepts of race in England, see K. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (1995)
The leading authority on Montaigne is D. M. Frame; see his Montaigne’s Discovery of Man (1955) and his translation listed in the Notes. For European perceptions of the New World, see S. Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (1991); A. Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (1993); and R. Schlesinger, In the Wake of Columbus: The Impact of the New World on Europe, 1492–1650 (1996).
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