Part Four The Early Modern World 1450-1750 Chapter 14: Empires and Encounters

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Part Four

The Early Modern World


Chapter 14: Empires and Encounters


  • To introduce students to the variety of empires of the early modern period

  • To emphasize that empire building was not just a Western European phenomenon

  • To explore the range of colonial societies that evolved and the reasons for differences between them

  • To emphasize the massive social reordering that attended European colonization in the Western Hemisphere

Chapter 15: Global Commerce


  • To explore the creation of the first true global economy in the period 1450–1750

  • To examine Western European commercial expansion in a context that gives due weight to the contributions of other societies

  • To encourage appreciation of China as the world’s largest economy in the early modern period

  • To increase student awareness of the high costs of the commercial boom of the early modern period in ecological and human terms

  • To investigate the various models of trading post empires that were created in this period

Chapter 16: Religion and Science


  • To explore the early modern roots of modern tension between religion and science

  • To examine the Reformation movements in Europe and their significance

  • To investigate the global spread of Christianity and the extent to which it syncretized with native traditions

  • To expand the discussion of religious change to include religious movements in China, India, and the Islamic world

  • To explore the reasons behind the Scientific Revolution in Europe, and why that movement was limited in other parts of the world

  • To explore the implications of the Scientific Revolution for world societies

Part Four Outline: The Big Picture: Debating the Character of an Era

I. It is common for historians to give a simple name to particular eras.

A. Such simplification is necessary.

B. But it vastly oversimplifies historical reality.

II. An Early Modern Era?

A. The period covered by Chapters 14–16 is usually labeled “the early modern era.”

1. term suggests that signs of modernity (globalization, modern societies, and rising European presence in world affairs) are visible

B. Globalization is visible in European exploration, conquest, and settlement in the Americas.

1. Atlantic slave trade linked Africa to the Western Hemisphere

2. New World silver let Europeans buy their way into Asian markets

3. Columbian exchange created new networks of interaction

4. Christianity became a truly world religion

5. Russian, Chinese, and Ottoman expansion also played important parts in an emerging global web

C. Signs of modernity appeared in several regions.

1. modern population growth, thanks to foods from the Americas

2. more highly commercialized economies developed in parts of Eurasia and the Americas, centered in large cities

3. emergence of stronger and more cohesive states in various places

a. promoted trade, manufacturing, and a common culture

b. great increase in their military power, thanks to the “gunpowder revolution”

4. Scientific Revolution transformed the worldview of an educated elite in Europe

III. A Late Agrarian Era?

A. These signs of modernity are not the whole story and can be misleading.

B. European political and military power was very limited in mainland Asia and Africa.

1. Islam was the most rapidly spreading faith in Asia and Africa

2. in 1750, Europe, India, and China were comparable in manufacturing output

C. There was little sign in 1750 that a modern industrial society was approaching.

1. almost complete dependency on muscle, wind, and water for power

2. long-established elites continued to provide leadership and enjoy privilege

a. “lower class” primarily meant rural peasants, not urban workers

b. rule was monarchic

c. male dominance was assumed to be natural

3. most of the world’s peoples lived in long-established ways

D. For the majority of humankind, the period 1450–1750 marked the continuing development of traditional agrarian societies.

1. the age was as much “late agrarian” as it was “early modern”

IV. Chapters 14–16 highlight changes in the period, rather than what was traditional.

Chapter 14 Outline

I. Opening Vignette

A. Around the end of the twentieth century, reactions to the empire building of the early modern period remain varied.

1. Uighur attempts to win independence from China

2. Native American protests against 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America

B. Early modern European colonies were massively significant.

1. Russians also constructed a major empire

2. Qing dynasty China doubled in size

3. Mughal Empire of India pulled together Hindus and Muslims

4. Ottoman Empire reestablished some of the older political unity of the Islamic heartland

C. The empires of the early modern era show a new stage in globalization.

II. European Empires in the Americas

A. Western European empires were marked by maritime expansion.

1. Spaniards in Caribbean, then on to Aztec and Inca empires

2. Portuguese in Brazil

3. British, French, and Dutch colonies in North America

4. Europeans controlled most of the Americas by the mid-nineteenth century

B. The European Advantage

1. geography: European Atlantic states were well positioned for involvement in the Americas

2. need: Chinese and Indians had such rich markets in the Indian Ocean that there wasn’t much incentive to go beyond

3. marginality: Europeans were aware of their marginal position in Eurasian commerce and wanted to change it

4. rivalry: interstate rivalry drove rulers to compete

5. merchants: growing merchant class wanted direct access to Asian wealth

6. wealth and status: colonies were an opportunity for impoverished nobles and commoners

7. religion:

a. crusading zeal

b. persecuted minorities looking for more freedom

8. European states and trading companies mobilized resources well

a. seafaring technology

b. iron, gunpowder weapons, and horses gave Europeans an initial advantage over people in the Americas

9. Rivalries within the Americas provided allies for European invaders

C. The Great Dying—the demographic collapse of Native American societies

1. pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere had a population of perhaps 60 million–80 million

2. no immunity to Old World diseases

3. Europeans brought European and African diseases

a. mortality rate of up to 90 percent among Native American populations

b. native population nearly vanished in the Caribbean

c. Central Mexico: population dropped from 10 million–20 million to around 1 million by 1650

d. similar mortality in North America

D. The Columbian Exchange

1. massive native mortality created a labor shortage in the Americas

2. migrant Europeans and African slaves created entirely new societies

3. American food crops (e.g., corn, potatoes, and cassava) spread widely in the Eastern Hemisphere

a. potatoes especially allowed enormous population growth

b. corn and sweet potatoes were important in China and Africa

4. exchange with the Americas reshaped the world economy

a. importation of millions of African slaves to the Americas

b. new and lasting link among Africa, Europe, and the Americas

5. network of communication, migration, trade, transfer of plants and animals (including microbes) is called “the Columbian exchange”

a. the Atlantic world connected four continents

b. Europeans got most of the rewards

III. Comparing Colonial Societies in the Americas

A. Europeans did not just conquer and govern established societies, they created wholly new societies.

1. all were shaped by mercantilism—theory that governments should encourage exports and accumulate bullion to serve their countries

2. colonies should provide closed markets for the mother country’s manufactured goods

3. but colonies differed widely, depending on native cultures and the sorts of economy that were established

B. In the Lands of the Aztecs and the Incas

1. Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires (early sixteenth century)

a. the most wealthy, urbanized, and populous regions of the Western Hemisphere

b. within a century, the Spaniards established major cities, universities, and a religious and bureaucratic infrastructure

2. economic basis of the colonial society was commercial agriculture and mining (gold and silver)

3. rise of a distinctive social order

a. replicated some of the Spanish class hierarchy

b. accommodated Indians, Africans, and racially mixed people

c. Spaniards were at the top, increasingly wanted a large measure of self-government from the Spanish Crown

d. emergence of mestizo (mixed-race) population

e. gross abuse and exploitation of the Indians

f. more racial fluidity than in North America

C. Colonies of Sugar

1. lowland Brazil and the Caribbean developed a different society

a. regions had not been home to great civilizations and didn’t have great mineral wealth until the 1690s

b. but sugar was in high demand in Europe

c. these colonies produced almost solely for export

2. Arabs introduced large-scale sugar production to the Mediterranean

a. Europeans transferred it to Atlantic islands and Americas

b. Portuguese on Brazilian coast dominated the world sugar market 1570–1670

c. then British, French, and Dutch in the Caribbean broke the Portuguese monopoly

3. sugar transformed Brazil and the Caribbean

a. production was labor intensive, worked best on large scale

b. can be called the first modern industry

c. had always been produced with massive use of slave labor

d. Indians of the area were almost totally wiped out or fled

e. planters turned to African slaves—80 percent of all Africans enslaved in the Americas ended up in Brazil and the Caribbean

4. much more of Brazilian and Caribbean society was of African descent

5. large mixed-race population provided much of urban skilled workforce and supervisors in sugar industry

6. plantation complex based on African slavery spread to southern parts of North America

a. but in North America, European women came earlier

b. result was less racial mixing, less tolerance toward mixed blood

c. sharply defined racial system evolved

d. slavery was less harsh

D. Settler Colonies in North America

1. a different sort of colonial society emerged in British colonies of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania

a. British got into the game late; got the unpromising lands

b. but British society was changing more rapidly than Catholic Spain

2. many British colonists were trying to escape elements of European society

3. British settlers were more numerous; by 1750, they outnumbered Spaniards in New World by five to one

a. by 1776, 90 percent of population of North American colonies was European

b. Indians were killed off by disease and military policy

c. small-scale farming didn’t need slaves

4. England was mostly Protestant; didn’t proselytize like the Catholics

5. British colonies developed traditions of local self-government

a. Britain didn’t impose an elaborate bureaucracy like Spain

b. British civil war (seventeenth century) distracted government from involvement in the colonies

6. North America gradually became dominant, more developed than South America

IV. The Steppes and Siberia: The Making of a Russian Empire

A. A small Russian state centered on Moscow began to emerge ca. 1500.

1. Moscow began to conquer neighboring cities

2. over three centuries grew into a massive empire

3. early expansion into the grasslands to south and east was for security against nomads

4. expansion into Siberia was a matter of opportunity (especially furs), not threat

B. Experiencing the Russian Empire

1. conquest was made possible by modern weapons and organization

2. conquest brought devastating epidemics, especially in remote areas of Siberia—locals had no immunity to smallpox and measles

3. pressure to convert to Christianity

4. large-scale settlement of Russians in the new lands, where they outnumbered the native population (e.g., in Siberia)

5. discouragement of pastoralism

6. many natives were Russified

C. Russians and Empire

1. with imperial expansion, Russians became a smaller proportion of the overall population

2. rich agricultural lands, furs, and minerals helped make Russia a great power by the eighteenth century

3. became an Asian power as well as a European one

4. long-term Russian identity problem

a. expansion made Russia a very militarized state

b. reinforced autocracy

5. colonization experience was different from the Americas

a. conquest of territories with which Russia had long interacted

b. conquest took place at the same time as development of the Russian state

c. the Russian Empire remained intact until 1991

V. Asian Empires

A. Asian empires were regional, not global.

1. creation of Asian empires did not include massive epidemics

2. did not fundamentally transform their homelands like interaction with the Americas and Siberia did for European powers

B. Making China an Empire

1. Qing dynasty (1644–1912) launched enormous imperial expansion to the north and west

2. nomads of the north and west were very familiar to the Chinese

a. 80-year-long Chinese conquest (1680–1760)

b. motivated by security fears; reaction to Zunghar state

3. China evolved into a Central Asian empire

4. conquered territory was ruled separately from the rest of China through the Court of Colonial Affairs

a. considerable use of local elites to govern

b. officials often imitated Chinese ways

c. but government did not try to assimilate conquered peoples

d. little Chinese settlement in the conquered regions

5. Russian and Chinese rule impoverished Central Asia, turned it into a backward region

C. Muslims and Hindus in the Mughal Empire

1. Mughals united much of India between 1526 and 1707

2. the Mughal Empire’s most important divide was religious

3. Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) attempted serious accommodation of the Hindu majority

a. brought many Hindus into the political-military elite

b. imposed a policy of toleration

c. abolished payment of jizya by non-Muslims

d. created a state cult that stressed loyalty to the emperor

e. Akbar and his successors encouraged a hybrid Indian-Persian-Turkic culture

4. Mughal toleration provoked reaction among some Muslims

a. Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) reversed Mughal policy, tried to impose Islamic supremacy

b. Aurangzeb banned sati (widow burning), music, and dance at court, various vices

c. destruction of some Hindu temples

d. reimposition of jizya

5. Aurangzeb’s policy provoked Hindu reaction

D. Muslims, Christians, and the Ottoman Empire

1. the Ottoman Empire was the Islamic world’s most important empire in the early modern period

2. long conflict (1534–1639) between Sunni Ottomans and Shia Safavids

3. the Ottoman Empire was the site of a significant cross-cultural encounter

a. in Anatolia, most of the conquered Christians converted to Islam

b. in the Balkans, Christian subjects mostly remained Christian

4. in the Balkans, many Christians welcomed Ottoman conquest

a. Ottoman taxed less and were less oppressive

b. Christian churches received considerable autonomy

c. Balkan elites were accepted among the Ottoman elite without conversion

5. Jewish refugees from Spain had more opportunities in the Ottoman Empire

6. devshirme: tribute of boys paid by Christian Balkan communities

a. boys were converted to Islam, trained to serve the state

b. the devshirme was a means of upward social mobility

7. the Ottoman state threatened Christendom

8. some Europeans admired Ottoman rule

a. philosopher Jean Bodin (sixteenth century) praised Ottoman religious tolerance

b. European merchants evaded papal bans on selling firearms to the Turks

c. Ottoman women enjoyed relative freedom

VI. Reflections: Countering Eurocentrism . . . or Reflecting It?

A. The chapter brought together stories of European, Russian, Chinese, Mughal, and Ottoman colonization to counteract a Eurocentric view of the early modern world.

B. Western European empires still receive more discussion space because they were different and more significant than the others.

1. they were something wholly new in human history

2. they had a much greater impact on the people they incorporated

C. Eurocentrism continues to be a controversial issue among world historians.

Key Terms

Akbar: The most famous emperor of India’s Mughal Empire (r. 1556–1605); his policies are noted for their efforts at religious tolerance and inclusion. (pron. AHK-bar)

Aurangzeb: Mughal emperor (r. 1658–1707) who reversed his predecessors’ policies of religious tolerance and attempted to impose Islamic supremacy. (pron. ow-rang-ZEB)

Columbian exchange: The massive transatlantic interaction and exchange between the Americas and Afro-Eurasia that began in the period of European exploration and colonization.

conquistadores: Spanish conquerors of the Native American lands, most notably the Aztec and Inca empires. (pron. kon-KEY-stuh-dor-ays)

Constantinople, 1453: Constantinople, the capital and almost the only outpost left of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the army of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” in 1453, an event that marked the end of Christian Byzantium.

creoles: Spaniards born in the Americas.

devshirme: The tribute of boy children that the Ottoman Turks levied from their Christian subjects in the Balkans; the Ottomans raised the boys for service in the civil administration or in the elite Janissary infantry corps. (pron. dev-sheer-MEH)

fixed winds: The prevailing winds of the Atlantic, which blow steadily in the same direction; an understanding of these winds made European exploration and colonization of the Americas possible.

great dying,” the: Term used to describe the devastating demographic impact of European-borne epidemic diseases on the Americas.

jizya: Special tax levied on non-Muslims in Islamic states; the Mughal Empire was notable for abolishing the jizya for a time. (pron. JIZ-yah)

mercantilism: An economic theory that argues that governments best serve their states’ economic interests by encouraging exports and accumulating bullion.

mestizo: Literally, “mixed”; a term used to describe the mixed-race population of Spanish colonial societies in the Americas. (pron. mess-TEE-zoh)

Mughal Empire: One of the most successful empires of India, a state founded by Muslim Turks who invaded India in 1526; their rule was noted for efforts to create partnerships between Hindus and Muslims. (pron. MOO-guhl)

mulattoes: Term commonly used for people of mixed African and European blood.

Ottoman Empire: Major Islamic state centered on Anatolia that came to include the Balkans, the Near East, and much of North Africa.

peninsulares: In the Spanish colonies of Latin America, the term used to refer to people who had been born in Spain; they claimed superiority over Spaniards born in the Americas. (pron. pen-in-soo-LAHR-es)

plantation complex: Agricultural system based on African slavery that was used in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the southern colonies of North America.

Qing dynasty: Ruling dynasty of China from 1644 to 1912; the Qing rulers were originally from Manchuria, which had conquered China. (pron. ching)

settler colonies: Colonies in which the colonizing people settled in large numbers, rather than simply spending relatively small numbers to exploit the region; particularly noteworthy in the case of the British colonies in North America.

Siberia: Russia’s great frontier region, a vast territory of what is now central and eastern Russia, most of it unsuited to agriculture but rich in mineral resources and fur-bearing animals.

yasak: Tribute that Russian rulers demanded from the native peoples of Siberia, most often in the form of furs. (pron. YAH-sahk)

Zunghars: Western Mongol group that created a substantial state (1671–1760); the Zunghar threat provoked Qing expansion into Central Asia. (pron. ZOON-gars)

Margin Review Questions

1. What enabled Europeans to carve out huge empires an ocean away from their homelands?

2. What large-scale transformations did European empires generate?

3. What was the economic foundation of colonial rule in Mexico and Peru? How did it shape the kinds of societies that arose there?

4. How did the plantation societies of Brazil and the Caribbean differ from those of southern colonies in British North America?

5. What distinguished the British settler colonies of North America from their counterparts in Latin America?

6. What motivated Russian empire building?

7. How did the Russian Empire transform the life of its conquered people and of the Russian homeland itself?

8. What were the major features of Chinese empire building in the early modern era?

9. How did Mughal attitudes and policies toward Hindus change from the time of Akbar to that of Aurangzeb?

10. In what ways was the Ottoman Empire important for Europe in the early modern era?

Big Picture Questions

1. In comparing the European empires in the Americas with the Russian, Chinese, Mughal, and Ottoman empires, should world historians emphasize the similarities or the differences? What are the implications of each approach?

2. In what different ways was European colonial rule expressed and experienced in the Americas?

3. Why did the European empires in the Americas have such an enormously greater impact on the conquered people than did the Chinese, Mughal, and Ottoman empires?

4. In what ways did the empires of the early modern era continue patterns of earlier empires? In what ways did they depart from those patterns?

Chapter 15 Outline

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