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The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Second Edition
Richard W. Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven W. Hirsch, Lyman L. Johnson, David Northrup
History WIRED

The Maritime Revolution, to 1550


Polynesian Migration, 2500 B.C.E-800 C.E.

Map of Viking Settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and North America
This different angle provides a more accurate perspective of Viking exploration.

European Voyages of Exploration
This superb and comprehensive site contains numerous maps detailing the Portuguese and Spanish voyages in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  It also includes a multimedia map that demonstrates the wind patterns of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Maps of Spain
These three maps depict the reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.

Map of Bartolomeu Dias' Voyage

Map of Vasca da Gama's Voyage

Map of Christopher Columbus' First Voyage
Scroll to the bottom of the page for a complete map.

Map of Christopher Columbus' Second Voyage

Map of Christopher Columbus Third Voyage

Map of Christopher Columbus Fourth Voyage

Map of Magellen's Voyage

Treaty of Tordesillas


A small image of the reconstruction of a Polynesian ship of exploration.

The Vikings: They Got Here First, But Why Didn't They Stay?
This intriguing essay also contains images of the ruins and artifacts of the Viking settlement in Vinland in modern day Newfoundland.

The Great Chinese Mariner: Zheng He
This site contains a fabulous image of a Chinese treasure ship in comparison to Columbus' Santa Maria.

European Voyages of Exploration
This excellent site provides numerous images from this era including pictures of caravels, portraits of major explorers, and paintings of famous events.

1492: An Ongoing Voyage
While not as comprehensive as the link above, this site contains many images, primarily European drawings or paintings, of the early encounter period between Spaniards and Amerindians.

Columbus and Celestial Navigation
This site has images of the navigational tools used by Iberian mariners.

Columbus Santa Maria
Explore a modern-day reconstruction of this caravel.

Benin Art
View images of artwork from this West African kingdom.

Burried Mirror Conflict of the Gods
This essay on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire contains numerous drawings and images from both Spanish and Amerindian sources.

Activity One:

Chapter 17, "The Maritime Revolution," of The Earth and Its Peoples (Second Edition) uses the term "revolution" to describe developments in maritime activity between 1450 and 1550, because technological innovation in this period reached a level where transoceanic travel became feasible.  To review some of these key developments, go to The European Voyages of Exploration: TECHNICAL ADVANCES IN SHIPBUILDING AND NAVIGATION (be sure to click "Proceed with the Tuturial" and read the next page as well).  While reading, make a list of important contributions that made transoceanic travel possible during this time period.  This site focuses on advances in European maritime technology.  Can you identify any ideas borrowed from other cultures?  For hints see Early Navigation Methods and Sinbads of the Sea.  Explain how the development of the European caravel represented the culmination of over one thousand years of maritime innovation in the Eurasian world.

Activity Two:

Europeans were not the only people who had access to this maritime technology. Yet it was Europeans who developed travel across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Zheng He, for example, sailed around the Indian Ocean for the Ming Empire in the early fifteenth century in ships much more impressive in size than European caravels (see the image at The Great Chinese Mariner: Zheng He).  Why did other Chinese not follow in his wake?   Compare his adventures with those of Vasco da Gama, the first European to sail to India via the Atlantic Ocean.  Begin by reading The Emperor's Giraffe and The European Voyages of Exploration: The Ming Dynasty's Maritime History.  While studying these essays, make a list of the variety of reasons that the Ming Empire sent Zheng He on his voyages of exploration and why it ended them.  Now read the essay The European Voyages of Exploration: THE SEA-ROUTE TO INDIA & VASCO DA GAMA (be sure to click "Proceed with the Tutorial" at the bottom of this page and read the next page as well).  Again, make a list of the variety of reasons the Portuguese government sponsered his voyages of exploration.  Explain why it continued to fund more expeditions such as his.  Both Zheng He and Vasco da Gama completed their travels within one hundred years of each other.  Yet the legacy of each is so different for Chinese, European, and world history.  What were these legacies?

Activity Three:

Transoceanic travel did not necessarily require the sophisticated technology that the Europeans and Chinese possessed in the fifteenth century.  The Vikings and the Polynesians crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans respectively centuries before the exploits of Zheng He, Christopher Columbus, and Vasco da Gama.  Without much written evidence, how they did so has fascinated historians.  In recent decades, anthropologists have made great strides in understanding Polynesian methods of navigation.  For further insight, read the essay and study the images at Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific, A Search for Patterns.  While exploring this site, keep the following tasks in mind.  Explain how anthropologists have approached the question of how Polynesians explored and settled the islands of the Pacific Ocean.  Explain, in general terms, how Polynesian mariners were able to sail throughout the Pacific without the use of technology available to European explorers in the fifteenth and centuries such as the compass, astrolabe, and quadrant.

Activity Four:

As this chapter demonstrates, Europeans were not the first people to explore the oceans.  Yet the legacy of their exploits in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries altered world history.  Europeans would eventually dominate world trade and colonize most of Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  Their technological advantages certainly aided this development, as did the backing of strong central governments.  But other societies with advanced political development also possessed similar technology or at least had access to it at this time.  Perhaps the legacy of the European voyages of exploration can best be understood in terms of motivation.  To analyze the motivations of transoceanic explorers, read the essays or primary sources at The European Voyages of Exploration: The Ming Dynasty's Maritime History, The Vikings: They Got Here First, But Why Didn't They Stay?, The Settlement of Polynesia: Part1, Modern History Sourcebook: Vasco da Gama: Round Africa to India, 1497-1498 CE, and Medieval Sourcebook: Columbus' letter to the King and Queen of Spain, 1494.  While reading these sources, keep the following tasks in mind.  Explain the motivations for Chinese, Viking, Polynesian, and European explorations of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.  How were they different, and how were they similar?  What allowed European civilization to spread its influence globally?  In other words, how did European motivations guarantee continued expansion of their presence in the world as oppossed to the others?