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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 16: The Acceleration of Global Contact

Between 1400 and 1700, many parts of the world came into extensive contact with one another for the first time. European explorers were the prime instigators of this development. To many historians, these encounters were, collectively, the most monumental event in human history. Never before had civilizations in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas had such sustained intercourse. It affected all levels of society in all places. Relations between civilizations would never be the same. Complete the following activities and explore the legacy of this period.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:

This chapter offers a prime opportunity to review some of the major issues presented in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Encounters between different peoples, societies, and civilizations have been a driving force in human history. You have already explored some of these episodes.
  • To refresh your memory, re–examine Chapter 7, Activity Two, part 1; Chapter 10, Activities Four, Five, and Six; Chapter 11, Activities Two and Three; Chapter 13, Activity Three. What time periods before 1400 saw extensive contact between distant cultures? What were the consequences of these encounters? Consider economic, political, social, religious, and environmental developments. Make a list or chart showing these trends.
  • Did any themes emerge out of your examination of these earlier encounters? In other words, did you spot any trends from previous periods that you would expect to see during the acceleration of global contact between 1400 and 1700? Review the current chapter in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), and pull out examples from this period that reflect these trends.
Activity Two:
  • One term used to describe the period between 1400 and 1700 is the Age of Exploration. Technological innovation reached a level where transoceanic travel was now feasible. To review some of these key developments, go to European Voyages of Exploration: Technical Advances in Shipbuilding and Navigation. Make a list of important inventions that made transoceanic travel possible. This site focuses on advances in European maritime technology. Can you identify any ideas borrowed from other cultures? (For help, review Chapter 11, Activity One, and go to Sinbads of the Sea.)
Activity Three:

Europeans were not the only mariners who had access to new technology. Yet most of the explorers in the Age of Discovery were Europeans. Why not the Chinese? Why not the Arabs? To explore this conundrum, complete the following exercises.
  • Read The Emperor's Giraffe and European Voyages of Exploration: The Ming Dynasty's Maritime History. Review "Individuals in Society: Zheng He (1373?–1435)" on page 507 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Who was Zheng He? Make a list of reasons that the Ming Dynasty sent him out on his voyages of exploration. Where did he travel?
  • Read European Voyages of Exploration: The Sea-Route to India and Vasco da Gama. (Be sure to click on "Proceed with the Tutorial" at the bottom of this page.) Who was Vasco da Gama? Make a list of reasons that the Portuguese government sponsored his voyages of exploration. Where did he travel? Now read this excerpt from an account of da Gama's voyage round Africa to India.  What details does the author feel are important enough to include? How does the author view the peoples encountered by the expedition? What difficulties does the expedition encounter, and how do the voyagers deal with them?
  • Zheng He and Vasco da Gama completed their travels within one hundred years of each other. Yet their legacies are very different. What are these legacies? Write an essay analyzing the significance of both men's marvelous exploits.
Activity Four:

Read the following statement: The most important legacy of the Age of Exploration was Christopher Columbus's accidental voyage to the Americas. Though not the first European to explore the Americas, Columbus initiated a permanent link between the peoples of the Americas and the rest of the world. Most United States history classes you might have taken in the past probably focused on the consequences of this development on the Americas and Europe. In reality the legacy of Columbus is best understood in a global context. Do you agree or disagree? Why? Activity Five:
  • The acceleration of global contact ultimately benefited Europeans more than any other civilization. Between 1400 and 1700, Europeans gained greater access to the world's natural resources; established control of most maritime commerce; expanded territorially in the Americas, Africa, and Asia; and spread various aspects of their culture around the world. One way to examine this expansion of European influence is through cartography. Go to Map 1, Map 2, Map 3, Map 4, Map 5, and Map 6. What do these maps reveal about the expansion of European power by 1800? From these maps, can you conclude where European commercial and political power expanded? What natural resources or commodities did this expansion give Europeans access to?
Activity Six:

European explorers' accomplishments between 1450 and 1800 were impressive. Their discoveries helped spread European influence around the world. The explorers themselves, however, were not usually involved in this process. Instead, other Europeans followed in their wake. Indeed, the acceleration of global contact fostered the growth of new "institutions" in Europe that helped further European interests in the world. Though supported by European governments, these institutions became independent forces in global affairs. To explore the rise of these new global institutions and their role in spreading European culture, technology, and trade, complete the following exercises.
  • Major new players in global affairs during the sixteenth century were European joint stock companies. Go to Joint Stock Companies. What definition of a joint stock company does this site provide? How were joint stock companies similar to modern corporations? How were they different?
  • Explore the impact of two important joint stock companies.  First, to learn about the Dutch East Indies Company, go to The Voyagie; after reading the introductory page, use the links provided to go to the "VOC history" page and the "Spice Trade" page.  Now read about The English East India Company, and Virginia Company. What were the aims of these companies? How did they achieve their goals? How did they spread European influence around the world? How vital were they to the expansion of European influence?
  • Another example of a new global institution was the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. To examine the origins of this group, read the first section of The Catholic Encyclopedia: The Society of Jesus. Now read History of the Jesuits Before the 1773 Suppression. How did this religious society exert global influence? What was its mission? Where did it get its support?
  • The Jesuits played a pivotal role during the encounter period between 1400 and 1700. In many ways, they were the window through which European civilization and other societies in the world viewed and examined one another. To illustrate this point, go to How Rome went to China, Matteo Ricci, and Jesuit Relations. How did the Jesuits introduce European culture to non–European peoples? How did they portray these non–European peoples to European audiences?
  • Why can we call joint stock companies and the Society of Jesus global institutions? How did they influence the acceleration of global contact? Why do you think they had no equivalent in other civilizations? What factors in western Europe encouraged the growth of these global institutions? (Think of religious and commercial developments.) Write an essay that answers these questions.