A History of World Societies,
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.
- 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.
This chapter offers a prime opportunity
to review some of the major issues presented in McKay, A History of World
(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.
- 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.)
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
- 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.
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?
- Define the Columbian Exchange. (See pages 524–525 in
McKay, A History of World Societies [Sixth Edition].) To explore
its multifaceted dimensions, go to Seeds
of Change Garden, European
Voyages of Exploration: The Sugar & Slave Trades, The Euro-biomedical
Impact on the American Indian, and The
Columbian Biological Exchange. After familiarizing yourself with the
biological nature of the Columbian Exchange, contemplate how this globalization
of flora, fauna, and disease, changed world history. Be exhaustive. Consider
- Make a chart, list, or map that demonstrates how the
Columbian Exchange altered world history.
- Write an essay analyzing the original statement.
- 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
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?
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
- 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