The 1500s and 1600s: Clash of Civilizations
(LOCATIONS: Russia, England, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Latin America, West Indies, China)
The Modern World history
The great European voyages of discovery ushered in a new age of world history, the modern age that continues to the present day. This was the first truly global age when ships from Europe sailed the world’s oceans bringing together the Old World and the New. The consequences were enormous: populations in the Americas were destroyed and replaced by newcomers from distant lands, international trade swelled, and people the world over started growing new plants and eating new foods. Why did these ships come from Western Europe and not from some other advanced civilization? The Muslim world was dealing with internal concerns following the disruptions of the Mongol conquests. China was also looking inward after halting the ocean voyages of Zheng He. Kings in Western Europe, on the other hand, encouraged exploration to find new trading opportunities to increase their wealth and to help them compete against rival kings. When the Muslim Ottomans took control in the Middle East and disturbed overland trade routes, both Spain and Portugal sent explorers to look for new ocean routes to the spicegrowing lands of Asia. While Spain stumbled across America instead, Portugal succeeded in opening a southern trade route to Asia by sailing around Africa into the Indian Ocean. With their long reach into the oceans, European nations went from being a quarrelsome collection of medieval states to the world’s most dynamic civilization, still quarrelsome but armed with advanced ships and weapons. From this point forward, Western civilization and world history were bound together.
Conquest of the Americas
When Christopher Columbus and his three small ships arrived in the West Indies on an October day in 1492, they set in motion a chain of events that would profoundly change life in the Americas and elsewhere inthe world. The great Aztec and Inca civilizations would soon perish, conquered by Spanish conquistadors, adventurers seeking gold and glory. The Native Americans had no weapons to match Spanish swords and cavalry. Between 80 and 95 percent of the Americans would die and be replaced by immigrants from Europe seeking new opportunities and by immigrants from Africa who arrived in chains. Gold and silver taken from the Americas would make Spanish and Portuguese kings rich and powerful.
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