Long-distance maritime travel had a long history before the pioneering voyages that began in the late fifteenth century. The oceanic voyages of the 1400 to 1550 period, however, produced radically new information. First, mariners proved that there was open water to the south of Africa and that Europe could be linked to Asia by sailing east. Second, by sailing west to try to reach Asia, they discovered the Americas, two continents that peoples of Afroeurasia had previously not known about. And third, they demonstrated that the western Atlantic was not land-locked, that there was open water to the south of the Americas leading to the Pacific, and that Asia could indeed be reached directly from Europe as well as from the Americas by sailing west.
The new sea routes discovered became increasingly busy channels of communication between continents and countries. Across these routes passed, by conscious intent or not, people, goods, plants, animals, technologies, ideas, and diseases. Contacts multiplied over a wider range of ecosystems, involving more and more diverse peoples. The advantages of this situation increasingly became slanted towards Europeans, though the process was gradual and did not become full-fledged until well beyond 1550.
The development of our contemporary world of international organizations, multinational corporations, globalization, and both the spread of and resistance to European cultural ideas and institutions, was heavily influenced by what happened during this period of long-distance maritime exploration and encounter.
Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:
1.) Identify reasons why mariners undertook long-distance oceanic voyages both east and west during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and compare the Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish ventures.
2.) Evaluate what promoted, and what hindered, the novel sea voyages and their achievements during the period 1400 to 1550.