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16th Century Voyages

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Voyages of Discovery

The initial voyages that took place in the late fifteenth century and early sixteenth century are the most important events to understanding the modern world. Although humans had been migrating to different areas since they could walk, it was these voyages that opened up the entire world to all people. Trade, globalization, intermingling of races, science, technology, religion, and people discovering new lands are all a product of these initial voyages.

Christopher Columbus, with the backing of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain in 1492, headed west across the Atlantic to find a more direct and lucrative route to China and Japan. Although he never made it to either, he opened the door to the Americas, and also set the wheels in motion for the demise of the indigenous people there. Columbus never believed that he had found an unknown continent, but after the first voyage the Americas would never be the same. This is critical to world history due to the fact that North America especially has had such an influence on the world for the last few hundred years. After the United States gained independence from Britain they have been a major player in the world ever since.

Unlike the Spanish, the Portuguese sailors headed south, hoping to arrive in Asia by going around the southern tip of Africa. The Portuguese were the most advanced maritime nation in the world at this time. Their ships were far superior to anyone else’s and their knowledge of the compass and astrolabe gave them an edge over other maritime nations. The Portuguese also were able to sail into the wind-- not against it-- which brought them into a lucrative trading area with India and China first. Both the Spanish and Portuguese alike made these journeys in an attempt to convert new people to their religion, as well as getting involved in the profitable trading that was occurring in the Indian Ocean.

As the two nations adventured into the unknown, the lands that they encountered soon became more profitable then they ever could have imagined. Discovering new lands, or lands that were inaccessible before, yielded trade that was unexpected and more advantageous then previously thought. The Portuguese found many riches on their stops in Africa. In Africa they found gold, and on its islands they found new locations to grow sugarcane, a crop that wouldn’t grow in the Mediterranean islands anymore. In turn the need for slaves to do the hard work began across all the places the Europeans went. The slave trade was a very lucrative business and has impacted the world in its effects as well as displacing many slaves in other lands. While the slave trade of mostly Africans occurred, it brought these peoples to places were they have deep routes today.

The new colonies that were formed from exploration yielded many new crops as well as establishing dominance for countries in the future. By 1497 Da Gama’s voyage was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Although Vasco Da Gama never completed the voyage, part of the crew did and this opened trade to all corners of the earth. With the ability to travel anywhere in the world globalization



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