Teaching world history: from StudentsFriend.com
Latin America, Russia, China

LOCATIONS: Russia, England, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Latin America, West Indies, China (These locations are superimposed over a contemporary political map of the world.)

93. The Modern World

     The great European voyages of discovery ushered in a new age of 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 spice-growing 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.

94. 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 in the 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.

95. the Columbian Exchange

     Because Eurasia and America developed in isolation from one another for thousands of years, they had different plants and animals. After Columbus connected the two landmasses, an exchange of products began: it was called the Columbian Exchange. At this time, Native American cultures included excellent farmers who raised corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, peanuts, coffee, and tobacco. Corn and potatoes from the New World had a big impact on Chinese and European diets, leading to large population increases in both places.

     The most important food America acquired from Europe was wheat, used for making bread, pasta, and the like. Soon oats, barley, grapes, rice, and sugarcane were being grown in America. Domesticated animals from Europe changed America in a big way. The plains Indians of North America, for example, built a lifestyle around horses, the Navajos around sheep, and cows came to outnumber people.

     The import from Europe with the greatest impact, however, was disease. Most diseases come from human contact with animals, and Europeans had long lived closely with their horses, pigs, cows, and sheep—animals that did not exist in America. Over centuries, Europeans developed some immunity to diseases like smallpox and measles. Native Americans had no such immunity. When these diseases arrived in America, indigenous (native) populations were largely wiped out, emptying much of the land for Europeans.

96. capitalism (or the free market)

     The voyages of discovery shifted the focus of European trade from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic coast. Venice declined as a major trade center, while port cities prospered in Portugal and Spain followed by England, France, and the Netherlands (the Dutch). To increase their income from taxes on foreign trade, European monarchs encouraged the formation of joint-stock companies. Stock (or shares) was sold to several investors who shared the expense and risk of expensive ocean trading voyages. If a ship went down, no single investor lost everything, but if a voyage was successful, all stockholders shared in the profits. Most voyages succeeded, and many investors made good money. The modern stock market operates in a similar way today.

     Best known of these companies were the British East India Company that traded mostly with India, and the Dutch East India Company that operated in Southeast and East Asia. Both acted as extensions of their governments and even had their own armies. Joint stock companies promoted the rise of an economic system called capitalism (or the free market). Capital is wealth such as ships, factories, or money. Under capitalism, people are free to own capital and make their own decisions about how to use it. Since joint stock companies were chartered by governments, they were a form of state-sponsored capitalism.

97. African slave trade

     A capitalist economic system can benefit society by producing the best possible products at the lowest possible prices due to competition among producers. But with companies focused on making the best possible profits, capitalism can sometimes harm people. The African slave trade was one example.

     After the discovery of America, European countries began sending people to the New World to establish colonies to produce goods for trade. With native populations dying off, Europe looked for another source of cheap labor. Although slavery no longer existed in Europe, Europeans began importing slaves from Africa to work on plantations and mines in the New World. Before this time, most African slaves had been enemies captured in battle. But, as the slave trade grew, Africans began kidnapping other Africans in large numbers and selling them to European slave traders.

     Due to ocean currents and prevailing "trade winds," European sailors learned they could make the fastest crossing to America by first sailing south to Africa. On the last leg of this Triangular Trade Route, the Gulf Stream ocean current sped ships from America back to Europe. Leaving West Africa for America on the "Middle Passage" of this three-part journey, ship cargo holds were crammed full of Africa's chief export, human beings. Conditions on the slave ships were appalling. Many slaves died of disease from eating rotten food and breathing foul air. Some desperate slaves took their own lives. When these African people were sold at slave markets in the New World, the profits were used to purchase plantation products such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, and cotton, which were shipped back to Europe and sold there. It was a splendid system of trade for everyone except the Africans whose lives were ruined.

98. New Spain

     The Atlantic powers of Europe came to dominate trade on the world's oceans. Portugal's trading empire included Brazil in South America and trading stations in Africa and Asia. The huge Spanish trading empire stretched from Europe to Asia to the Americas. Spain's holdings in America were called New Spain; they extended from what is now the southern U.S. to the tip of South America. (Today, lands south of the U.S. are called Latin America.) New Spain's biggest business enterprise was silver mining, which produced enough silver to make Spain the most powerful nation in Europe if not in the world.

     Unlike English settlers in North America who maintained a distance from the "Indians," the Spanish wanted to bring the indigenous people of New Spain into the Catholic faith. Many Spaniards intermarried with Native Americans and later with African-Americans creating a distinctive new civilization in Latin America. In this mixed society, Spaniards born in Europe were at the top of the social pyramid followed by Spaniards born in America (creoles). These people controlled society in New Spain. Next in rank were people of mixed Spanish and Native American heritage (mestizos) and mixed Spanish and black heritage (mulattos). At the bottom of society were Native Americans and blacks of unmixed ancestry.

99. Qing Dynasty (CHING)

     During the early modern period, China's Ming dynasty tried to isolate itself from Western cultural influences; only two Chinese ports were open to European ships. Still, Chinese products were so popular in Europe that much of the Spanish silver mined in the New World ended up in China where it paid for Chinese silks, tea, and fine porcelain. The Ming dynasty began requiring Chinese to pay their taxes in silver. When harsh weather reduced harvests, peasants didn't have enough food or enough silver. It is said starving peasants ate goose droppings and tree bark. Disease and death swept through China.

     .The Ming government was weak following years of internal conflicts, and it was unable to contend with large peasant uprisings. As soldiers from a peasant army climbed the walls of the Forbidden City, the last Ming emperor hung himself in 1644. Like others before it, the Ming Dynasty grew, flowered, declined, and was replaced. The new rulers would be Manchu nomads from northeast of the Great Wall, a region known as Manchuria. They entered China, defeated the peasant army, and established the Qing dynasty that endured for two-and-a-half centuries until the early 1900s. The Qing dynasty would be China's last.

100. The Tokugawa Shogunate

     During the late middle ages, Japan suffered through a long period of internal wars. Japan was divided into many kingdoms; warlords lived in fortresses, and they employed mounted samurai warriors. It looked a lot like the feudal system of the middle ages in Europe. Endless warfare and pillaging made life miserable for Japanese peasants. Then in the mid-1500s, something happened to change all this: Portuguese traders showed up in Japan selling firearms. With the help of guns, a series of three warlords succeeded in conquering and unifying Japan. The last of these warlords, Tokugawa, became Japan's shogun, or military ruler, in 1603. The shogunate adopted a Japanese version of Confucianism, and it improved education in Japan.

     Concerned about the intentions and the influence of Europeans, the Tokugawa Shogunate adopted a policy of near total isolation from the West. Japan expelled Christian missionaries, burned Western books, and allowed only the Chinese and Dutch to trade with Japan at just one port. The southern port city of Nagasaki became Japan's only window on the outside world.

101. Peter the Great

     Russia emerged as a great power during the early modern period. In 1480, under the leadership of Ivan III, duke of Moscow, Russia finally threw off the Mongol domination that had long crippled Russia's development. Ivan tripled the size of Russian territory and rebuilt Moscow's fortress, the Kremlin, which is still home to Russia's rulers. Ivan declared himself the first Russian tsar, or Caesar. He is now known as Ivan the Great. Russia continued to grow in size as later tsars encouraged peasants to move into new territories. With the help of firearms, Russian settlers spread across the steppes of central Asia finally putting an end to the military superiority of mounted nomadic warriors. Russian territory eventually reached the Pacific Ocean, creating an empire that included many ethnic groups and the largest country in the world.

     In 1682, Russia got a new and energetic tsar who stood nearly seven feet tall. He was Peter I, known as Peter the Great. Peter took eighteen months off to travel as a commoner in Europe where he worked as a carpenter and learned more about the West. Peter tried to bring Russia into the modern world by adopting elements of Western culture and technology. He imported printing presses along with European clothing and architecture, and he adopted the Western calendar. Peter also reorganized his military and civil service along European lines. In a war with Sweden, Peter acquired land on the Baltic Sea giving Russia an ocean outlet to the west and direct access to Europe by ship. There he built a European-style capital at St. Petersburg. Peter died at the age of 53 after jumping into icy water to save drowning sailors.

102. Gutenberg

     Big things were happening in Europe during the early modern period: the Renaissance was spreading from Italy to northern Europe, important scientific discoveries were being made, Christianity was breaking apart, and a German jeweler improved on Chinese printing techniques to change how the world communicated.

     As a goldsmith, Johann Gutenberg was skilled at working with small pieces of metal. He combined this skill with an olive press design to produce a new printing press that used metal movable type. After his press printed multiple copies of one page, the pieces of type were reused to print more pages. Before this, it took a person anywhere from six months to two years to copy one book by hand. Gutenberg's press made printing much faster, so books became less expensive and more widely available. People now had a reason to learn how to read and write. As a result, the printing press greatly expanded literacy, and it spread news of scientific discoveries and Renaissance ideas to wider audiences.

103. Protestant Reformation

     Without Gutenberg's press, we might not remember the name Martin Luther. But through the power of the press, Luther's ideas spread until they tore apart the Catholic Church. The influence of the church had already started to decline during the late middle ages following the horror of the Black Death and conflicts over who was the rightful pope. Then, along came the Renaissance to revive the classical Greek idea of humanism, a concern with human life on Earth that further reduced the influence of the church.

     But the biggest blow to the Roman Catholic Church came in 1517 when Luther, a Catholic monk and college professor, nailed his "95 Theses" (or arguments) to the door of a Catholic church in Germany. Luther was upset about the sale of "indulgences," which allowed Catholics to pay money to be forgiven of sins. The money was being used to build the huge, new, Renaissance-style St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

     Luther also believed that every person could have a direct relationship with God, so there was little need for Catholic priests or Catholic rituals. The printing press made such a direct relationship easier by supplying Bibles in local languages, not just in Latin. People could now read the Bible for themselves. Luther's attempt to reform the Catholic church is called the Reformation. His protest led to the establishment of Protestant churches, a new branch of Christianity. The Protestant Reformation not only fractured the church, it opened minds to new ways of thinking. If it was possible to question the sacred teachings of mother church, it might now also be possible to question other long-held beliefs about science, politics, and society.

104. Counter-reformation

     At about this time, the Catholic Church was adopting reforms of its own. A new Catholic religious order, the Jesuits, promoted education and sent missionaries to Asia and America. Schools were opened to educate women in Renaissance learning, and the sale of indulgences was stopped. This Counter-reformation, or Catholic Reformation, had another important task: fighting the ideas of Protestantism.

     The Counter-Reformation identified books to be burned, and it stepped up the work of the Inquisition, a system of church courts that placed heretics and sinners on trial. Torture and imprisonment were used to extract confessions from Protestants and disobedient Catholics. The Inquisition was especially strong in Spain where Christian forces had only recently succeeded in pushing the Muslim Moors back to North Africa. For centuries under Muslim rule, Spain had been a multi-cultural society where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived side-by-side. After Christians retook Spain in 1492 (called the "Reconquista"), Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain.

105. Elizabeth I

     England became a Protestant country in 1534 when King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. He was hoping for a male heir, but instead they had a daughter. Henry later had Anne beheaded for adultery, and he went on to marry four more times. His daughter grew up to become one of history's most brilliant rulers, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was intelligent and confident. By tolerating religious differences, she maintained peace in her kingdom. She ruled for nearly a half century during the Renaissance in England, the "Elizabethan Period," when William Shakespeare wrote his plays, and the English language underwent rapid development. Greek and Latin words entered the English vocabulary, and Shakespeare alone invented hundreds of new words.

     It was during Elizabeth's reign that England defeated the "invincible" Spanish Armada of 130 warships sent by Spain to attack and invade England. Although Spain was the world's largest empire, England and France were also building navies to compete on the oceans. Spain's Catholic king wanted to conquer the meddlesome English and return England to the Catholic faith. As the Armada waited off the French coast for its invasion army to arrive, the British sent burning fire ships against the Spanish vessels forcing them to scatter. With their battle formation broken, the Spanish ships were unable to fend off the smaller, faster, and more maneuverable British warships with their longer-range cannons. The defeat of the Armada in 1588 was a huge blow to Spain's pride and confidence, and it made England ruler of the waves.

106. the Wars of Religion

     Conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Europe escalated until the two sides went to war in the 1500s and fought for more than a hundred years. With both sides convinced God was on their side, the fighting was especially bloody. Religion wasn't the only issue involved; some rulers used the religious wars as an opportunity to seek advantage against rival powers. The last of the religious wars was the Thirty Years' War, which involved nearly every country in Europe. By the time it was over, one-third of Germany was dead, and Europe lay devastated. The killing of Christians by Christians had resulted in the worst disaster since the Black Death, but this disaster was man-made.

     At the end of the war, the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) decreed that the ruler of each kingdom could choose the religion for his own land. Southern Europe (France, Italy, Spain) chose to remain with the Roman Catholic Church, while northern Europe (such as Germany, England, and Scandinavia) generally chose to be Protestant, a pattern that remains with us today. As another consequence of the Thirty Years' War, France replaced Spain as the strongest country in Europe.

107. divine right monarchs

     European kings grew extremely powerful during the early modern period for several reasons: kingdoms had grown wealthy from trade to Asia and the Americas; international trade required big merchant fleets and strong navies; and after a century of religious warfare, Europeans looked to strong monarchs to maintain stability. Monarchs claimed to rule with a "divine right" that came directly from God. The grandest of the divine right monarchs was Louis XIV (LOO-ee the 14th) who called himself the "Sun King." He ruled France for 72-years when France was at the height of its power (1643-1715).

     Twelve miles outside of Paris, Louis built a palace fit for a god-king. His huge palace at Versailles (vur-SIGH) was surrounded by endless gardens and 1,500 fountains. Versailles was built in an artistic style called Baroque (buh-ROKE), which replaced the classical-style art of the Renaissance. Baroque art was complex and dazzling; it was filled with ornamentation and gold. It was art meant to impress all who saw it with the power and wealth of the king or the church. Other rulers tried to copy the splendor of Versailles, but none ever equaled it.

     Louis shrewdly used his court at Versailles to control the French nobility. As many as 5,000 French nobles living at Versailles had little to do except seek the king's favor and compete for honors like holding the candle while the Sun King prepared for bed.

108. Scientific Revolution

     The Renaissance, the Reformation, the discovery of new lands—all these events opened European minds to new ways of thinking, and this included the pursuit of science. Galileo of Italy used a telescope to observe the heavens and prove the Earth was not the center of the universe. (The Catholic Church disagreed and locked him up.) Isaac Newton of England discovered the principle of gravity while sitting under an apple tree; he concluded that all objects in the universe obey the same laws of motion.

     Dutch shopkeeper and amateur scientist, Anton von Leeuwenhoek (LAY-vun-hook), built an early microscope and was struck with "wonder at a thousand living creatures in one drop of water." This new world of tiny organisms challenged the accepted theory of spontaneous generation, a theory that proposed small creatures such as insects spring to life from rocks or air. Leeuwenhoek suspected eggs.

     These and other discoveries amounted to a leap in scientific understanding in the 1600s that came to be called the Scientific Revolution. Printed books spread this new scientific knowledge along with the revolutionary idea that the workings of the universe could be explained by natural causes.


Student's Friend Part 1

Unit 1 - Overview, Basic Concepts, Prehistory

Unit 2 - Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt

Unit 3 - Ancient India and China

Unit 4 - Ancient Greece and Rome

Unit 5 - Early Middle Ages: 500 to 1000

Unit 6 - Late Middle Ages: 1000 to 1500

Student's Friend Part 2

Unit 7 - 1500s and 1600s: Early Modern World

Unit 8 - 1700s: Enlightenment and Revolution

Unit 9 - 1800s: Industrialism and Imperialism

Unit 10 - 1900 to 1950: World at War

Unit 11 - 1950 to Present: Cold War and Space Age

Unit 12 - Current Issues: A Changing World Order

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© 2001-2016 Michael G. Maxwell, Maxwell Learning LLC

Unit 7 - 1500s and 1600s: The Early Modern World