The epoch of great geographical discoveries is considered the most significant era in the history of mankind. It is the time when the shapes of oceans, seas, and continents became more accurate. Due to the fact that technical devices were improved, the most developed European states started sending seafarers to discover unexplored lands. Since the time when the West Indies was acknowledged as a new continent, the ideas of Europeans regarding the geography of the globe changed greatly. In addition to the fact that the inhabited world was extremely large, Europeans learned nationalities that lived in other parts of the Earth. Moreover, their mentality and lifestyle were totally different from the habitual European values. The discovery of America and other countries influenced the life and the worldview of Europe drastically, bringing considerable economic, cultural, and social changes.
Geographical discoveries at the end of the XV the beginning of the XVII centuries played a great role in the economic development of European states. There were several economic causes such as the search for new markets for expanding the production, the crisis of the trade in Italian cities, the deficit of precious metals for political and economic activities of developed states, and Turkish conquests in the Balkans and Asia Minor, which culminated in the defeat of the Byzantine Empire (Kerski 97). Significant improvements made in military affairs and navigation also pushed Europeans to the great geographical discoveries. They included the advancement of nautical charts and the compass, firearms, adaptations, and instruments, and the creation of caravels. At that time, Columbus was sure that the New World contained unexplored stocks of gold and with the help of new ships, it was possible to reach the shores of new territories (Columbus letter to the King and Queen of Spain). In general, Columbus was right. The immediate outcome of the discoveries was familiarization with the New World and the possibility to reach China and India. By the end of the XVI century, the part of the Earths surface known to Europeans had enlarged by six times (Kerski 100). Despite this fact, economic consequences of these discoveries were of greater importance, which manifested itself in the development of the price and trade revolution.
Expansion of the Market and Trade Revolution
By the end of the XV century, there was a serious decline in European trade. The restoration of the monopoly of the Egyptian sultans over the Red Sea, the Turks seizure of the Balkans and Central Asia, and the supremacy of Venetian and Genoese merchants in the Mediterranean Sea deprived Europe of the complete access to commodities from the East (Jacobs 78). Besides, Europe experienced the lack of the coinage that went to the East through Italian traders in large quantities. With the discovery of America, it became possible to receive a new source of silver and gold for Europe, as well as a great number of goods that were new to the Old World (Jacobs 79). Thus, after the discovery of America, the trade revolution in Europe commenced.
Trade revolution represented a sharp leap in the development of foreign trade between European states bounded with the formation of the world market. It was characterized by considerable changes in the passive trade balance typical of trade in medieval Europe with the states of the East. Due to great geographical discoveries, Australia, Europe, America, and Africa became connected by trade routes (Jacobs 81). Therefore, the new world became an important market for European products. In perspective, the American continent was established as a broad market for industrial goods from Europe.
Revolution of Prices
The large-scale importation of American precious metals extremely increased the amount of silver and gold in circulation contributing to the price revolution throughout European countries. The volume of coins had grown by four times (Vejdovsky 19). It led to the rapid increase in prices for basic necessities. A sharp drop in the value of gold and silver caused the boost in prices for industrial and agricultural products that by the end of the century, increased by more than three times. The price revolution had significant consequences as it contributed to the enrichment of certain sections of the population and the ruin of others (Vejdovsky 19). Together with the huge potential of the colonies as markets for European goods and sources of raw materials, this revolution became a reason for the development of capitalist relations in European states. Inflation also helped strengthen the positions of the nascent bourgeoisie and increase the number of manufactory workers (Vejdovsky 20). In turn, it prepared the ground for the fast industrial advancement of the most powerful European states.
While during the development of American market, Spain and Portugal gained their benefit primarily from the trade, the Netherlands, France, and England enhanced their production capacity. The bourgeoisie increased the capital exchanging industrial goods for American silver and gold. Developing the fleet intensively, England jostled the competitors from sea routes. In the middle of the XVII century, it established the complete control over the colonies in North America (Jacobs 94). Agricultural products and raw materials were brought to England from the New World while America received British manufactured products including fishing vessels and metal buttons. Ultimately, the fast growth of production became the basis for the industrial revolution in Britain.
Shift of the Economic Center
The discovery of America had a serious effect on the reallocation of economic forces in Europe. Though previously the major trade routes moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic regions, the center of economic life shifted to the states of the Atlantic coast of Europe. Italian city-states lost insensibly their former power. As a result, new centers of world trade such as Antwerp, Seville, London, and Lisbon replaced them (Jacobs 99). By the middle of the XVI century, the former occupied a leading position in the financial and commercial market. Breweries, sugar factories, and weaving manufactories were built in this city (Jacobs 99). Moreover, diamond processing enterprises were established there. By 1565, the population of Antwerp reached 100 thousand inhabitants (Jacobs 99). It was an impressive figure for European continent of that time. Therefore, the European economic center shifted to other cities, thus contributing to the accumulation of large amounts of money. With the movement of the major trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic areas, certain regions started experiencing the decay while others were becoming more prosperous.
In addition to substantial changes in European economy that followed the discovery of the New World, there were changes in culture. It is believed that transformations affected only America. However, they involved the European continent as well.
A Model of a Multinational Society
When the Europeans stepped on the lands of the New World, they had to learn to live in a multinational society. On the one hand, it included the neighborhood of the European peoples the French, the Spanish, and the English in the new conditions; on the other hand, it included relations of the colonialists with indigenous inhabitants of America (Greengrass 83). A model of a multinational society endured great changes of overcoming the costs of religious and racial intolerance. However, Europe experienced the problems of a multiethnic society later. Countries of America in general and the United States in particular served as a model of the neighborhood of nations that were highly different from one another (Greengrass 83). In the past, Europeans colonized the New World in pursuit of a better life and wealth; after centuries, Europe turned into the desired place for millions of migrants.
New Goods and Illnesses from the New World
The lands of the New World became an agricultural base. From America, traders were delivering unknown agricultural crops into the European continent. A pumpkin, cocoa, beans, vanilla, avocado, cassava, and pineapple were imported to the Old World (Rao, 186). Currently, it is impossible to imagine the everyday diet without corn, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and sunflower that also were brought from America (Rao, 186). When Christopher Columbus brought wild potatoes into Europe, watery and small tubers were not suitable for eating. Only several centuries of breeding made the potato edible and in this form, it returned to America. However, not only colonists in the New World liked potatoes but also the Colorado beetle (Jacobs 142). The population of this insect grew so rapidly that it became cramped within the boundaries of the New World. The Colorado beetle reached Europe only in the XX century and within several decades, it had spread in the potato fields of the European countries (Jacobs 142). Farmers were constantly trying to improve methods of struggle with this insect. Nevertheless, the latter developed immunity to all of them.
At the same time, tobacco became a real conqueror of Europe. Farmers started growing it in England, Spain, Switzerland, France, and Belgium (Jacobs 146). Immediately, the state authorities saw the perspective in the new culture and monopolized the tobacco market. In fact, Christopher Columbus was the first European who tried tobacco while a member of his team, Rodrigo de Jerez, became the first victim of tobacco smoking (Jacobs 143). When representatives of the Catholic Church saw Jerez smoking, they incriminated him a connection with the devil and began the first anti-smoking campaign.
It is well-known that the Spanish conquistadors brought to the Indians a variety of diseases, with which the Aboriginal organism could not cope. Nonetheless, the Indians did not remain indebted. Using the Columbus ships as a transmitter, a highly dangerous disease penetrated into Europe; it was syphilis (Jacobs 154). Its first epidemic embraced Europe in 1495. It reduced the population of the Old World by about five million people (Jacobs 154). The further spread of the exotic disease brought European people disasters that could be comparable to the epidemics of plague, measles, and smallpox.
With the colonization of the New World, great social changes took place not only in America but in Europe as well. It is connected with the fact that great geographical discoveries contributed to the widening of peoples knowledge in various spheres including geology, geography, botany, astronomy, and zoology. In addition, this epoch marked the beginning of the development of the colonial system along with the slave trade.
By the time of the great geographical discoveries, Europeans knew geography of their continent. However, they were not aware of other parts of the world. Information about Africa was confined only to its northern part. Since the Crusades, European population learned about Front Asia. Nevertheless, their knowledge about China, India, and Central Asia was frequently semi-legendary and rather common (Jin 116). The North of Asia was completely unknown. The vast expanses of the oceans were explored only in a narrow coastal strip. Thus before the great discoveries, people from Europe were not knowledgeable enough about the population of the New World.
Before the time of discoveries, knowledge of Europeans about the rest of the world was based on ancient ideas. Moreover, early Renaissance humanists confirmed mistakes and achievements of the ancient authors. The views of Claudius Ptolemy were particularly popular at that time (Jin 117). He believed that in the South, there was a big continent close to Asia and Africa while the Indian Ocean was represented as a closed area with no connecting to the Atlantic waters (Jin 117). Therefore, according to his opinion, the sea route to the states of the East did not exist. Besides, Marco Polos book provided a description of how the Earth looked at that time (Marco Polos Travels). This piece of writing pushed Columbus to further geographical discoveries. The picture of the world was added by various myths originating from Antiquity. They depicted giants, dwarfs, and amazons. People believed that these creatures lived in rich lands and, thus, rumors about them served as a good symbol of closeness to gold.
Great geographical discoveries resulted in the expansion of Europeans ideas concerning the world that disproved the ancient views. America and Australia that were previously unknown parts of the world were discovered (Jin 121). The same included the Pacific Ocean. It led to the definition of the major contours of all inhabited continents. The first trip around the world proved the sphericity of the Earth. It was also established that all continents are washed by the single World Ocean (Jin 121). Contrary to the opinions of ancient scientists, it became obvious that there is more water on the surface of the Earth than land. Therefore, great geographical discoveries opened numerous opportunities for people for the further study of the world.
Development of Other Sciences
Great geographical discoveries provided vast and new material for history, ethnography, and natural sciences, thus stimulating public thought. Having obtained the knowledge about the life of other societies with various customs and religions, the Europeans understood that the world was many-sided. Besides, they learned tolerance to other religions and cultures. Contemplation of the unspoiled faith and the Golden Age of the inhabitants of America echoed with the views about social utopia, the Reformation, and the Renaissance. Receiving the experience of communication with overseas residents, people of Europe were more aware of their historical and cultural unity. Great geographical discoveries and the Conquest had given a push to great works of different genres glorifying conquistadors and seafarers and enriching the European public thought of the Renaissance (Jin 129). Images of distant places entered European art and literature, occupying a significant place in the legacy of a great number of European authors.
Great geographical discoveries changed the picture of the world considerably. The shapes of continents, seas, and oceans were specified. These discoveries were the first significant step to the creation of the world market, shifting trade routes. Such trading cities as Genoa and Venice lost the significance. Namely, they were replaced by ocean ports including Amsterdam, Lisbon, Antwerp, and London. Because of the influx of precious metals to European countries from the New World, there was a price revolution. Great geographical discoveries laid the foundation of the colonial reallocation of the world and the domination of Europeans in America, Africa, and Asia. Trade with colonies allowed the European trade community to become extremely rich. This fact was one of the premises for the creation of capitalism. In addition to economic consequences, Europe experienced cultural and social changes. Great geographical discoveries became one of the causes of the food revolution on the European continent as previously unknown goods such as tobacco, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and cocoa beans were introduced. In addition, colonization of the New World allowed Europeans to broaden their outlook in such spheres as geography, geology, biology, and others.