Age of Discovery Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1857 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

¶ … Age of Discovery:

The so-called "Age of Discovery" occurred between 1450 and 1650, roughly beginning during the early years of the Renaissance Period in Europe and ending with the "Age of Reason." During this two hundred year span, European explorers from countries like Great Britain, Spain, France and Portugal extensively traveled to the "New World" or North America in search of new trades routes that might lead them to vast resources of gold, silver and spices for the ever-expanding economies of their native countries.

One of the most famous of these explorers was Christopher Columbus who with the financial assistance of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 to "discover" the Americas. Currently, there is much debate concerning whether or not Columbus was the first European to land in the Americas; nonetheless, his "discovery" of the Americas set the stage for further discoveries by other European explorers while also bringing about the mass extinction of indigenous cultures, such as those in the Caribbean and South and Central America.

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At about the same time, in 1499, Vasco de Gama completed a voyage around Africa to India which opened the proverbial door to trade with the East. Between 1497 and 1498, John Cabot made voyages on the north Atlantic from Greenland and Labrador as far south as present-day New England; in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan reached the shores of Brazil while following the coast southward in search of a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, and in 1513, Balboa discovered that the "New World was only a few miles wide at Panama which suggested that the continent was narrow and that several waterways might lead to the Pacific." Also, Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal "unknowingly took one of the first steps toward the discovery of water route to Asia and the creation of a colonial empire" in Asia which was to fuel the economies of many European countries well into the 19th century (Langer, 256).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Age of Discovery: The So-Called "Age of Assignment

These and many other discoveries in the sciences and in technology brought about the expansion of European civilization to every point on the globe. The immediate impact of the discoveries of these men was primarily economic, for such rare and relatively unknown commodities as potatoes, tobacco, corn, cocoa, chocolate, sugar, rice, coffee and cotton began to be imported from the "New World." One of the darkest aspects of these discoveries were the extermination of the American Indians of the West Indies and elsewhere in the "New World" and the transportation of European society, culture and institutions into the regions previously inhabited by native Indian populations. This event was most powerful in South America when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Incan civilization and virtually stole everything in their possession, such as gold, silver and other precious items.

Although the "Age of Discovery" has been called as such for more than four hundred years, one could say that the men who sailed from Europe with the intent of bringing back riches beyond their wildest dreams were not true discoverers, mainly because the countries they visited were already known to earlier explorers who unfortunately have been forgotten by historians or have faded into obscurity. Most importantly, men like Columbus, de Gama, Balboa and the Spanish Conquistadors were not explorers in the sense of wanting to discover the unknown, for they were only conquerors hired and maintained by their respective governments and monarchies to plunder the "New World" in order to fill the coffers of the state and make their kings and queens, such as Ferdinand and Isabella, extravagantly wealthy. In today's world, this should serve as a warning to those nations who wish to "conquer" other lands in order to being them into the fold of their own perceived civilization.


Between 1560 and 1700, imperialism was in full swing, especially in Central and South America by such nations as Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. In the past, the attitude held by many Europeans was that people "have the right to govern themselves," but when Columbus "discovered" the "New World" this attitude changed dramatically; in essence, it was "shoved aside on the grounds that it applied only to those who were highly civilized," a reference to the imperialist governments and monarchies of Western Europe (Nevins and Ehrmann, 356).

During this time, a good portion of Africa was also taken over by European states and parts of Asia were turned into imperialist colonies which came under the influence of European culture. For example, Great Britain added much territory to its empire, along with France, Germany, Belgium, Russia and Italy. Thus, the establishment and expansion of European imperialism was mostly related to the economic difficulties of the 17th century within Europe and the mercantilist doctrines which advocated the spread of capitalism into all parts of the world where "uncivilized" societies deserved to be transformed by European customs and cultures.

Shortly after Columbus returned to Spain from his first voyage to the "New World," the Spanish monarchy and the Pope gave all the newly-discovered "heathen" lands in Latin America to the Spanish and the Portuguese monarchs. At first, neither monarchy realized the immense economic potential of these new lands and instead focused on developing trade with Asia.

Overall, the Spanish monarchy left the development of these lands to private individuals, such as Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro. Thus, it was not until the reign of Philip II in Spain that a determined effort was made to impose royal authority over all of the newly-discovered lands in the "New World."

When the decision was made to divide all of the "heathen" lands of the "New World" between the Spanish and the Portuguese, other future colonizers became very upset. During the 16th century, the French attempted to establish colonies in South America but were driven out by the Portuguese and the Spanish. However, in 1605, the French founded a successful colony in what is now Nova Scotia in Canada; three years later, Samuel de Champlain headed up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec, where he established a settlement that became the center of the fur trade for hundreds of years, thus helping to expand the French empire beyond the confines of Europe. In Africa, European expansion in the form of imperialism was focused along the African coast and was primarily aided by the slave trade. First, the Portuguese, followed by the French, English and Dutch, established small posts along the African coast and eagerly took part in the selling of African slaves to work the plantations of the "New World."

Overall, European imperialism between 1560 and 1700 and the expansion of many European-based empires was due to the need for increased trade in a wide variety of products and commodities that were relatively scarce in Europe. Thus, the goal of European imperialist expansion was to locate riches that could enhance the king and his monarchy. It should be mentioned that missionaries, especially from Spain and Portugal, preceded many of the best- known explorers into the "New World" which greatly assisted in the creation of empire building in the Americas. As George N. Clark relates, "The missionaries... had penetrated into every corner of the known world... And did so much to make the expansion of European empires into an extension of Western civilization as well as Western rule" (356). Thus, the importance of imperialism and empire building lies in what Theodore Roosevelt once described as "Manifest Destiny," whereby a nation has the God-given right to conquer and divide. For today's world, the implications of this attitude can clearly be seen in the present conflict in Iraq which was started by the United States' desire to bring democracy to the Middle East.


In the 16th and 17th centuries, slavery in Europe was designed to fulfill three essential purposes -- "to provide domestic service in the homes and residences of the wealthy and oarsmen for the galley ships that traded with other nations and to concentrate people for new enterprises in the Americas" (Clark, 456). In many areas of the Americas, particularly in South America, slaves were required to work the mines that yielded gold, silver and other precious metals for the coffers of Spain, France and Portugal. European mining techniques were usually employed to extract these precious metals plus tin, copper and other minerals, all of which "enriched the local Spanish mine owners and the Spanish monarchy which claimed a fifth of all the precious and semi-precious metals taken from the mines by slave labor" (Langer, 347).

Slave labor was also used extensively in the plantations of the "New World." For example, geographical conditions in Brazil favored the cultivation of sugar and thus encouraged the development of large estates that were primarily worked by slave labor. Since the indigenous Indian populations were too primitive for advanced agricultural labor, the Portuguese imported

Negro slaves from Africa to work the plantations which grew and harvested such items as coffee,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Age of Discovery" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Age of Discovery.  (2007, February 28).  Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Age of Discovery."  28 February 2007.  Web.  26 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Age of Discovery."  February 28, 2007.  Accessed October 26, 2021.