Assessment: World Civilization From 1500 CE to the Early Twentieth Century

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¶ … History 1500-Present

World Civilization from 1500 AD to Present

Worldwide trade from 1500 to 1800 AD: the Rise and Implications

Europe was expanding its boundaries at the end of the medieval world: Spain and Portugal had navigated the globe. The Crusades had opened roads to the East, and the sea lanes had given way to a new world in which nations sought God, gold, and glory. The world has always become smaller with the advent of new technology -- and the new technology in 1500 was navigational and nautical; by 1800 that technology had become increasingly more "scientific" and even militaristic. America had been colonized and the trade routes from East to West to East and back again were flourishing.

Italy saw the rise of the merchant class, and their wealth soon spread throughout Europe. A demand for goods, silks, spices (from the East), and tobacco from new world (once the colonies took root) made Europe a trading outpost. Goods came in and goods went out. Tomatoes (now famous for being associated with Italian pasta sauce) were not even native to Italy: they arrived as an import from the new world -- that is one indication of the way in which global trade was on the rise. Flora and fauna went back and forth across the sea. New Englanders changed the landscape of America to fit their liking. The southern states plowed the fields and planted cotton and tobacco.

The implications of global trade at this time were, of course, a change in philosophy. Philosophies in Europe centered on whether the Native American could be considered a human being. Another implication was the rise of the slave trade from Africa to the American colonies (a practice that was also hotly contested in England). Fashions changed, artwork was imported, and philosophical ideas were altered. The old world of Christendom was crumbling under the weight of the Protestant revolts and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (which essentially established religious liberty on the continent) -- but the Church was still expanding through missions in the new world. However, the English (intensely Protestant by this time) were able to capitalize on the freedom found in the new world -- and the U.S. became not a Catholic country but a Protestant one. The old world was finished. The new world would be an ironic combination of skepticism, Puritanism, and materialism.

Leading Thinkers of the Scientific Revolution

There were several leading thinkers of the Scientific Revolution, ranging from Copernicus to Galileo to Newton. The Revolution coincided with the High Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. In other words, the Church was being attacked on all sides: the focus was on man -- not God; humanism was the rage; Christendom had had enough of clergy who failed to inspire; religion lost focus. The world wanted new definitions.

Galileo helped provide those new definitions. By using the Copernican model of the universe (heliocentric as opposed to Ptolemy's geocentric model), Galileo illustrated a concept in which the old world hierarchies were left out: the universe did not revolve around the Earth; God did not reside in the Heavens; but instead the heavens were essentially infinite -- the universe was endless and the Earth was just one of many planets in a solar system that was itself just a small part of the big picture. No longer was the planet a focal point or place of significance. The planet on which the Incarnation had taken place was now shown to be just a speck itself revolving around the sun. The old world mythology was replaced by a new "scientific" cosmology. Galileo "proved" it so with his telescope.

Of course, his idea was nothing more than a hypothesis and no more provable than Ptolemy's -- and the Church resisted it, of course. Robert Bellarmine wrote "his displeasure with Copernican theory" to Paolo Antonio Foscarini in 1615. Bellarmine was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, a doctor of theology and later to be declared a saint. Foscarini was a Carmelite who, with Galileo, had taken some interest in Copernicus' heliocentric model of the universe. In 1616, Foscarini's book defending heliocentrism was placed on the Church's Index of Forbidden Books. By 1633 Galileo would also be forbidden to spread his heliocentric doctrine, which he had put in the vernacular Italian as opposed to the language of the learned, Latin. Thus, while the new astronomers were attempting to set up a new model of the universe, the Church attempted to preserve its own perspective: namely, that the earth, man and God made Man were the center of the cosmos.

Yet, through technological innovations, the Church's control over the gathering and disseminating of information was slipping. Galileo had studied the heavens using his new telescope, while Bellarmine's studies had been grounded in philosophy, theology and Scripture. Bellarmine represented the old science. Galileo the new. Newtonian mathematics would assist in the destruction of the old world and the philosophical emphasis on empirical data as opposed to intellect and reason ala Aristotle. The philosophies of the Enlightenment were an outgrowth. Hume developed his skepticism and placed priority on knowledge gathered through empirical analysis. Rousseau idolized Nature -- and rejected the idea that human nature was fallen by Original Sin. The ideas of revolution -- "liberty, equality, fraternity" spread like wildfire now that the Church had lost its position of authority. Philosophers wanted to assert their own authority. Again, God was displaced -- Man assumed the throne. The conflict between scientific study grounded in theological traditions and scientific study emphasized by technological cues marked the end of the medieval world and the beginning of the modern world.

Spanish Conquest

Columbus claimed the new world for Spain in 1492. Balboa was exploring Colombia within the decade. Cortez led his men against the Aztecs in 1520 and in 1550 began the Spanish conquest of the Mayan civilization. Pizarro battled the Inca in the 1530s. Everywhere viceroys were established as Spain took over the areas of South America.

One factor that helps explain the rapid Spanish conquest is the fact that the Indian tribes were not united among themselves. They also had no use of the weaponry that the Spanish conquistadors had.

The Europeans also had one other weapon that the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Inca did not have -- germ warfare. Smallpox was as deadly to the Native Americans as anything else, and a vast number of the natives died simply because they came into contact with European diseases like smallpox, against which their bodies had no immunity.

The most important events in the Spanish Conquest of the Americas begin, of course, with the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Islands at the end of the 15th century -- which was followed by the arrival of the conquistadors -- Balboa, Cortez, Pizarro and many others. The Aztec civilization fell in the 1520s, the Incas fell in the 1530s and the Mayan civilization began to be dismantled midway through the 16th century.

Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness -- and Slavery

Indeed, there were those who objected to slavery in the early colonies of America. But the abolitionists as they were called did not really begin to be heard until the 19th century, after the Revolutionary War and before the Civil War. Rousseau, in France, had commented on slavery and life and liberty in his essay The Social Contract -- but his sense of Naturalism placed more emphasis on what would later be known as the will to power. Slavery, according to Rousseau, was the lot of the weak and those who let themselves be made into slaves.

Of course, the framers of the Constitution were aware of the fact that slavery was an issue -- but it was one which they thought would finally resolve itself. A discontinuance of the slave trade was foreseen, and from there it appeared that slavery would eventually simply come to an end. However, the Protestant ethos of the American states, as they continued to expand Westward was promoted by the idea of "manifest destiny" -- which implied that Americans were something like God's chosen people and that the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) had a special mission in the world -- which was to completely take over. (This belief is still in play today -- see the Middle East).

W.E.B. Du Bois, at the end of the 19th century -- after slavery had been abolished (but the Negro still kept in a state of subservience), began an examination into what was beginning to be known as the "Negro problem." For Du Bois that problem was the maltreatment of blacks through inequality, poverty, and lack of social standing. For the American elite, it was a problem of escalating numbers -- as Du Bois points out early in The Philadelphia Negro. Indeed, the black population and the Catholic population (increasing through emigration) both posed a threat to the ruling WASP classes.

The PR machine of the WASP ruling classes continued to promote… [END OF PREVIEW]

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