Glossary of American History Chapter 01
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- What kind of trade routes existed in Europe between the twelfth century and the fifteenth century?
- Exotic goods like spices, silk, carpets, ivory, and gold were the primary focus of European trade between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. These traveled overland from Persia, Asia Minor, India, and Africa and then were dispersed throughout Europe by means of Mediterranean trade routes. Italian merchants and bankers dominated the trade and were willing to fight to protect their monopoly. In the late thirteenth century, Genoese merchants began to ship goods to northern Europe by sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar and sailing up the Atlantic coastline, a route that allowed them to carry larger quantities less expensively than the overland route permitted.
- What factors encouraged Europeans to begin looking for new trade routes in the fifteenth century?
- There were a number of factors that encouraged Europeans to look for new ways to travel to the East in the fifteenth century. The bubonic plague of the mid-fourteenth century killed about a third of the European population, giving survivors greater chances for social advancement and creating a willingness to take risks in return for large rewards. Monarchs hoped to increase the size of their lands and increase the number of taxable subjects under their rule. Ambitious nonnobles hoped that they could gain entrance into the aristocracy as a reward for their exploits. Finally, technological advances helped as well, as new navigational aids like compasses, hourglasses, the astrolobes, and the quadrant made it easier for sailors to keep track of their location even on the open ocean.
- Why did the Portuguese play a key role in European exploration?
- Located on the western tip of Europe, Portugal had excellent access to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In 1415, Portugal expelled Muslims from the Strait of Gibraltar, which gave traders access to the Atlantic coast of Africa. At the same time, Prince Henry the Navigator, the son of the Portuguese king, took an active interest in exploration, collecting up-to-date information about sailing techniques and geography in the hopes of spreading Christianity and finding new sources of trade. The Portuguese developed a type of ship called a caravel, which could store enough supplies for long periods at sea. These factors provided Portugal with the financial and technical means to round the southern tip of Africa and eventually reach India by sea.
- Why did Christopher Columbus believe that Asia could be reached easily by a westward route, and what was the significance of his voyage?
- Christopher Columbus believed - incorrectly - that Asia lay about 2,500 miles away from the edge of Europe, which was a shorter distance from Europe than Lisbon was from southern Africa. He did not realize that the voyage was actually 11,000 miles or that North and South America existed. His voyages were important because they led to the discovery of the Americas, even though Columbus himself never acknowledged that he had found a New World.
- Did Columbus's initial discoveries live up to Spanish hopes and expectations? What was the value of his discoveries?
- Initially, the Spanish monarchy was disappointed by Columbus's discoveries. The crown wanted to find either access to the Asian spice trade or large quantities of gold and silver. Their first New World holdings provided neither. The real value of the New World for the first generation that knew of it was the stimulation of geographical knowledge and the Columbian exchange, which provided Europeans with new crops like corn, potatoes, and pineapples.
- What impact did Columbus's journeys have on Europeans' understanding of the geography of the world?
- Within about thirty years, Columbus's discovery of the New World had radically altered Europeans' understanding of world geography, although it took a great deal of additional exploration to make the magnitude of his find clear. Columbus believed that he was exploring the outer reaches of Asia. However, by 1500, it was clear that there were several large chunks of land in the western Atlantic, and in 1507 the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller published the first map showing the New World separate from Asia. In 1513, his speculation was confirmed when Núñez de Balboa crossed the isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean, demonstrating that more water lay between the New World and Asia. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan showed just how much water when he attempted to circumnavigate the globe.
- On what land had Spain established settlement prior to Cortés's expedition to Mexico, and why did Cortés go to Mexico in 1519?
- During the early sixteenth century, Spain had surveyed the Caribbean, scouted stretches of the mainland coast of South America, and established settlements on Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba. None of these outposts provided the wealth the Spanish had hoped for. Hernán Cortés went into Mexico in 1519 to find riches. Only recently had Europeans determined that this land mass was not Asia but an entirely different continent. Spain and Cortés both were eager to make claims on the riches rumored to be there.
- What methods did Spain use to rule its New World colonies in the sixteenth century?
- Initially, the Spanish crown used the encomienda system to distribute land to conquistadors. A conquistador, the encomendero, would be given control of a town and its inhabitants, who would be forced to work for their new owners. However, Catholic missionaries disliked the system because it was brutal and therefore hindered conversions, and the monarchy felt that it gave too much autonomy to the encomenderos. To regain control, in 1549, Spain instituted a reform called the repartimiento, which limited the amount of labor an encomendero could demand to forty-five days per year from each adult male.
- Who settled New Spain, and what kind of social system did the colonists create?
- About 225,000 Spaniards settled in New Spain over the course of the sixteenth century, most of whom were poor commoners. Because few Spanish women migrated, many Spanish men married Indian women. The highest social status was given to Spanish natives, called peninsulares; below them were creoles, who were the New World children of Spanish couples; and below them were the mestizos, the offspring of Spanish men and Indian women. Indians were at the bottom of the social heap. All in all, the society of New Spain was stratified by class and race, with Europeans of any social origin considered superior to Indians.
- How did Martin Luther initiate the Protestant Reformation? What doctrine did he preach, and how did it threaten the established church?
- In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by publicizing his criticisms of the Catholic Church. He believed in the doctrine of justification by faith, which held that individuals could obtain salvation only by having faith that God would save them. Luther charged that the Catholic Church fraudulently claimed that priests were necessary for salvation, that it had neglected its proper role of helping individual Christians understand faith as it was revealed in the Bible, and that it wasted its resources interfering in the worldly realm of wars and politics. Luther hoped that he could reform the church. However, the church did not take kindly to his criticisms, which undermined its power and influence.
- How did New World treasure affect the Spanish monarchy and people?
- The Spanish monarchy did not employ the riches of New Spain wisely. For the most part, Spanish kings used the gold and silver they mined to pursue expensive European wars. This resulted in higher taxes for ordinary Spaniards: nobles were exempt from taxation, so the burden fell primarily on peasants. When taxes did not provide enough money for military adventures, the Spanish crown turned to loans from European bankers and by the end of the sixteenth century paid out two-thirds of its annual revenue on interest.
- In the sixteenth century, what did France and England do to try to imitate Spanish colonization in the New World? Was either country as successful as Spain?
- In 1524, the French sent Giovanni da Verranzano to look for a Northwest Passage on the Atlantic coast of North America. Nothing came of the trip, but in 1535 they funded Jacques Cartier's expedition up the St. Lawrence River, where they tried to establish a colony in 1541. Neither that colony nor a later one in Florida survived. In 1576, the English also searched unsuccessfully for a Northwest Passage around Newfoundland. They tried to establish colonies in Newfoundland and on Roanoke Island, none of which lasted for long. Neither the French nor the English were able to find the wealth that Spain had in Mexico and Peru.
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