Scholarly Source: Ronald Love, Maritime Exploration in the Age of Discovery, 1415-1800

European Exploration, Perception of the Other, and the Columbian Exchange

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

Ronald Love, Maritime Exploration in the Age of Discovery, 1415-1800 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006) 1-6.

Ronald S. Love was a specialist in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France but wrote on far ranging topics. His work on early modern France led to two books on French exploration including maritime exploration and the French experience in Asia.

Western Europe[’s] … attempt to expand beyond its frontiers after centuries of social upheaval, political turmoil, and external attack–… the crusades to free the Holy Land from Muslim rule–had largely failed by 1277. Even so, contact with the outside world was not completely lost, for the Mediterranean had been reopened to European movement. Hence, the goods of Asia and Africa first encountered by crusading armies still made their way to medieval courts… nevertheless, western contact with non-Western societies remained limited until European seafarers undertook their initial voyages of exploration in the early 1400s…. Still imbued with the old crusading spirit and eager to find a direct sea route to Asian markets that would bypass Muslim and Italian middlemen who dominated the Mediterranean trade, Portuguese mariners sponsored by the Crown found their way around the African continent to the Indian Ocean and the rich ports of the East that lay beyond. Meanwhile, Spanish explorers or those employed by Spain, also hoping to reach the fabled Orient, crossed the Atlantic to discover the Americas instead. This sudden burst of maritime activity was produced by a combination of coincidences and events. To begin with, Europe after 1300 was no longer the narrow, inward-looking world of earlier times. The restoration of trade in the Mediterranean, the growing taste for spices and luxury goods of Asia, and the written accounts of Polo and his fellow travelers contributed to a growing interest in distant lands. Meanwhile the collapse of the Mongol Empire in the late fourteenth century, followed by the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, resulted not just in political instability and insecurity of travel that threatened to cut overland contacts with Asia. It led as well to rising prices… At the same time, the Muslim victory over Byzantium intensified the old hostility between Christendom and Islam, which rekindled the crusading spirit in the minds of many Europeans… The recovery of ancient Greek and Latin texts on geography, mathematics, and astronomy–lost since the fall of Rome–provided important new sources of knowledge vital to the science of navigation. Advances in shipbuilding and design similarly helped… Western Europe thus had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to open new routes to the fabulous east and to discover new continents to the west by the beginning of the fifteenth century.