Scholarly Source: David Arnold, Age of Discovery 1400-1600

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

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

David Arnold, Age of Discovery 1400-1600 (New York: Routledge, 1994) 1-3

David Arnold is Professor Emeritus of Asian and Global History at Warwick University, United Kingdom. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Asiatic Society and the author of multiple books on Asian social and environmental history and the history of science, technology, and medicine.

How can we account for the rapidity of European exploration and expansion? Was the Age of Discovery in fact as sudden and as sweeping as it at first sight appears, or was it rather the outcome of forces long maturing within Europe itself? What motives lay behind this expansionist movement and why were Portugal and Spain its pioneers? How did factors outside Europe affect the character of this expansionism? . . .

. . . Though the era of maritime expansion could be pushed back to AD 800 to include the early voyages of the Vikings. . . the essential geographical discoveries, including the exploration of the West African coast, the discovery of the ‘New World’ and the Cape route to the Indies, and the first circumnavigation of the globe, were all made between the early fifteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries. . . .

. . . The Age of Discovery coincided with the birth of printing. . . Printed pamphlets and books, along with increasingly sophisticated techniques of map-making, disseminated with speed and accuracy the new knowledge of the world and its component parts. . . .

The Age of Discovery. . . was about more than geographical and navigational discovery. . . By pioneering new oceanic routes (as across the Atlantic and Pacific) or (as in the Indian Ocean) by capturing existing networks of maritime commerce, the voyages of discovery laid the basis for a global system of trade, much of it in European hands. The products of other continents—gold and silver, textiles and spices, timber, hides and furs—began to pour in through Europe’s ports, augmenting its wealth and providing the economic basis for subsequent commercial and industrial expansion.