Scholarly Source: Kenneth Andrews, Trade, Plunder, and Settlements

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

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

Kenneth Andrews, Trade, Plunder, and Settlements: Maritime enterprise and the genesis of the British Empire 1480-1630 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 1-10.

Kenneth Andrews was a professor of history whose research interests lay in piracy and privateering in the early modern period. His work emphasized the connections between overseas trade and maritime warfare. He also highlighted the role of capital accumulated by privateers in the creation of the East India Company. He was honored as a Fellow of the British Academy.

Not only did the fishermen exploit their customary grounds more intensively, but they moved further into the Atlantic to exploit new fisheries, especially southwards from Portugal and across the Atlantic to the Newfoundland Banks, and to the Labrador coast for whale. This drive to harvest the sea played an important part in the discovery, in the mastering of the ocean and in the initial phase of colonization, both then and later. More important still was the effect of intensified commercial activity upon the demand for precious metals. The revival of the European economy in the later fifteenth century was associated with the promotion of mining in Austria, Bohemia and Hungary and with the swelling stream of African gold. The boom encouraged vigorous exploitation of these sources until they were superseded by the influx of silver from America, which grew large in the middle of the sixteenth century and continued to grow thereafter in response to the further acceleration of European business in the following decades, more especially providing the necessary specie for that most spectacular growth-area of European commerce, oriental trade. An important feature of this economic expansion was the growth of luxury consumption. The luxury trades boomed, feeding the appetites of the rich with silks, satins, linens and other fine cloths, with wines, sugars and spices, gold and silver ware, jewelry, perfumes and medicaments. . . It was in pursuit of the rich trades that the Portuguese invaded the Indian ocean at the end of the fifteenth century and swiftly deployed their power to create a commercial network reaching to the Moluccas, Macao and Japan . . . It was a Spanish attempt to break into oriental trade that led to the discovery of America and the same desire promoted the further exploration of the New World, Magellan’s conquest of the Pacific and the eventual linking of China and Peru by way of Mexico and Manila, a silk-for-silver trade. Meanwhile the resources of America were increasingly tapped to satisfy European demand and the transatlantic slave trade developed in response to the demand for labor in Spain’s colonies.

. . . European overseas expansion in this epoch was fundamentally a commercial movement, an extension of the European trading system. . . It was not a pacific movement but an acquisitive and predatory drive for commodities and for the profits to be made on the rich products of the outer world.

Quiz Content