Conclusion: European Empires in the New World

Conclusion: European Empires in the New World

Beginning in the late 15th century, European powers initiated a period of vigorous exploration and invasion into the “New World.”

Learning Objectives

Summarize the early exploration efforts carried out by the European powers in the New World

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In pursuit of commerce in Asia, 15th-century European explorers, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492, unexpectedly encountered a “ New World ” in the Americas populated by millions of sophisticated peoples.
  • This historic moment in 1492 sparked new rivalries among European powers as they scrambled to create New World colonies, fueled by the quest for wealth and power as well as by religious passions.
  • Spain achieved early preeminence, creating a far-flung empire and growing rich with treasures from the Americas.
  • By the beginning of the 17th century, Spain’s rivals—England, France, and the Dutch Republic—had each established an Atlantic presence in the race for imperial power.
  • American Indians who confronted the newcomers from Europe suffered unprecedented losses of life due to war and disease.
  • West Africa, a diverse and culturally rich area, soon entered the stage as European nations exploited its slave trade and brought its peoples to the New World in chains.

Key Terms

  • New World: One of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically the Americas.
  • globalization: The process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.

By the late 15th century, Europe—having recovered from the epidemic of the Black Death and in search of new products and new wealth—was seeking to improve trade and communications with the rest of the world. The lure of profit pushed explorers to seek new trade routes to the East and eliminate costly middlemen. As strong supporters of the Christian church, Europeans also sought to bring Christianity to the East and any newly found lands.

In pursuit of commerce in Asia, 15th-century European explorers, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492, unexpectedly encountered a “New World” in the Americas populated by millions of sophisticated peoples. This historic moment in 1492 sparked new rivalries among European powers as they scrambled to create New World colonies, fueled by the quest for wealth and power as well as by religious passions. Almost continuous war resulted.

Spain achieved early preeminence, creating a far-flung empire and growing rich with treasures from the Americas. By the beginning of the 17th century, Spain’s rivals—England, France, and the Dutch Republic—had each established an Atlantic presence in the race for imperial power. English colonists in Virginia suffered greatly; however, the colony at Jamestown survived, and the output of England’s islands in the West Indies soon grew to be an important source of income for the country. New France and New Netherlands were modest colonial holdings in the northeast of the continent, but these colonies’ thriving fur trade and alliances with indigenous peoples helped to create the foundation for later shifts in the global balance of power.

This age of exploration and the subsequent creation of an Atlantic World marked the earliest phase of globalization, in which previously isolated groups—Africans, Native Americans, and Europeans—first came into contact with each other, sometimes with disastrous results. American Indians who confronted the newcomers from Europe suffered unprecedented losses of life, however, as previously unknown diseases sliced through their populations. They also were victims of the arrogance of the Europeans, who viewed themselves as uncontested masters of the New World, sent by God to bring Christianity to the “Indians.”

West Africa, a diverse and culturally rich area, soon entered the stage as other nations exploited its slave trade and brought its peoples to the New World in chains. Although Europeans would come to dominate the New World, they could not have done so without the slave labor of Africans and the exploitation of indigenous peoples.

The woodcut shows King Ferdinand of Spain as a crowned, robed ruler seated on a throne, surrounded by land and sea. He points across the Atlantic, where Columbus lands with three large ships. A large group of Indians is shown on the shore.

European Expansion: After Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World, he sent letters home to Spain describing the wonders he beheld. These letters were quickly circulated throughout Europe and translated into Italian, German, and Latin. This woodcut is from the first Italian verse translation of the letter Columbus sent to the Spanish court after his first voyage, Lettera delle isole novamente trovata by Giuliano Dati.