Saturday, June 19, 2004

"The Age of Discovery"

"The Age of Discovery" Chapter-length article written in 1966 reviewing the literature on exploration. Includes references, by Wilcomb E. Washburn. This is a little dated but it is fun.

From the site:

"The Age of Discovery!" What visions the phrase conjures
up! Yet what confusion! The discovery of America by Columbus
reverently learned by schoolboys as one of the great and clearcut
accomplishments of history, is, when subjected to examination,
filled with uncertainty. What do we mean by "America"?
Columbus, until his dying day, believed that he had reached Asia.
Did he then discover "America" in the sense that we think of it?
Moreover, what do we mean by "discover"? Why do we honor
Columbus since the Norsemen reached the Western Hemisphere five
hundred years earlier? The number of plausible questions that
can be raised suggests the variety of possible interpretations
for every step of the process by which Europe expanded, not only
into the New World that we are accustomed to think of as its
particular concern, but into the old world of Asia that was, in
fact, its principal goal.

The expansion took place largely in the period of the
fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, although it cannot be
bound strictly at either end of the time scale. Movement outward
from the western European peninsula took varied forms and shapes
as it proceeded by land and by sea throughout Europe, Asia, and
America. The result was a vast increase in power, wealth, and
knowledge for the tiny nation states of western Europe. As a
process, European expansion must be studied as a single
phenomenon, however difficult it may be for one man to comprehend
the myriad events, languages, motives, and consequences which
characterize it. Its origins in classical and medieval times,
its remarkable achievements in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, and its impact during the more scientific and rational
eras of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries must all be
assessed in order to understand its significance. European
expansion was at once medieval and scientific, commercial and
spiritual, concerned with both East and West. This pamphlet,
therefore, will treat all the continents, oceans, and eras
involved in this Age of Discovery.

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