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Courses / Modules / HIST2215 The Age of Discovery? c.1350-c.1650

The Age of Discovery? c.1350-c.1650

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 5
Module lead
Craig Lambert
Academic year

Module overview

The Age of Discovery explores the maritime expansion of Europe from c.1350-c.1650 through the experiences of four European states: Portugal; Spain; England and the Netherlands. It therefore covers the transition of these states from medieval polities to Renaissance powers. The history of the Age of Discovery is a story of two halves. The first part (c.1350-c.1580) is told through the endeavours of the Portuguese and the Spanish. Here we encounter famous names such as Henry the Navigator and Christopher Columbus. This first phase saw the rapid enrichment of Spain and the end of great civilisations such as the Aztecs and Incas. The second phase (c.1580-c.1650) witnessed the growth of England and the Netherlands as maritime powers. England focused on North America and the Indian Ocean; the former as an area of colonisation and the latter as a place to trade. The Dutch initially concentrated on the Indian Ocean and in doing so competed with the Portuguese and the English in this area.

The course begins by examining the reasons for European expansion and the tools and technology that permitted the ‘European Breakout’. Seminars will be supported by lectures and be based around discussions of primary and secondary sources. A study of contemporary works not only offers an opportunity to learn about the history of European maritime expansion over this period, but also provides encounters with people directly involved in all aspects of the Age of Discovery. Early Portuguese voyages along the West Africa coast and into the Indian Ocean will be examined through contemporary narrative accounts such as the writings of Gomes Eanes de Zuara and the anonymous author who described in vivid detail Vasco da Gama’s 1497-99 voyages to the Indian Ocean (A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497–1499, ed. E.G. Ravenstein). The Spanish voyages and the impact these had on indigenous cultures can be explored through the writings of Columbus (Felipe Fernández-Armesto: Columbus on Himself), Bartolomé de las Casas (A Short Account of the Destruction of Indies) and Bernal Diaz del Castillo (The True History of the Conquest of New Spain). English maritime expansion is told through a series of texts collected by Richard Hakluyt (Principal Navigations), which include contemporary narratives of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation in 1577 and Sir Martin Frobisher’s search for the Northwest Passage in 1578. The Dutch experience is partly told by Philippus Baldaeus and Dutch voyages to Asia can be explored through the use of an on-line database (Dutch-Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries).