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11. Modern World – 1500 AD Onwards

•    The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe.
•    There is a consensus that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century.
•    The Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term "Renaissance man".
•    The word Renaissance has also been extended to other historical and cultural movements, such as the Carolingian Renaissance and the Renaissance of the 12th century.

•    The impact of the Renaissance varied across the continent; countries that were predominantly Catholic or Protestant experienced the Renaissance differently compared to areas where the Orthodox Church was dominant as reflecting on its culture, as well as those areas of Europe under Islamic rule.
•    The creation of the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg encouraged authors to write in the local vernacular rather than in Greek or Latin classical languages, widening the reading audience and promoting the spread of Renaissance ideas.

Great Literature of Renaissance Period

•    Italian- Dante (Divine Comedy); Petrarch (Founder of Humanism and known as Father of Humanism); Boccacio (Decameron); Machiavelli (The Prince)

•    Spanish- Cervantes (Don Quixote)

•    Portuguese – Cameos (The Lusiad)

•    Dutch – Erasmus (In the praise of Folly)

•    French – Rebelais (Pantagruel and Gargantua); Montaigne (Essais)

•    German – Thomas Kempis (The Imitation of Christ)

•    English – Chaucer (Canterbury Tales); Spenser (The Faerie Queen); Bacon (The Advancement of Learning); Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, As you like it, Julies Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth); Thomas More (Utopia)


•    The Europe witnessed another major change in 16th century called Reformation.
•    The Martin Luther in Witenburg, Germany started it in 1517 by public protesting against the sale of letters of Indulgence.
•    Indulgence- The letters which remitted punishments of the sinners who brought them and which began to be considered as passports to heaven.
•    It was a revolt against the control of conscience by the priest.
•    Thanks to the inborn spirit of revolt against the Catholic Church, Henry VIII of England could take the bold step of breaking away from the papacy, i.e. authority of the pope on the issue of his first divorce in 1534. Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church when the Pope would not give him permission to divorce his wife Catherine.
•    With breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church by such leaders as Martin Luther of Germany, Calvin of Switzerland western Europe was spilt between Catholic and Protestant countries, a condition which developed enmities of the fiercest nature.
•    The movement which started within the Catholic Church to counter the effects of the Protestant Reformation was known as Counter Reformation Movement.

Geographical Discoveries and Trade

•    The great discoveries at the end of the 15th and 16th centuries were the culmination
•    of a long process of retention of geographic knowledge acquisition and development of
•    Communication, especially nautical technology.

•    They constructed boats, like the caravel and the galleon,1 which were partly manned by rowers and partly driven by wind force that enabled them to weather the dangerous sea voyages.

•    They had good maps of the coasts most frequented by navigators as a result of the development of cartography.

•    Curiosity to confirm whether the earth was round, as Pythagoras had affirmed in the 1st
•    century, fostered voyages of exploration.

•    Plato as Aristotle had also supported the idea that the earth was round in the 4th Century B.C. Eratosthenes of Alexandria had attempted a calculation of the Earth’s circumference in an ingenious way with considerable precision.

•    Many geographers of the 15th century, such as Pierre d'Ailly, in his imago Mundi (1410), maintained with weighty arguments that the Earth was round.

•    Christopher Columbus read it and was convinced once more by these works.

•    Legendary opinions of what lay across the seas, such as that of Presta John, trips by Marco Polo of Venice to China, from 1271 to 1295, and his records, stimulated the idea of voyages to spread the faith and conquer new economic resources.

•    At the beginning, only Venice seemed able to finance these kind of trips due to their rich spice trade agreements with the Arabs.

•    Therefore, “by God, gold and glory” (or curiosity), the European began to venture into
•    the strange seas.

•    Among the first expeditions of discovery was that organized by Prince Henry (1394 - 1460) theNavigator of Portugal.

•    A navigation school for sailors, navigators and geographers was founded.

•    In 1457, Cape Verde and the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia were discovered.

•    In 1487, Bartholomew Diaz navigated the coast of Africa and King Juan
•    II financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery to the “West Indies”.
•    With the Treaty of Tordesillas, in 1494, a new line demarcating the newly discovered
•    lands between Portugal and Spain was drawn.

•    Christopher Columbus found the sea route to the west that lead to the Malaysian peninsula.

•    Pedro Alvarez Cabral, navigator to the service of Portugal, went to the Brazilian coast; and verified that it fell within the sphere of Lusitanian (Portuguese) influence in agreement with the Treaty of Tordesillas.

•    The Florentine, Americo Vespucci, took part in a subsequent Portuguese expedition, in
•    1501-1502, and conferred his name, America, to the new world.

•    Fernando Magallanes, a Portuguese who happened to be at the service of Spain, found the Philippines for them. Spain later sold the Philippines to Portugal for 350,000 ducats of Gold.

•    In 1496 England sent John Cabot on his way in search of a route to India. He went
•    straight to the North American coast and conquered much of it for England. Later, his
•    son Sebastian together with Martin Frobisher, Henry Hudson and William Baffin
•    discovered and took possession of Newfoundland, Hudson Bay and the bay of Baffin.
•    This last one gave the English an opportunity to dispute the Canadian territory with
•    France. The discoveries were disappointing though because they did not open a way to
•    the Eastern trade routes.

•    As a result of their envy of the lucrative Spanish and Portuguese spice and luxury
•    goods trade with the East, the British, Dutch and French decided to use, Piracy, military
•    force, or pure competition with the Spanish and the Portuguese.

•    The Englishman, JohnHawkins, started trade in slaves between the coast of Guinea and the Spanish Caribbean colonies, his henchman, Sir Francis Drake, a pirate, successfully accosted Spanish fleets loaded with Spices to the joy of “good queen Bess” – Queen Isabel of England.

•    Thomas Cavendish pursued the Spanish galleons all along their Caribbean possessions thereby giving him a fortune in the Pacific. Nevertheless, high sea piracy was a precarious business and in the best of cases only resulted in retaliation, the most famous of which was the Spanish Navy (the Spanish Armanda) retaliation in 1588.

•    As a consequence, they turned to the third possibility of entering the colonial boundaries by force, going directly to the source of the spice supply in the East.

•    Frustrated by the British blockade of their ships from the Eastern trade route, the Dutch fleet under the command of Cornelis van Houtman, went to Java in 1595 opening a way to the East for them.

•    The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 and a most efficient colonial administrator of this company, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, prevailed in Batavia, Java and the Moluccas. Abel Janszoon Tasman, discovered Tasmania and New
•    Zealand and demonstrated that Australia was an island. They expelled the Portuguesefrom Malay in 1641 and from Ceylon 1638-1658.

•    The first European to reach the cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, who named it the "Cape of Storms".

•    It was later renamed by John II of Portugal as "Cape of Good Hope" because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East.

Timeline of Geographic History

This is a compilation of key dates in the history of geography and the world.

  • 2300 BCE    The first city map was created in stone for Lagash, Mesopotamia
  • 450    Herodotus compiled a map of the known world
  • 334    Alexander the Great began conquring the Middle East and India
  • 240    Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth
  • 45    Julian calendar established
  • 20 CE    Strabo published his 17 volume Geography
  • 77    Pliny the Elder wrote his encyclopedia of geography
  • 79    Mount Vesuvius erupted and Pompeii was destroyed
  • 150    Ptolmey published his Geography and included a map of the world with places labeled with a coordinate grid system
  • 271    The magnetic compass was in use in China
  • 326    Helena, Constantine's mother, traveled to the Holy Land to identify places sacred to Christianity
  • 476    The Fall of Rome
  • 632    Muhammed died and Muslim expansion began
  • 982    Eric the Red reached Baffin Island in North America
  • 995    Leif Ericson established a colony in Newfoundland
  • 1095    The first Crusade began
  • 1154    Edrisi's book of world geography was published
  • 1170    The letter from Prester John, asking for help against infidels, "arrived" at the Pope
  • 1271    Marco Polo headed for China
  • 1325    Tenochtitlan founded by Aztecs
  • 1347    Bubonic Plague, "Black Death," in Europe, 30 million die
  • 1377    ibn-Khaldun completed his history of the world
  • 1405-1433    China ruled the seas through the seven voyages of Cheng Ho's Treasure Fleet
  • 1410    A translation of Ptolmey's Geography was published in Europe
  • 1418    Prince Henry the Navigator established the Sagres research institute
  • 1455    Gutenberg invents the printing press
  • 1492    Columbus reached the West Indies
  • 1494    Treaty of Tordesillas established Spanish and Portuguese control over new discoveries
  • 1500    Cabral discovered Brazil
  • 1505    Portugal established trading posts in East Africa
  • 1517    Martin Luther begins Protestant Reformation
  • 1519    Magellan began his circumnavigation of the earth
  • 1543    Copernicus published his On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres
  • 1569    Mercator created his map
  • 1582    Gregorian calendar established
  • 1602    The Dutch East India company was founded
  • 1620    Pilgrims landed in New England
  • 1675    The Royal Observatory was established at Greenwich, England
  • 1714    The British government offered a 20,000 pound reward to the person who could accurately determine longitude at sea
  • 1761    John Harrison's chronometer was perfected, allowing determination of longitude at sea
  • 1768-1779    James Cook explored the earth
  • 1769    Alexander von Humboldt was born
  • 1776    British colonies in America declare independence
  • 1779    Carl Ritter was born
  • 1788    Hutton's theory of uniformitarianism was introduced ("no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end")
  • 1789    French Revolution
  • 1798    Thomas Malthus' first essay on population
  • 1803    Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase
  • 1804-1806    Lewis and Clark explored the western United States
  • 1817    The first volume of Ritter's Die Erkunde was published
  • 1821    Simon Bolivar gains independence for Venezuela, sparking widespread independence in South America
  • 1825    Erie Canal complete
  • 1830    The Royal Geographical Society was formed in London
  •     Lyell published his Principles of Geology
  • 1831    Charles Darwin began his travels
  • 1840    The Geological Survey of Canada was established
  • 1845    The first volume of von Humboldt's Kosmos was published
  • 1848    Gold was discovered in Calfornia
  • 1850    The first use of the camera for mapping takes place in France
  •     William Morris Davis was born
  • 1851    The American Geographical Society was formed
  • 1855    Maury's The Physical Geography of the Sea was published
  • 1859    von Humboldt and Ritter died
  • 1864    George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature was published
  • 1867    The USGS was established
  • 1869    Japan opened to western influence and trade
  •     Transcontinental railroad established in United States
  •     The Suez Canal opened
  • 1874    The first Department of Geography was established in Germany (the Prussian government established a Chair of Geography in every Prussian university)
  • 1884-1885    Berlin Conference divides Africa among European colonial powers
  • 1888    The National Geographic Society was formed
  • 1895    The first Times Atlas of the World was published
  • 1903    University of Chicago established first American Department of Geography
  • 1904    The Association of American Geographers was established
  •     Mackinder proposed his Heartland Theory
  • 1909    Peary reached the North Pole
  • 1911    Amundsen reached the South Pole
  • 1912    Wegner proposed his theory of continental drift
  • 1913    Greenwich is accepted as 0° longitude
  • 1914-1918    World War I
  • 1914    The Panama Canal opened
  • 1922    The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established
  • 1923-1957    Carl O. Sauer taught at the University of California, Berkeley
  • 1931    Commonwealth of Nations founded
  • 1933    Walter Christaller introduces Central Place Theory
  • 1934    William Morris Davis died
  • 1939-1945    World War II
  • 1945    The United Nations was founded
  • 1946    First Levittown
  • 1949    Peoples Republic of China formed
  • 1953    Hillary and Norgay reached the top of Mount Everest
  • 1957-1958    The International Geophysical Year
  • 1961    Antarctic Treaty established
  • 1969    Humans land on the moon
  • 1970    The first Earth Day
  • 1979    China established One-Child rule
  • 1984    Hole in Ozone Layer was first observed
  • 1989    Berlin Wall tumbled down
  • 1990    Reunification of Germany
  • 1991    The end of the USSR and Yugoslavia
  •     Persian Gulf War
  • 1992    The end of the Cold War
  • 1994    Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) opened, linking Great Britain to Europe
  • 1997    Hong Kong returned to China
  • 1999    Euro established as currency in 11 European countries
  •     Macau returned to China
  • 2000    U.S. President Clinton orders GPS Selective Availability turned off, instantly making GPS more accurate
  • 2001    New millenium began
  •     Southern Ocean established by the International Hydrographic Organization
  • 2002    East Timor gains independence.


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