pacomartin
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April 23rd, 2011 at 10:29:53 AM permalink
In 1271 Marco Polo made a journey of over 15000 miles in a period of 24 years. For what it is worth that is an average of 1.71 miles per day (a distance easily walked in an hour).

About 140 years after Marco Polo returned, the discovery of a passable route around Cape Bojador in Africa, in 1434, by the Portuguese mariner Gil Eanes was a major breakthrough for European explorers and traders en route to Africa and later to India.

In 1492 the decision to fund Columbus was made as an almost pure act of desperation, as the Spanish royal couple knew that Portugal had discovered the Cape of Good Hope, and would control a sea route to Asia via the tip of Africa inside 20 years.

Columbus himself undertook the voyage in the vastly mistaken belief that Japan was 2000 nautical miles from the Canary Islands. Based on all known information at the time, he should have starved to death at sea.

Why do you think Europeans were the group to discover the world? I hear a lot of answers ranging from racial superiority, to a culture that had to struggle with rough winters and developed fast, to simple luck.


odiousgambit
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April 23rd, 2011 at 10:49:26 AM permalink
There is a certain argument that they didnt discover the world [usually the context is about discovering the Americas]

of course, the America's were already populated. And Columbus's feats can be minimized in that we now know the Vikings had almost surely been to Newfoundland already.

I don't exactly subscribe to these arguments, in that explorations of a society without the written word are clearly of less significance. It is almost like discovering something but "nobody" knew it [outside the small group itself].

So we might reconstruct your question. There were other civilizations, how did it come about that this one discovered the others and not vice versa?

Not sure, but for one thing the European military knowledge had really grown to a superiority over any groups still adhering to stone age traditions. I think someone like Columbus anyway had that sort of confidence. I don't suppose that helped Marco Polo.
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AZDuffman
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:16:02 AM permalink
I put a lot of it to domestication of animals in greater numbers. Europeans had horses to ride, mules to carry loads, and cows, chicken, and pigs to get a better balanced diet. Indians, OTOH, were far more likely to be hunter-gatherers. While they grew corn, Indians didn't use it for anumal feed. When you have to hunt more to get more of your food that leaves less time available to science and research. The scientific superiority of Europe came as a result.
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Nareed
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:21:01 AM permalink
Quote: pacomartin

Columbus himself undertook the voyage in the vastly mistaken belief that Japan was 2000 nautical miles from the Canary Islands. Based on all known information at the time, he should have starved to death at sea.



Yeah. columbus has to rank as the luckiest explorer in history. By every knwon fact in europe at the time, he should have been lost at sea after a long, fruitless voyage. Instead he found a whole continent. what are the odds of that? :P

Seriously, you can lay the credit, or the blame according to your politics, squarely on the Roman Empire. Rome had appetites both for conquest and trade, it also Romanized every region it conquered. So even over a millennia after its fall, Rome still influenced events (hell, it still does today). The European powers in the age of discovery were following their Roman roots to find avenues of trade in order to come out on top. At the time these powers aheppened to be Spain and Portugal, with Britain aided by her long-standing sea-faring tradition also in the race.
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ahiromu
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:33:22 AM permalink
Before capitalism and free trade ruled Western thought there was an economic theory called Mercantilism. Generally speaking (sorry my history is a little bit rusty) this idea is that a given state/country is only as powerful as the resources that it controls and therefore exploring/conquering in an imperialistic fashion was the best way to strengthen yourself in the world.
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AZDuffman
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:51:39 AM permalink
Quote: ahiromu

Before capitalism and free trade ruled Western thought there was an economic theory called Mercantilism. Generally speaking (sorry my history is a little bit rusty) this idea is that a given state/country is only as powerful as the resources that it controls and therefore exploring/conquering in an imperialistic fashion was the best way to strengthen yourself in the world.



That is part of mercantilism. More speciffically it states that the "mother country" must be the manufacturing center and luxury goods should be exported rather than consumed locally. Colonies are not needed per se, but finished good imports should be minimized and the same exports maximized.

The best example of mercantilism in a modern economy today is China.
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ahiromu
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April 23rd, 2011 at 12:13:01 PM permalink
Regardless, it was pivotal in Western expansion. I recently watched a british show "Civilization is the West of History 1 of 6 Competition" - I downloaded it so the title might not be exactly right. Although the show kind of pissed me off politically/ideologically, it's pretty good in taking an objective view of why the West dominated the world for centuries even though their population was at best 20% of the world's.
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AZDuffman
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April 23rd, 2011 at 12:17:28 PM permalink
Quote: ahiromu

Regardless, it was pivotal in Western expansion. I recently watched a british show "Civilization is the West of History 1 of 6 Competition" - I downloaded it so the title might not be exactly right. Although the show kind of pissed me off politically/ideologically, it's pretty good in taking an objective view of why the West dominated the world for centuries even though their population was at best 20% of the world's.



Sounds interesting, was it a free download? I had a modern workd history (1900-date) back in high school and in the intro it talked about how "the east" was the dominating part of the wold. At the end of the dark ages the west took over and never looked back. I fear it is shifting back lately, the western world is becoming too risk adverse.
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FleaStiff
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April 23rd, 2011 at 12:55:02 PM permalink
Its a question of economic freedom together with a bit of license regarding the word discover. We celebrate Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery but in reality they followed the known routes of existing traders. Its the same thing with the spice trade. The wealth was enormous as well as the challenges but there were incentives in place to take chances. One Chinese emperor is said to have thought the New Bedford must be a great and powerful place because so many ships from there came to China. The Chinese system was to grant an imperial monopoly on ship building and tax everyone. The Emperor could not comprehend the freedom to simply build a ship because you wanted to do so and go sailing off. Its often similar in South America to this day wherein there is no general corporation law but a limited manner to obtain a charter and considerable rigamarole to the formation of economic ventures.

Yes, Marco Polo's travels were lengthy and dangerous. All travel was dangerous. Caravans in the trackless deserts of the Middle East or merchants in Europe faced danger at all times. Homer's Odessey is a treatise on geography and seamanship. Greek amphorae were designed to be stowed aboard ships. Trade existed often before any formal discoveries by the Europeans.
zippyboy
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April 23rd, 2011 at 12:59:01 PM permalink
China was the dominant maritime force in the world 100 years before Columbus. China had 400-foot ocean-worthy vessels compared to the 85-foot boats Columbus used and had regularly made trips to Australia and east to Africa. However, instead of exploring outward towards the world, in the mid-1300's, the Ming Dynasty decided to turn China's resources inward thus closing themselves off to foreign interests, and constructed the Great Wall and other projects. Had the Chinese "discovered" North America in 1400, and then spread out from the west coast, rather than Europeans spreading out from the East coast 200 years later, America would've evolved into a vastly different place. China likely would've plundered the California forests to build more boats to bring more Chinese, then discovered the gold 300 years before white folks did, and we'd all be speaking Mandarin right now.
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pacomartin
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April 23rd, 2011 at 3:56:25 PM permalink
Quote: zippyboy

China was the dominant maritime force in the world 100 years before Columbus. China had 400-foot ocean-worthy vessels compared to the 85-foot boats Columbus used and had regularly made trips to Australia and east to Africa. However, instead of exploring outward towards the world, in the mid-1300's, the Ming Dynasty decided to turn China's resources inward thus closing themselves off to foreign interests, and constructed the Great Wall and other projects. Had the Chinese "discovered" North America in 1400, and then spread out from the west coast, rather than Europeans spreading out from the East coast 200 years later, America would've evolved into a vastly different place. China likely would've plundered the California forests to build more boats to bring more Chinese, then discovered the gold 300 years before white folks did, and we'd all be speaking Mandarin right now.



Did china really have 400' vessels that long ago? The Victoria, the first ship to sail 42,000 miles and circumnavigate the globe was only 85 tons, and had a crew of 43. I doubt that it was over 70'. Those Chinese vessels would probably have a displacement of well over 700 tons.



It is really shocking that the Chinese didn't discover transcontinental travel? I heard they distrusted their greatest mariners who were eunuchs.


The Mary Rose, the first ship of the English Navy under Henry VIII, launched in July 1511 was about 500 tons.
The Golden Hind, the ship of Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the world was only 120' and 300 tons.
Wavy70
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April 23rd, 2011 at 9:00:24 PM permalink
Marco Polo followed the trail of Arab traders. Europeans may have been better at documentation.
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zippyboy
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April 23rd, 2011 at 9:22:38 PM permalink
I read about that a couple years ago in What If? 2, Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, a collection of fascinating essays detailing what the world could be like had major historical events turned out differently. Such as, what if Cortéz hadn't destroyed the Aztecs with wars and smallpox back in the early 1500's? Mexico's population would've been millions stronger, and would've grown to the point the fledgling USA would NEVER have been able to take Texas away from it 300 years later.

And then I watched something similar on History Channel just last week about all the various countries who had set foot on our soil prior to Columbus, it's just that Columbus stuck around longer and brought his friends with him later. But a quick search turned up this site with a loose description about the boats themselves.
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pacomartin
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April 23rd, 2011 at 10:35:38 PM permalink
Quote: zippyboy

I read about that a couple years ago in What If? 2, Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, a collection of fascinating essays detailing what the world could be like had major historical events turned out differently. Such as, what if Cortéz hadn't destroyed the Aztecs with wars and smallpox back in the early 1500's? Mexico's population would've been millions stronger, and would've grown to the point the fledgling USA would NEVER have been able to take Texas away from it 300 years later.



Europeans secret weapon; pigs and cows, sheep and goats, domestic animals. Europeans grew up in intimate contact with domestic animals, breathing in their germs, drinking the germs in their milk, and it was from the germs of domestic animals that the killer diseases of humans evolved, for example our ‘flu evolved from a disease of pigs transmitted via chickens and ducks. We acquired measles from cattle; we acquired smallpox from domestic animals, so that these worst killers of human people were a legacy of 10,000 years of contact with our beloved domestic animals.

During the Middle Ages, infectious diseases swept through Europe and claimed millions of lives. But paradoxically, repeated epidemics made Europeans more resilient. In each outbreak, there were always some people who were genetically better able to fight off the virus. These people were more likely to survive and have children. In the process, they’d pass on their genetic resistance. Over centuries, whole populations acquired some degree of protection against the spread of diseases like smallpox – a protection the people of the new world never had. Once smallpox was taken to the New World there was no natural immunity, and so therefore the number of people who could both contract the disease and then spread it, and the number of people to receive it once it had spread, was much higher. More people would die, and more people would be susceptible to catch it in the first place. It would spread rapidly throughout the population, and the death toll would be enormous.

Why hadn’t Native Americans encountered smallpox before? And why didn’t they have any deadly diseases of their own to pass on to the Spaniards? It’s simply because they didn’t have the same history of contact with farm animals. The Incas had llamas, but llamas aren’t like European cows and sheep. They’re not milked, they’re not kept in large herds, and they don’t live in barns and huts alongside humans. There was no significant exchange of germs between llamas and people.

Aside from the llama, all the large farm animals were native to Eurasia and North Africa. None was ever domesticated in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Australia. As a result, the worst epidemic diseases were also native to Eurasia and North Africa, and were then spread around the world with deadly effect. There’s been a long debate about the number of indigenous people who died in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Some scholars think there may have been a population of 20 million Native Americans, and the vast majority, perhaps 95%, were killed by Old World diseases. A continent virtually emptied of its people.
EvenBob
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:17:13 PM permalink
Quote: pacomartin



Europeans secret weapon; pigs and cows, sheep and goats, domestic animals. Europeans grew up in intimate contact with domestic animals, breathing in their germs, drinking the germs in their milk, and it was from the germs of domestic animals that the killer diseases of humans evolved, .



In the Dark Ages, farm animals lived in the houses with the people in the winter, one big happy family. Your animals were your only wealth and at night you didn't want them freezing to death or getting stolen.
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sunrise089
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April 23rd, 2011 at 11:29:53 PM permalink
The overall answer is very complex and there may not really be a consensus right answer. I think it's a testament to the quality of this site that despite the gambling focus this thread is so good.

That said, the quickest answer in my opinion is a) the book Germs, Guns, and Steel by Jared Diamond and b) a historical coincidence that China turned its back on the world at the most opportune time for the West.
FleaStiff
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April 24th, 2011 at 2:22:23 AM permalink
I thought oriental lifestyles showed more interspecies waste transfer. And most plagues came out of the plains of Asia anyway.

European explorers were often diseased upon arrival at foreign shores. All isolated populations tend to be vulnerable to newly introduced pathogens. Natives in the Amazon, American "Indians", any group. Even the various Highland regiments when mobilized would have disease outbreaks in training depots despite the healthy lifestyles in remote areas.

The waves of cholera that swept thru the USA were devestating.
AZDuffman
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April 24th, 2011 at 6:27:12 AM permalink
Quote:


During the Middle Ages, infectious diseases swept through Europe and claimed millions of lives. But paradoxically, repeated epidemics made Europeans more resilient. In each outbreak, there were always some people who were genetically better able to fight off the virus. These people were more likely to survive and have children. In the process, they’d pass on their genetic resistance. Over centuries, whole populations acquired some degree of protection against the spread of diseases like smallpox – a protection the people of the new world never had. Once smallpox was taken to the New World there was no natural immunity, and so therefore the number of people who could both contract the disease and then spread it, and the number of people to receive it once it had spread, was much higher. More people would die, and more people would be susceptible to catch it in the first place. It would spread rapidly throughout the population, and the death toll would be enormous.



I have seen or read that some parts of the Indian Population had mortality rates of 90% from smallpox, manyh inland that had never seen a European Person. This was in the late 1500s to early 1600s. For this reason the Indians had already lost the battle, 200+ years before the last free tribes would surrender just before 1900.
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ItsCalledSoccer
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April 24th, 2011 at 8:28:56 AM permalink
Quote: zippyboy

I read about that a couple years ago in What If? 2, Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, a collection of fascinating essays detailing what the world could be like had major historical events turned out differently. Such as, what if Cortéz hadn't destroyed the Aztecs with wars and smallpox back in the early 1500's? Mexico's population would've been millions stronger, and would've grown to the point the fledgling USA would NEVER have been able to take Texas away from it 300 years later.

And then I watched something similar on History Channel just last week about all the various countries who had set foot on our soil prior to Columbus, it's just that Columbus stuck around longer and brought his friends with him later. But a quick search turned up this site with a loose description about the boats themselves.



Not to be nitpicky, but Texas took itself away in 1836. The then-independent nation later joined the union in 1845.

But yeah, still none of that might not have happened had Cortez not destroyed the Aztecs, and the eventual annexation of the territory into the USA was probably inevitable. But let's not ignore what really happened just because it *might* have happened differently! ;)
zippyboy
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April 24th, 2011 at 8:51:31 AM permalink
You are absolutely correct, sir. I grew up in Austin and yes, I DO know Texas history. I worded it all wrong. Point is, Mexico's added population would've fought back and resistance would've been futile.
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ItsCalledSoccer
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April 24th, 2011 at 9:27:59 AM permalink
Quote: zippyboy

You are absolutely correct, sir. I grew up in Austin and yes, I DO know Texas history. I worded it all wrong. Point is, Mexico's added population would've fought back and resistance would've been futile.



Re-thinking history is always a little weird because you never really know how much to rethink. For example, had Cortez not destroyed the Aztecs and began the European-ization of Mexico, the Mexican nation might never have coagulated, and the territory might now be part of the USA. I mean, no doubt the Aztecs would have fought hard, but is there any reason to think they would have had more success against American expansion than, say, the Apaches or the Sioux?
pacomartin
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April 24th, 2011 at 11:13:45 AM permalink
Quote: ItsCalledSoccer

Re-thinking history is always a little weird because you never really know how much to rethink. For example, had Cortez not destroyed the Aztecs and began the European-ization of Mexico, the Mexican nation might never have coagulated, and the territory might now be part of the USA. I mean, no doubt the Aztecs would have fought hard, but is there any reason to think they would have had more success against American expansion than, say, the Apaches or the Sioux?



It's an interesting exercise anyway. Who would have thought that the European's relationship to farm animals would be there major reason for world domination.

The Apaches and Sioux were not nearly the kind of civilization as that of the Mexica. Tenochtitlan (present day Mexico City) was one of the greatest cities in the world. There were possibly 2 to 3 times the population in the Aztec empire than in Spain. The engineering projects that they had accomplished were greater than that of the Spaniards.

If the population of Mexico was 20 million in 1520 at the conquest, there is no absolute way to guess what it would have been in 1850 if the indigenous people had not been reduced to a few million by 1600. There is no reason to think that sub-saharan Africa grew in population during this period. But by the time of the Mexican-American war in 1846, the US had about 20 million people, and Mexico may have had about 7.5 million. Had Mexico grown by even 0.2% per year its population would be close to 40 million. Asia and Europe had at least doubled in that time frame.

With a sufficient population of Mexicans Santa Anna may have never invited the gringos to come and live in Tejas to form a buffer against the hostile Commanche's and Apaches.

The famous image of Cortez and his mistress, Malinche,by José Clemente Orozco (died 1949) captures the conflict. A sexual union that began the "mixed race" that forms the majority of Mexico today. A mix of the two peoples that was part slavery, domination, love, and hatred. It didn't happen in northern America.
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