Travels of voyagers shaped European people’s vision of the world. Travelers brought not only spices, riches, and slaves to their motherlands. They also carried information that could not be proved by other people due to the lack of knowledge about other territories and peoples. Thus, for a long time, European explorers played a significant role in the processes of trade and the acquisition of new lands. Many travelers perceived people from discovered regions as “the Other,” portraying them as persons that need to learn about European lives and cultures (Wiesner-Hanks 239). Although these expeditions allowed all nations to learn more about each other’s cultures, the side of expeditors was always the dominant one as it did not participate in learning as much as in observing and teaching.
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The journeys before Columbus were led mostly by Portuguese explorers. Chinese expeditions were not as fortunate and, thus, were discontinued for a long time. Many voyages of Spanish and Portuguese travelers were built on the desire to acquire more territories and find new materials to gather, trade, or take away from other people. Moreover, many of them wanted to spread Christianity, which is why the ships often carried missionaries along with sailors and explorers. Various myths surrounded undiscovered territories. It is possible that this information inspired many individuals to go on expeditions as different stories painted the undiscovered lands full of vibrant landscapes with abundant recourses and strange persons and creatures (Wiesner-Hanks 246). Columbus was probably one of the people affected by these tales. His expeditions significantly changed the way people viewed traveling across the ocean as he proved that going to America from Portugal was possible. The following voyages continued to explore these territories and led to North and South America appearing on the maps of European scholars.
Matteo Ricci: Differences between Europe and China
Ricci, a Jesuit who participated in a mission in China, documented his travels, in which he compared people from Europe and China. According to his writings, Chinese administration varied significantly from the European one as it was more concentrated on philosophy and knowledge than military advances. He noted that these people were proud of their land and history and did not trust people from foreign countries under any circumstances. Moreover, Ricci outlined their respect for scholarly education, which is something that was expected of all government officials to have obtained. It is interesting that, while comparing Chinese authorities to the European ones, Ricci noted that the former did not possess any desire to participate in wars, while Europeans were “consumed with the idea of supreme domination” (Wiesner-Hanks 257). This description was a rare positive depiction of a foreign nation.
Europeans in Africa and America
At first, the impact of Europeans on Africa was not significant. However, the discovery of sugar changed the situation drastically as Europeans started to create sugar plantations, which needed workers. Indigenous people of other lands escaped capturers or could not survive the harsh conditions of these farms, so European farmers started to export slaves from Africa. This shift in labor changed the population of multiple continents as it brought Africans to the Americas. According to Wiesner-Hanks, at some point, more Africans than Europeans traveled across the Atlantic ocean (260). Europeans’ extensive traveling affected indigenous peoples of the Americas as well. Travelers brought diseases that killed many people who did not have any means of protection from new viruses. Spanish conquerors established their order in South America and brought a new culture, language, and religion to the land. All these changes influenced the rate of global connections and further encouraged exchanges of goods and slaves between continents.
Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2013.