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Chapter 12: The Worlds of the Fifteenth Century
I. The Shapes of Human Communities
A. Paleolithic Persistence: Australia and North America
1. Gatherers and hunters have a history, too
2. Manipulation of the environment and trade
3. “Complex” or “affluent” gatherers and hunters
B. Agricultural Village Societies: The Igbo and the Iroquois
1. Egalitarian kinship societies without state systems
2. “The Igbo have no king” but they did trade
3. Great Law of Peace of the Five Nations
C. Pastoral Peoples: Central Asia and West Africa
1. Timur/Tamerlame (d. 1405)
2. Samarkand
3. Fulbe
II. Civilizations of the Fifteenth Century: Comparing China and Europe
A. Ming Dynasty China
1. Emperor Yongle (r. 1402–1422)
2. Confucianism and anti-Mongol policies
3. Economic boom
4. Zheng He’s voyages (1405–1433)
B. European Comparisons: State Building and Cultural Renewal
1. Smaller states in constant conflict
2. Renaissance humanism
C. European Comparisons: Maritime Voyaging
1. Portugal takes the lead after 1415
2. Smaller ships and fleets than the Chinese
3. Motives, goals, and support
III. Civilizations of the Fifteenth Century: The Islamic World
A. In the Islamic Heartland: The Ottoman and Safavid Empires
1. Ottoman size, strength, and longevity
2. 1453: Turkish threat to Europe
3. Shia Safavids versus Sunni Ottomans
B. On the Frontiers of Islam: The Songhay and Mughal Empires
1. Islam and the trans-Sahara trade
2. Political unity and religious diversity in India
3. Muslim merchants and Sufi mystics in Southeast Asia
4. Malacca
IV. Civilizations of the Fifteenth Century: The Americas
A. The Aztec Empire
1. Mexica
2. Tenochtitlán
3. Conquest state and market centers
4. Tlacaelel (1398–1480) and ideology of human sacrifice
B. The Inca Empire
1. 2,500 miles and 10,000,000 subjects
2. State bureaucracy, resettlement, and Quechua
3. Mita
4. Gender parallelism but not gender equality
V. Webs of Connection
A. Empires
B. Religion
C. Long-established and long-distance trade
D. Increase in maritime trade
VI. A Preview of Coming Attractions: Looking Ahead to the Modern Era, 1500–2012
A. Extensive trade but not yet truly global
B. Coming linkage of Afro-Eurasia, the Americas, and Oceania
C. Radical change with industrialization
D. Demographic explosion
E. Urbanized, commercialized, and literate
F. Revolution of modernity
G. Rise of Europe and resistance to Europe
VII. Reflections: What If? Chance and Contingency in World History
A. Coincidence, chance, and individual decisions
B. Death of Great Khan Ogodei, 1241?
C. Scuttling the Ming fleet, 1433?
D. Siege of Vienna, 1529?
E. Insightful alternatives
Key Terms:
Aztec Empire
Seizure of Constantinople
European Renaissance
Fulbe:
Inca Empire
Iroquois League of Five Natiosn
Malacca
Ming dynasty
Mughal Empire
Nezahualcoyotl
Ottoman Empire
Paleolithic persistence
Pochteca
Safavid Empire
Songhay Empire
Timbuktu
Timur
Zheng He
Big Picture Questions:
1. Assume for the moment that the Chinese has not ended their maritime voyages in 1433. How might the subsequent
development of world history have been different? What value is there in asking this kind of “what if” or counterfactual
question?
2. How does this chapter distinguish among the various kinds of societies that compromised the world of the fifteenth century?
What other ways of categorizing the world’s people might work as well or better?
3. What common patterns might you notice across the world of the fifteenth century? And what variations in the historical
trajectories of various regions can you identify?
4. What would surprise a knowledgeable observer from 500 to 1000 CE, where he or she to make a global tour in the fifteenth
century? What features of that earlier world might still be recognizable?
Main Point Questions
1. What predictions about the future might a global traveler in the fifteenth century have reasonably made?
Review Questions:
1. In what ways did the gathering and hunting people of Australia differ from those of the northwest coast of North America?
2. What kinds of changes were transforming the societies of the West African Igbo and the North American Iroquois as the
fifteenth century unfolded?
3. What role did Central Asian and West African pastoralists play in their respective regions?
4. How would you define the major achievements of Ming dynasty China?
5. What political and cultural differences stand out in the histories of fifteenth-century China and Western Europe? What
similarities are apparent?
6. In what ways did European maritime voyaging in the fifteenth century differ from that of China? What accounts for these
differences?
7. What differences can you identify among the four major empires in the Islamic world of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?
8. In what ways do the civilizations of China, Europe and the Islamic world in the fifteenth century seem to be moving in the
same direction, and in what respects were they diverging from one another?
9. What distinguished the Aztec and Inca empires from each other?
10. How did Aztec religious thinking support the empire?
11. In what ways did Inca authorities seek to integrate their vast domains?
12. In what different ways did the peoples of the fifteenth century interact with one another?
Portrait Questions:
1. How might you describe the arc of Zheng He’s life? What were his major turning points? M
2. How did Zheng He’s castration shape his life?
Thematic Analysis:
Social (gender roles and
relations; family and kinship;
racial and ethnic constructions;
social and economic classes)
Political (political structures and
forms of governance; empires;
nations and nationalism; revolts
and revolutions; regional,
transregional, and global
structures and organization)
Interaction (demography and
disease; migration; patterns of
settlement; technology)
Culture (religion; belief systems,
philosophies, ideologies; science
and technology; arts and
architecture)
Economics (agricultural and
pastoral production; trade and
commerce; labor systems;
industrialization; capitalism and
socialism