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Periodization Sample Essay – European Exploration
Prompt: Evaluate the extent to which the European voyages of exploration can be
considered a turning point in world history. (Historical thinking skill: Periodization)
At the start of the fifteenth century, tension between Christian Europe and Islamic World
were high. When the Islamic Ottoman Empire sacked the Christian trade city of Constantinople
in 1453, European merchants began to search for a new route to Asia. This new desire to find a
sea route to Asia led to the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration and Christopher
Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas. Prior to Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492,
the peoples of the Americas lived in isolation from the Europeans, Africans, and Asians. The
European voyages of exploration can be seen as a turning point in world history because they
dramatically changed the global economy through the introduction of the Americas to the global
trade network and by establishing the dominance and power of European countries with their
colonies in the Americas.
Because of European exploration, the world entered into the first truly global economy
after 1492. The Old World of Europe, Africa, and Asia began trading with the New World of the
Americas for the first time in history. The Triangular Trade in which merchants traded finished
products like guns and kettles from Europe in exchange for African slaves who were then sent to
work on plantations in the Americas. The plantation crops like sugar, tobacco, coffee were then
sent back to Europe. The Triangular Trade network provided the European countries with a vast
amount of wealth, establishing the European colonizers as a dominant powerhouse on a global
scale. A trade network like the Triangular Trade that connected up both the Old and New World
did not exist prior to the European voyages of exploration.
The European voyages of exploration are a turning point in world history because of the
establishment of colonies in the Americas. The Spanish conquistadors spread diseases to the
Aztec and Incan Empires, killing off the majority of the population and placing the remaining
natives under Spanish control. The Spanish monarch also sent colonial officials over to rule over
the lands of Mexico and South America. The Portuguese colonized Brazil, while both the French
and British colonized parts of North America. These European countries became global
powerhouses as result of the wealth they acquired in from their colonies and the economic policy
of mercantilism in which the Europeans extracted resources from their colonies. The
establishment of colonies in the Americas solidified the dominance of Europe on a global scale
for future decades.
The European exploration and colonization of the Americas in the sixteenth century is
similar to the European Scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century. Both of these events
caused a turning point in history as they established the dominance of European powers over
other groups of people in the Americas and Africa. The division of Africa in the Berlin
Conference is another example of European extracting wealth from local peoples, creating a
system of economic dependency, and colonial rule in which the local peoples empires are
completely destroyed. Both examples of imperialism and colonization negatively changed the
lives of the people in the Americas and Africa. The European voyages of exploration caused a
turning point in world history through the start of a global trading system and the establishment
of colonies which provided European nations with wealth, power, and global dominance.