In The Wake Of Columbus Essay Research

In The Wake Of Columbus Essay, Research Paper

Europe and Unintended Consequences

Present-day historians have shed the light of modern understanding to issues that plagued peoples of the past. One example of this can easily be seen in the ideals popularized in Europe from the late fifteenth to the mid seventeenth centuries regarding the Americas and its inhabitants. The Americas had a discernable impact upon Europe, and vice versa; though neither group initially set out to change the world that was the unforeseen and wholly "unintended consequence" of discovery. The discovery of the Americas and its inhabitants undoubtedly lead to changes in the intellectual, political and economic life in Europe.

The shift of intellectual thought was a slow, gradual process that continued far after the initial discovery of the Americas. The mere discovery of a land that had previously been unknown to most of the world was significant in and of itself, but the discovery of the peoples who inhabited the land was a revelation. Europeans had never before been exposed to such a diversity of peoples.

The Indians were unique and new to the Europeans. Initially they were plagued with curiosity about these newfound peoples. With exploration of these new lands and close study of these "new" people came disgust-for some were convinced that the Indians were inferior and incapable of reasonable thought. This view enhanced the idea that Indians were not even human-some tribes practiced human sacrifice. Thus a debate on the humanity of the Indians was waged. In 1537 Pope Paul III proclaimed that Native Americans were indeed human, though the extent of their humanity was still in conflict (62).

Printing was the main manner in which information and ideas regarding the new world were spread-the impact the Americas had on Europe would have been hampered without printing (65). There emerged many different writers during this time, and through them a few discernable beliefs. Some proclaimed a Golden Age, in which the daily life of Indians were romanticized into lazy freedom. Others used their writings to wage an attack against their political adversaries-Protestants wrote about the atrocities of the Catholic Spaniards, etc. A common theme among the writers of the time was personal gain.

Political changes during the time of discovery and exploration were essential to the success or failure of any nation involved in these ventures. Early on the Spanish (Ferdinand and Isabella) sought support of the pope, Alexander VI, to protect any possible discovery that Columbus and subsequent explorers would make on behalf of Spain. Portugal was a close ally of Spain; but greed was the driving factor of their political friendship. France waged war against Spain and Portugal, and piracy reigned on the open seas. For a significant portion of time there was "no peace west of the line". Politics was not solely based upon policies in regard to the Americas, but it did amount to a substantial portion of political concern during this time. Laws were frequently passed as a basis of proper treatment of the Indians, however they were more frequently ignored than they were adhered to. Though Pope Paul III proclaimed the humanity of the Indians the extent of their humanity was still debated. This is a classic example of the circular and non-effectual power the Pope retained.

The economic change that occurred in European countries as a result of the discovery of the Americas is phenomenal. Gold, silver and other precious metals stimulated European economy. The exploration and eventual exploitation of plants and animals was an important commodity in Europe. They provided food, (money from production) and medicine that had previously been unheard of. Some of the major contributions were: tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes and pineapples. All of which were said to possess a particular medicinal aid-many of which have been proved false by modern science.

In setting out to find the shortest trade route to India and its spices the Spaniards accidentally, and subsequently, made a tremendous discovery-the Americas. This is what has been called an "unintended consequence" (107). This discovery, in the centuries that passed after, changed the traditional ways of doing business, the mold of civilization, ideas of humanity and even the nature of European diet. A new way of life was introduced to Europe via the Americas. The extent of the impact of this discovery is still being debated, though one can easily ascertain that discovery stimulated a vast array of changes to European life in the centuries that followed.


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