Exploring the world around us is something we are almost inclined to do from a very young age. Visiting more places, seeing, and experiencing other cultures than your own is a practice that enriches your life. However, everything comes at a cost, even our instinct to venture into the unknown. How did the ability of people to travel far away change the world we know today?
What Made Exploration Possible?
This is probably the first significant change we need to discuss because it set the ground for everything that came after it. Before the 15th century, people could not travel across seas and climb high mountain tops. The technology did not exist, and there was no way to create proper vessels and tools needed for such daunting adventures.
However, all of that changed once people realized they need big ships that can use the power of the wind to get them through the oceans. The navigation was still weak, and then Columbus discovered America but thought he was in India. Vasco da Gama followed some of the known routes around the African continent and actually did sail all the way to India.
People realized the world is bigger than they thought, they mapped it, and for the most part - they tried to conquer it. Colonization is probably the most complicated practice that came from the fact that people were now able to travel and explore.
In this context, we must pinpoint who could explore, and what did that exploration actually mean. Sure, the world always had scientists who wanted to know more about other species, and other smaller ecosystems found on different continents. But that is not what makes the world turn around, does it?
Who Could Explore The World?
People who could explore were usually rich, and they would have the necessary funds and cultural connections to organize something so expensive and lengthy-lasting like a trip across the ocean. This means that the very idea of exploration, and that means the discovery of the so-called ‘’new world’’ is a practice that immediately brings problems of inequality.
These are accompanied by racism and xenophobia. These are the discourses that changed the world as the map of the world was being drawn. The first explorers, mostly white, male, and European, traveled with their boats, only to find different resources they could use to prosper.
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of the new discoveries, the indigenous people were the one that got hurt. They did not have the same tools, if you want to start from a technology standpoint, as the people they had to defend against. That is why colonization happened - as the people who have the resources to do so, started to explore, the more resources they wanted to have.
Us And Them?
The problem with colonization lies within the concept of difference. People who came in contact with ‘’other’’ people, had to adapt to the immediate differences in beliefs and values, which made the two opposing cultures so different. Most of them did not succeed in that effort, and the way they approached ‘’new’’ people is by treating them as savages.
The whole point of exploration was not just to figure out where all the continents are and to draw maps. That did help, but only to further empower the colonization process easier, making trips back home a lot more efficient. A lot of wealth was acquired during that period, which means that a lot of it was stolen from the countries of the New World. Various species of animals and plants started to travel across the globe, which had a significant impact on biodiversity but brought the problems of multiple diseases along together.
People were brought in from Africa to work as slaves in many different countries around the globe, but mostly in the United States of America. The appetite for further expansion, and the exploitation based on racism and xenophobia, grew only more robust for the next few hundred years.
About the Author
Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.
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