In the seventeenth century, the nature of colonialism changed. While daring expeditions at sea and discoveries of new lands still defined exploration, European nations had become dependent on the trade and resources of their New World colonies. This prompted governments to encourage settlers to move to colonial territories to establish trading ports and protect land interests. As more unknown lands were discovered, they were quickly claimed by European nations. The great territorial race began with clamoring for ownership of the vast land and resources of the New World. By the mid-eighteenth century, nations focused their attention to exploring Africa, the Pacific, and Australia. By the end of the era, European nations fought both each other and existing civilizations in the Far East for shipping and trade strongholds in Asia.
Colonialism and maritime discovery were not the only forces that shaped the exploration from 1600 to 1850. Knowledge gained from exploration yielded a new interest in studying the world. The Enlightenment, a resurgence in science, reason, and learning during the late eighteenth century, fostered a climate of scientific curiosity. Not only did people sail the seas to discover and claim new lands, they carefully catalogued the differing plants, animals, crops, and people in the lands they explored. New "natural sciences" such as biology and geology became popular pastimes for individuals. Eventually, the natural sciences gained academic credibility, by 1830, France, Spain, England, and Holland all had national geological and geographical societies.
In 1620, the Pilgrims, English settlers, landed at Plymouth, New England. While the Massachusetts Bay Colony was not the first successful settlement in the New World, it was the first major stronghold in North America. Soon after the English settled in Massachusetts, the Dutch sent settlers to New Amsterdam (now New York). Later in the 1600s, French Explorer La Salle claimed the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, naming the land Louisiana in honor of the French king. In the 1650's, the triangular trade route began. Europeans traded slaves for sugar in the West Indies, and sugar for rum, molasses, and timber in New England. This ensured a steady stream of both raw materials for industry and luxury goods for consumers.
A century later, exploration and settlement focused on Asia, the South Pacific, and Australia. In 1776, the British government proposed settlement of New South Wales, the area of Australia explored by James Cook. Two years later, the first settlers arrived in Australia. They settled around Botany Bay before relocating because of disease and poor soil conditions. Settlement in Australia grew quickly, especially as the French and Dutch claimed their own ports in the region, and trade in Asia flourished. The entire coastline of Australia was not fully mapped until 1822.
This mercantile economy, however, was dependent not only on colonists, but also on the procurement of African slaves. Exploration and colonialism had a devastating effect on the native populations of Africa and the Americas. Exploration and settlement brought European diseases to the populations of other continents. Virgin soil epidemicspidemics that erupt in populations that previously had no exposure to the diseasesilled millions of people in the New World and Africa. These European diseases changed and adapted to their new climates, sometimes producing more virulent and destructive strains of disease. Thinking that certain environments caused disease, colonists became conscious of where they built their homes and towns, avoiding swamps and beaches. They often avoided fresh air and local fruits and fish, opting instead for dried beef and staples from home. Medicine during this era was closely linked to environment, a connection that sparked people's interest in the environment itself.
English explorer James Cooke embarked on perhaps the most ambitious voyage of the era in 1768. Cooke's expedition circumnavigated the globe, spending a great deal of time surveying the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. He discovered several island chains and surveyed a large portion of the coast of Australia. He was the first to realize that Australia was a vast continent. In 1778, Cooke voyaged to the northern Pacific in search of a passage through North America. He and his crew wintered in California, comprehensively charted the west coast of North America, and sailed as far north as Alaska and the Arctic Circle. Unable to locate an inland passage, Cooke and his crew sailed to Hawaii, which he had explored several years earlier. Cooke died in the Hawaiian Islands in 1779, but his crew returned home nearly a year later. Cooke's long expeditions fundamentally changed the shape of the known worldaps made after the Cooke voyages are some of the first to resemble modern maps.
Cooke possessed a distinct navigational advantage over his predecessors, which greatly expedited his journey and allowed for greater accuracy in mapping. In 1714, the British Parliament offered a prize to anyone who could devise a method for accurately and reliably determining longitude (position on a vertical grid of the earth). For centuries, mariners had been able to find their latitude (position on a horizontal grid of the earth), thus aiding the determination of position and distance when traveling north or south, and giving a rough position when sailing east or west. However, no means existed for accurately measuring distance and position when sailing west or east, the predominant direction of voyages to the Americas and the Far East. Most scientists thought the best way to solve the longitude problem was through the creation of astronomical charts and complex tables and equations. However, these could only be used in good weather, and for a few hours of the day, thus restricting their ultimate usefulness. In 1735, British inventor John Harrison determined that longitude is most easily calculable when one knows the exact time. On land, the most precise timekeepers were watches. Harrison thus began constructing chronometers, or clocks, for use at sea. He tested several models on various voyages, fine-tuning his models each time to account for the rocking of the ship, vibrations, and other factors that influenced the reliability of the chronometers. After nearly 30 years, Harrison perfected his chronometer in 1761. Longitudinal navigation was no longer a mystery. The British Parliament was reluctant to award the prize to an amateur scientist however, and Harrison did not receive the promised prize for several years. Realizing its potential, several navigators began to use chronometers, despite their relatively high cost, before Parliament recognized the magnitude of the discovery.
Exploration, settlement, and medicine prompted people to more closely look at nature and the environment. In 1798, Thomas Malthus published his first essay on population. The work classified peoples by region and racial characteristics, but also dealt with the relationship of each group to their environment. In the 1820s, the first rough theories of evolution appeared. While none deduced a specific scheme for evolving life, the concept of development began to fascinate a few people interested in the natural sciences. Along with the questioning of man's antiquity, natural scientists studied the earth itself. In 1930, the Royal Geographical Society was founded in Britain. That same year, English geologist Charles Lyell published his RMS Principles of Geology, a work that served as the standard methodology for the discipline for nearly a century. Natural scientists were fascinated with classifying all aspects of the world around them, and probing their interconnectedness. Thirty years later, a theory that proposed to explain those very connections would be the center of scientific debate in the nineteenth century. In 1831, English naturalist Charles Darwin embarked on an expedition to the Galapagos Islands, a remote island chain off the coast of present-day Ecuador. His discoveries made aboard the HMS Beagle foreshadowed a new age of scientific exploration, and the modern era.
See also Cartography; Evolution, evidence of; Evolutionary mechanisms; History of exploration I (Ancient and classical); History of exploration III (Modern era); Latitude and longitude
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