What cultural, social, economic, and political impact did Europeans have on the lands they discovered?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The impact that the European Age of Exploration had on the lands discovered was transformative.  Social and cultural change were new realities that resulted from Europeans having contact with the new world.  The need to spread Christianity is a part of this cultural change. European culture in the form of Christianity became the dominant mode of cultural interaction between Europe and the lands they discovered.  For the most part, indigenous people and indigenous traditions were deemed inferior and secondary to the dominant mode of Christianity and Western spiritual identity.   Missions and missionaries became part of this cultural transformation of the lands European explorers discovered.  The result of the missionary culture and the imposition of Christianity was a removal of indigenous modes of worship and life.  Indigenous social and cultural expressions became secondary to the Christian mode of life that was being preached and advanced.  At the same time, this provided a level of social change in how it introduced a new element into indigenous societies. The use of Christianity helped to provide a distinct cultural change. It also facilitated a social one where what was seen as past needed to be rejected in favor of that which was new and foreign. As testament to more social change on a negative level, the introduction of new diseases from Europe helped cause suffering on indigenous populations.  Certainly, there can be much in way of negativity towards the Christian culture being introduced into the new setting.  Yet, it also brought with it greater access to schooling and education as well as a common language.  Positive or negative, the reality is that cultural change and social change became distinct results from Europeans becoming ingrained in lands they discovered.

The European influence was not merely something that existed socially and culturally.  Economic and political change became distinct expressions of reality as a result of the Age of Exploration.  European contact with the new world was driven by material wealth and the coveting of material prospects which existed in the new lands.  The drive for greater territory became a coveting of greater riches.  European sights were set on what awaited them in the new lands they discovered.  Triangular trade routes existed in which "Europeans traded slaves for sugar in the West Indies, and sugar for rum, molasses, and timber in New England."  At the same time, the coveting of wealth was facilitated by the enslavement of indigenous people.  The economic prospects of greater accumulation of wealth became part of the European narrative in other lands.  As politics existed close to the coffers of wealth, European impact on the lands they discovered ended up transforming governments.  Indigenous governments were incapable of massive resistance and repelling European settlement and influence.  There were many examples of indigenous governments becoming extensions of European outsiders.  From tribal chiefs who were paid to deliver their people to Europeans as slaves to the dismissive attitudes that Europeans had towards indigenous governments, political change was evident. European influence carried more power than indigenous resistance, and there was an intense political change in how governments were constructed. 

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