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What did Henry the Navigator do to change the conception of Europe's globe?

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Greg Jackson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Henry the Navigator was instrumental in expanding Europeans' understanding of the globe in the early 1400s and sparking what would come to be known as the "Age of Discovery." Prince Henry was not an explorer himself, but he was a significant patron and supporter of voyages of discovery. Starting around the year 1418, Henry funded a new exploratory voyage almost every year. These voyages mostly focused on the west coast of Africa, greatly adding to the European knowledge of that previously little-explored region. It was under Henry's encouragement and patronage that Europeans sailed farther south than they had been willing to before and conducted explorations for both commercial and scientific purposes. This eventually led to some of the first European voyages in areas of Africa that were south of the Sahara Desert.

Henry the Navigator also helped change Europeans' perception of the globe by founding a navigational school in Sagres, Portugal. At this school, cartographers learned new mapping techniques, engineers developed better navigational equipment, and carpenters improved shipbuilding methods. Without these advances, it is possible that subsequent European explorations—which unfolded over the next century—may have turned out differently.

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Prince Henry the Navigator provided some monumental gains for Europe in terms of global expansion and exploration. In fact, Henry is often credited with starting the Age of Discovery. The explorations that Henry patronized (he didn't actually "navigate" or voyage himself, but he financially supported many explorers) were important for a few reasons. First, they identified winds that made sea travel much easier than in the past. This allowed for new routes of trade and the connection of different continents and cultures. However, it was the exploration of western Africa that is arguably Henry's most influential accomplishment. This put Europe into direct contact with western Africa, farther down the coast than Europeans had ever traveled before, which fatefully and unfortunately enabled the Europeans to begin the Atlantic slave trade.

As for the globe itself, Henry was a skilled cartographer. With his voyages, he was able to map new routes around the ocean. He also created a school for mapmaking in Portugal that was integral in creating new maps of the globe. Imagine the significance that these explorations had on colonialism and trade, which ultimately changed the globe.

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