A Passing of the Torch; Europe from 1500-1800

A Passing of the Torch; Europe from 1500-1800 When you step back and observe history from afar you’re missing part of the story. Observing the rise of Europe, you cannot simply take into account it happened. To understand the past you need to look into past, in documents and first-hand accounts to observe the underlining issues. To best explain the major shift in energy from the Indian Ocean Basin to the North Atlantic in 1500 to 1800 you have to observe the world and the people in context. Europe is an underdog to rise to the top.
Having just experiencing the worst of the Black Death wiping out a majority of its populations, a tragedy in all senses, turned into a blessing. It sparked the scientific revolution; inspiring the Europeans to shift their views towards knowledge and discovery (Reilly, 434) . Sprinting ahead, Europe took the world by surprise. With their footing in a ‘new world’ the opportunities were endless. Exhausting their colonies at its full potential, with the cash crop, sugar they were able to revolutionize commerce into a representative model of modern trade.
The Europeans weren’t the only ones making radical changes in the era. The Confucian Scholars were forcing Chinese to push inward and were eliminating commerce (Kristof, 551). Shifting of energy from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean; Europe gained power in the era through two main triggers, the scientific revolution and the developments of the sugar plantations in the new world. To better understand what’s happening with Europe in the 1500’s and later you need to also look back at the past and see where they have been and the events leading up to the beginning of a new era in European success and discovery.

When you examine Europe today they are one of the world’s leaders, less than a thousand years ago the now prominent country was spiraling down, on the brink of demise. In the mid-fourteenth century the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, originated somewhere in Asia and progressively spread though out Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Without doubt it became the greatest health disaster to date; mass graves were being dug to compensate for the dead. The Plague spread like wildfire wiping out an estimated one-fourth to one-third of the population (Reilly, 436).
With no known source of treatment available or why the disease was spreading the Europeans turned to what they knew best, Religion. The Christian consensus was that God had bestowed the plague as a devastating judgment with the meaning of punishing the inflicted for his sins. People tried anything to avoid their seeming inevitable deaths, from walking around with incense to mask the wreaking stench of death, fleeing from their homes to find unaffiliated areas, or most commonly turning to God. The priest with the duty of serving the people, considered holy and without sin, were the main care takers of the stricken.
Unsurprisingly, they too needed to be cared for, for they as well, contracted the disease joining their following to the death beds. We know today that the Black Death was not a punishment from god, but at the time, they had only to believe what the church told them (Reilly, 460). As priest died alongside the commoners their belief system was shattered. It was common of the time to believe what the church had told them and take it as true. For instance the church stated that the earth was the center of the universe, and it was heresy to state otherwise.
With the church being proven wrong, people began to look outward for new knowledge. “Without visiting a deep ravine, one cannot understand how deep the earth is… ,” just like Emperor Taizong said Europe began looking at the world to discover the truths; what is now known as the Scientific Revolution and the beginning of their restoration. Today, it is impossible to think about Modern Times and the way we live without thinking about science. We have pushed the scientific front to our limits, and now reap the benefits, from cars, phones, to healthcare. The scientific revolution truly lives up to its name.
It truly was revolutionary, the standard of knowledge in the Modern world. The revolution can be traced back to Europe in a dispirit search for new understanding. Looking outward for answers from other countries such as the Muslim world and China, who already had beginnings of scientific thought, a sense of discovery and development; inspired the Europeans. In the year 1492, sailing in search of new discovery, specifically a new trade route to China, Columbus had stumbled on a seemingly endless supply of natural resources, land, and opportunity. It was called America.
Entirely changing the way the ancient Greeks had depicted the world, helping enlighten the people that common knowledge was wrong (Goldstone 715-716). The Scientific Revolution and the desire to reach for new understanding that came with it pushed the Europeans. Now doubting all they had been taught before tested the fabrics of their society, the discovery of America was the most significant aspect of the shift of energy into the Atlantic Ocean. This was exactly what Europe needed. Now having the mass amounts of resources, to utilize the discovery they required manpower.
Slaves were the perfect tool for procuring the workforces they required. Where better to look than Africa? Packed with able bodied men, the African tribes lacking in the ability to retaliate, found their freedom relinquished; crammed into unsanitary, overcrowded slave ships (Mintz, 47). Martinique, a sugar plantation located on the island Lesser Antilles located in the Caribbean Sea, is an example of where they could have landed (Martinique, 628). In the drawing, Field Gang, you can see the sugar plantation, a large field being worked by a multitude of black workers and one controlling master watching over them, the multitude of slaves.
To compensate for the disparity in the work force, the plantation owners had revolutionized the process in which they operated their plantations. Specialized tasks were given to each worker to increase efficiency. This specialization resembled the earliest forms of assembly line. However, instead of the machines we have today, they had an agro energy focus. This means that the plantations shifted toward the use of human energy over the use of machinery (In Class).
Unknowingly the systems used on plantations translated directly to the factories which began to pop up in the urban cities. At the end of the Black Death, Europe was a country in chaotic state. They were looking for a change and this desire paved the way. With a lack of populous, the lords of the current system, serfdom collapsed with little to no one to work the fields. Unlike their competitors Europe moved into the cities in search of opportunity (In Class). Drawing from their experiences in the sugar plantation, and the slave trade the Europeans became the frontier in production.
Springing up in the industrial cities, factories played a large part of the shifting of energy to Europe, with them, goods and services could be provided with a significantly lower cost and at more efficient rates. This without a doubt gave them an edge over the competition. With the coming times, Europe in the sense of the world scope began to break into the picture. The Transatlantic Trade, shipping of goods between Europe and its colonies, set the stage for the shift of energy to the Atlantic Ocean. Allowed access to the resources in the ‘New World’ causality benefited the colonizers with the cheapest production of desirables.
It also set for a sense of manifest destiny for the country (In Class). In conclusion this marked the beginnings of modern society developing. The question of the era is why Europe? A country stricken by plague, the collapse of feudalism, and lacking in internal stability in the form of natural resources or people; happens to be the perfect candidate. The desire for knowledge and their desire to look outward fit the bill perfectly. To make the circumstances even more perfect China lost its edge in the commerce propelling Europe ahead.
David Christian writes in his essay World History in Context “One of the aims of world history is to see the history of human beings as a single, coherent story, rather than as a collection of the particular stories of different communities. ” When looking at the rise of Europe as a superpower in the world, you can’t focus on the singular efforts and happenings of Europe. The rest of the world had an influence on the future. The shift in energy wasn’t only accountable to the success of Europe, notably looking at China you can see the ties between the two. For Centuries China had been a leader in commerce and trade.
They assembled the largest fleet known to date consisting of over 3500 ships which had the capabilities to sail across the Pacific enabling the most secure and cost efficient form of trade. The Merchants of this era were prospering but all good things have to come to an end. After the death of the Yongle Empire in 1424, a struggle for power out broke internally. Under suspicious circumstances the successor to the empire who was selected to rule the country died. The Confusion Scholars ceased control of the country introducing new policy and deep-rooted idealisms of their ancestors.
Trying to turn the focus of the country inward by 1500 they dissembled the entire fleet, destroyed the records, and made it illegal for any ship to be constructed with more than two masts. By 1525 any ocean going ship had to be destroyed. Along with the disappearance of a great Chinese fleet the ports in India, it marked one of history’s biggest lost opportunities. Without the ability of merchants to export their goods, they fell from their former glory. To add burden to this the Scholars viewed them as “necessary evils at best” (Kristoff, 555-556).
Also their country already vastly spread out over thousands of miles of land, contained almost all the necessary natural resources to self-sustain itself and found no need to search elsewhere for goods. Europe on the other hand, lacked in many natural resources, which cause the need for colonization and expansion of their limits. China’s unwillingness to become a global market, unlike Europe, hurt their chances of being at the top of the era (In Class). Instigating the shift in power during the era in question, the scientific revolution and developments made in the New World, lead to a drastic change in history.
Imagine if Europe had not been affected by the Bubonic Plague. We might never have explored outwards to the Americas leaving the Native population to expand. It serves evidence to the fact that changing parts of the past would alter the future. If it wasn’t for the fact that Europe had rose to power. It is not irrational to assume many of the discoveries made in this time would differ. We live in the world we do today, because the shift in energy brought about from the scientific revolution and the developments with the sugar plantations, lead to the passing of the torch from China to Europe.

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