4.8 Continuity and Change from 1450 to 1750

5 min readjanuary 18, 2023



AP World History: Modern 🌍

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Developments in Economics have significant implications for the way society operates. This relationship can be seen clearly in how societal structures were adjusted according to the economic advances between 1450 and 1750.
In short, the Eastern and Western Hemispheres now had better connections, which eased global trade. Exchanges included goods, ideas, and trade, which prompted a spur in innovations in technology. The world remained reliant on agriculture, but its structures and processes changed due to the accelerated growth it now experienced. This development allowed great empires to establish further control within and beyond their existing colonies, inevitably leading to power conflicts.

Interconnected World: The Bridge Between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres

What made it possible? Economic, technological, and political factors accelerated the expansion of European colonialism. Economically, Western Europe greatly benefited from trade, so it wished to make it more efficient--going to the seas was the way to do so. Technologically, new navigation technologies (the compass and astrolabe) paved the way for trade transformation as they made crossing the oceans more safe and accurate. Seamen now had a deeper understanding of regional wind and the patterns of currents, which facilitated their maritime voyages. Politically, European colonies found new territories over which they could spread their influence and use their resources for their own benefit.
What did this new era of global trade include? Yes, goods were traded among countries, but they were not the only "exchanges" made worldwide. Also known as the Columbian Exchange, this rapid diffusion included people; religions; cultural, scientific, and technological ideas. Classical, Islamic, European, and Asian knowledge found a place in new parts of the world and inspired further advances in technology and navigational skills. The Eastern and Western Hemispheres began actively exchanging plants, animals, and ... diseases. The indigenous populations now had to fight smallpox, measles, malaria, and yellow fever. Their lack of immunity and medical advances prevented them from successfully dealing with them, and their mortality increased drastically. Europeans were not spared of these disastrous consequences. Sexually-transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, emerged in Europe as seamen brought them from their voyages to the Americas.

The Columbian Exchange. Image courtesy of Reddit.

Old Systems, New Methods: Changes in Agriculture

Why did agriculture remain crucial for the world's productive systems? Innovations in technology were all related to agriculture and making it more efficient. New techniques, such as crop rotation and heavy plow, increased productivity and output. This rise allowed more people to sustain themselves financially, so agriculture remained the primary source of employment within rural areas.
How did agricultural labor change? Raw materials and finished products grew in popularity, so there was a need for more labor. Subsequently, traditional agriculture intensified, but new approaches were also undertaken--colonies heavily relied on the Atlantic slave trade as well. This system of buying, selling, transporting, and enslaving people from Africa employed brutal and inhumane conditions for the benefit of European and American buyers.

Changes in Agriculture: Implications

Impact on gender structures

With the shift from a primarily labor-intensive, subsistence-based agriculture to a more commercial, market-oriented system, the traditional roles of men and women in agricultural labor began to change. Men were increasingly involved in producing cash crops, such as tobacco and sugar, while women were often relegated to domestic tasks and household maintenance.
In Africa, a demographic crisis formed amid the Atlantic slave trade, as mainly men were sold to work overseas. This gender imbalance led to a redefinition of gender roles and responsibilities, with women and children often having to take on traditionally male roles. Traditional family structures began to break down, while single-parent households rose in numbers.

Impact on social structures

The middle class in Europe expanded as more landowners raised wealth. They often used their economic power to gain political influence, while the landless laborers were often reduced to a state of poverty and dependence. For example, the shift to commercial agriculture also led to the displacement of many rural communities, as the land was taken to cultivate cash crops. Subsequently, traditional social structures were eroded, and communal land, which had been a critical source of social and economic security for many rural families, was lost. White Europeans and Americans capitalized on this opportunity and pushed societal conflicts towards their turn into riots and, eventually, revolutions.

Impact on environmental processes

The increased use of land for the cultivation of cash crops led to the clearing of large areas of forest and other natural habitats, which significantly impacted biodiversity. Aquatic ecosystems also suffered because the growth of cash crops began being supported by water management techniques, which negatively impacted habitats underwater.

Ever-expanding Empires


World map in 1450 versus 1750. Image courtesy of OER Project.

Where did the Empires expand to? Spain and Portugal were the first to establish colonies, with the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires in Central and South America, respectively. The Spanish also established settlements in present-day Mexico and Florida. The French, Dutch, and English also established colonies in the Americas, with the English establishing the first successful colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. In Africa, European powers established trading posts along the coast, while in Asia, the Dutch established trading posts in present-day Indonesia and the British established colonies in India.


Subsequently, leaders in Europe found it beneficial for their financial well-being to expand their influence over the world. This process, known as mercantilism, was defined by the growing global trade and paved the way for capitalism. Mercantilism entailed the theory that a nation's wealth and power were directly linked to the amount of gold and silver it possessed, and that the key to increasing a nation's wealth was to increase its exports and decrease its imports. Mercantilism played a significant role in shaping the economies of European nations and their colonies during this period, and it had a major impact on trade, industry, and international relations. It also had a significant impact on the economies of the colonies, as the European nations used their colonies to extract resources and as markets for their goods.

Conflicts between Empires

The major empires wanted to expand their power even more, which eventually lead to conflicts:

The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

A war fought between the British and French colonies in North America, as well as their respective Native American allies. The war was a result of territorial disputes and competition for control of the Ohio River Valley. The British ultimately emerged victorious and gained control of Canada and much of the Ohio River Valley.

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763)

A global war that was fought primarily in Europe, but also had major theaters in North America and India. The war was fought between Great Britain, France and their respective allies, and resulted in the British gaining control of French territories in Canada, India and the Caribbean.

The Dutch-Portuguese War (158-1661)

A series of conflicts fought between the Dutch and Portuguese for control of trade routes and colonies in Asia, Africa and America. The war ended with the Treaty of The Hague, which recognized the Dutch control of the East Indies, and the Portuguese control of Brazil.

The Anglo-Mughal Wars (1686-1757)

A series of conflicts fought between the British East India Company and the Mughal Empire in India, with the British gaining control over parts of India.

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