4.2 Exploration: Causes and Events from 1450 to 1750

6 min readjanuary 8, 2023

Amanda DoAmaral

Amanda DoAmaral

Dalia Savy

Dalia Savy

AP World History: Modern 🌍

577 resources
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4.2 Required Course Content

Thematic Foci
  • Governance - A variety of internal and external factors contribute to state formation, expansion, and decline. Governments maintain order through a variety of administrative institutions, policies, and procedures, and governments obtain, retain, and exercise power in different ways and for different purposes.
  • Economics Systems - As societies develop, they affect and are affected by the ways that they produce, exchange, and consume goods and services.
College Board Learning Objectives
  • Describe the role of states in the expansion of maritime exploration from 1450 to 1750.
  • Explain the economic causes and effects of maritime exploration by the various European states.
Historical Developments
  • KC-4.1.III – New state-supported transoceanic maritime exploration occurred in this period.
  • KC-4.1.III.A – Portuguese development of maritime technology and navigational skills led to increased travel to and trade with Africa and Asia and resulted in the construction of a global trading-post empire.
  • KC-4.1.III.B – Spanish sponsorship of the voyages of Columbus and subsequent voyages across the Atlantic and Pacific dramatically increased European interest in transoceanic travel and trade.
  • KC-4.1.III.C Northern Atlantic crossings were undertaken under English, French, and Dutch sponsorship, often with the goal of finding alternative sailing routes to Asia

Motives for Exploration

There were several reasons why Europeans were motivated to explore in the 15th and 16th centuries, including:
  1. 💰 The desire for wealth: European powers were seeking new sources of gold, silver, and other valuable resources. They also wanted to establish trade routes and connections with other countries in order to increase their own wealth and the wealth of their sponsoring states.
  2. 💪🏽 The pursuit of power: European powers saw exploration as a way to expand their empires and increase their global influence. By establishing colonies and trade routes, they could gain more control over distant regions and gain a strategic advantage over their rivals.
  3. 🧠 The quest for knowledge: Many explorers were driven by a desire to learn about the world and to discover new lands, peoples, and cultures. They wanted to explore the unknown and bring back information and artifacts that could help to expand human knowledge.
  4. ✝️ The spread of Christianity: Some explorers were motivated by religious beliefs and a desire to spread Christianity to new areas.
  5. 🗺 The desire for adventure: Many explorers were drawn to the excitement and challenge of exploration, and they were willing to take risks in order to make important discoveries.
At this time, European powers were competing with each other for colonies, trade routes, and resources, and they saw mercantilism as a way to gain an advantage over their rivals. These policies encouraged and further incentivized exploration around the world, as they were designed to increase the wealth and power of the state.
Some examples of mercantilist policies:
  1. Restricting or banning the import of certain goods: This was meant to protect domestic industries from foreign competition and encourage people to buy locally-produced goods.
  2. Subsidizing exports: Governments would provide financial support to domestic industries that exported their goods, in order to make them more competitive in foreign markets.
  3. Establishing colonies: European powers often established colonies in other parts of the world in order to exploit the natural resources and labor of those regions.
  4. Regulating trade: Governments would often impose tariffs and other restrictions on trade in order to control the flow of goods into and out of the country.
  5. Encouraging the accumulation of gold and silver: Mercantilist thinkers believed that a country's wealth was measured by the number of precious metals it possessed, so they encouraged people to mine and trade gold and silver.

This infographic shows some must-know European explorers who populated the new world as well as their empires of origin.

Achievements in Exploration

🇵🇹 Portugal

  • The discovery of the sea route to India: In 1497, Vasco de Gama led the first European voyage to sail directly from Europe to India. He completed the journey in 1498, reaching the port of Calicut on the southwest coast of India. This voyage opened up a new trade route between Europe and India and helped to establish Portugal as a major maritime power.
  • The exploration of the African coast: The Portuguese were the first Europeans to systematically explore the coast of Africa. They established trading posts and colonies along the coast, and they were able to gain control over the trade in gold, ivory, and slaves. This gave them a significant economic and political advantage over their rivals.
  • Mapping the world: Portuguese explorers contributed significantly to the mapping of the world, including the exploration of the coast of South America and the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

🇪🇸 Spanish

  • The conquest of the Americas: The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore and conquer the Americas, beginning with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. They established colonies in Central and South America, and they were able to gain significant wealth and power through the exploitation of the natural resources and labor of these regions.
  • The circumnavigation of the globe: In 1519, the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan set out on a voyage to circumnavigate the globe. He was the first person to lead an expedition that successfully completed a circumnavigation, although he did not survive the journey. The voyage was completed by the Spanish explorer Juan Sebastian Elcano in 1522. This achievement demonstrated the power and reach of the Spanish empire, and it opened up new opportunities for trade and exploration.

🇬🇧 British

  • The exploration of North America: John Cabot led an expedition to North America, and he was the first European to explore the east coast of Canada. He claimed the region for the British crown, and he established the first British settlement in North America, at Newfoundland. In 1607, the British established the first permanent English settlement in North America, at Jamestown, Virginia. In 1609, the British explorer Henry Hudson led an expedition to North America in search of a northwest passage to Asia.
  • The exploration of the Pacific: In the late 18th century, the British explorer James Cook led three expeditions to the Pacific, and he made many important discoveries about the geography, climate, and peoples of this region. He explored the east coast of Australia, the islands of the Pacific, and the northwest coast of North America, and he was the first European to make contact with many of the indigenous peoples of these regions.
    • Exploring and claiming territory in the Philippines: Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, and Spain established colonies in the Philippines as a result of this journey.

🇫🇷 French

  • The exploration of North America: The French were among the first Europeans to explore the regions of North America, including present-day Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean. They established colonies and trading posts in these regions, and they were able to gain significant wealth and influence through the trade in furs, timber, and other natural resources.
  • The exploration of the Arctic: The French were among the first Europeans to explore the Arctic regions. In 1534, the French explorer Jacques Cartier led an expedition to the Arctic. The French were also instrumental in the development of new technologies that improved Arctic exploration, including the use of sledges and iceboats to travel over ice, and the use of heating stoves to keep ships and crews warm in the freezing Arctic climate.
  • Exploring and claiming territory in Africa: French explorers, such as Henri de Tonti and René-Robert Cavelier, led expeditions to explore and claim territory in Africa.

🇳🇱 Dutch

  • The exploration of the East Indies: The Dutch were among the first Europeans to explore and trade with the East Indies, and they established colonies and trading posts in present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. They were able to gain significant wealth and influence through the trade in spices, gold, and other valuable resources.
  • The exploration of the Arctic: In 1594, the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz led an expedition to the Arctic in search of a northeast passage to Asia. In the 17th century, the Dutch began to establish whaling stations in the Arctic, where they hunted for whales and processed their oil for use as fuel and lamp oil.
The creators of this guide combined their professional expertise with ChatGPT to create the most comprehensive guide for AP World History students.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🐎Unit 1 – The Global Tapestry, 1200-1450
🐫Unit 2 – Networks of Exchange, 1200-1450
🕌Unit 3 – Land-Based Empires, 1450-1750
🍕Unit 4 – Transoceanic Interactions, 1450-1750
✊🏽Unit 5 – Revolutions, 1750-1900
🚂Unit 6 – Consequences of Industrialization, 1750-1900
💣Unit 7 – Global Conflict, 1900-Present
🥶Unit 8 – Cold War & Decolonization, 1900-Present
✈️Unit 9 – Globalization, 1900-Present
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