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Exploration and Advances in Knowledge
European interest in finding new trade routes and establishing overseas colonies converged with growth of knowledge about geography and navigation, the science of plotting the course of a ship. In the 13th and 14th centuries, European navigators had developed detailed charts (which were actually early maps) called portolani. These gave ship captains accurate information about the location and distances between European ports. These charts, however, were not accurate or detailed enough for extended ocean voyages.
Advances in cartography, or the making and study of maps, grew in the 15th century. Early explorers created detailed maps based on their observations as they traveled. The invention of printing in the mid-15th century made more copies of maps available to navigators in different countries.
To sail long distances in unknown waters, Europeans adopted Middle Eastern and Chinese navigational technology:
• Europeans developed a new type of ship, the caravel, that was faster and provided more cargo space than previous ships. They also began replacing their traditional square sails with triangular lateen sails, developed by Arab sailors. Lateen sails allowed more flexibility for sailing regardless of wind direction.
• Europeans adopted the sternpost rudder from China. It was a steering device attached to the ship’s main beam at the rear that made the ship more maneuverable.
• To navigate a seemingly endless ocean, with no landmarks in sight, sailors used the astrolabe and the quadrant (a smaller lighter version of the astrolabe) to determine where they were at sea based on the altitude of the sun or a star above the horizon.
• Sailors used the compass, which likely came from China in the 12th century, to aid in directional location by indicating which way is north.
 Advances in military technology, such as gunpowder weapons and steel swords, also helped Europeans establish overseas colonies and empires. Caravels were large enough to support mounted cannons and maneuverable enough to fight naval battles. Horses gave Europeans an advantage when colonizing the Americas, where there had been no horses before Europeans arrived. Perhaps most importantly, Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases that killed millions of indigenous people, making European conquest more feasible.
Source: Getty Images
Astrolabes were a type of technology that helped keep voyagers safe by improving seaborne navigation.

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