The age of exploration

The age of exploration

Student Reo Shoshi imagines travelling back to the discovery of the New World in the 15th century

It's human nature to crave more knowledge. We are hungry, fascinated and inspired by the presence of the unknown.

The Age of Exploration was the epoch between the 15th and 17th centuries when brave men in Europe decided to explore the New World.

From a European perspective, the New World was those lands which they had not yet come across. The establishment of maritime routes between Europe and other parts of the world by explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, was an accomplishment that led to globalisation. Engineering and scientific knowledge cultivated during the Renaissance period opened up such possibilities.

The bravery and fearlessness of these explorers is beyond the capacity of my imagination. They risked their lives for the small and unlikely possibility of reaching the Indies. Leaving one's nest may be difficult, but diving into the unknown and risking death is pure bravery.

Hence, I would love to go back in time and join an expedition to see for myself the courageous and ambitious explorers in action.

However, the main reason I would like to return to the Age of Exploration is to witness how people built ships, and navigated themselves using only the sun and the stars. It fascinates me that explorers used mathematics and astronomy to calculate their location on the planet and draw basic maps, without the aid of modern technology, such as GPS.

This was the era when global mapping started to take place, and the Europeans began to rely less on religion and more on logical and scientific knowledge.

By joining an expedition, I would learn about the application of astronomy and mathematics on large-scale naval transport.

Another reason I'd like to join an expedition is to witness firsthand how the Europeans established communication with the indigenous locals, which is a complete mystery to me.

By joining the conquistadors, I would be able to witness European influence on the Americas, where North America was controlled by the British, Dutch and French, and Central and South America by the Spanish and Portuguese.

Many Mesoamerican civilisations believed the leader of the conquistadors was a god, and treated him with exceptional respect and care. Nonetheless, the conquistadors demolished the local power structures and conquered the whole of the Americas.

The strategies used by the conquistadors were well-designed. Take Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés - he set up conflicts within the Aztec Empire, imported foreign disease, and defeated the mighty Aztecs with the aid of arsenals.

Another thing I'd like to do during a visit back in time to the Age of Discovery is examine the spread of European religion throughout South America, where Christianity is currently heavily practised.

Upon my return to the present, I would be able to further understand how the world has changed drastically due to European exploration.

The conquistadors contributed a lot to globalisation, and our geographical and cultural understanding of the world today.

For example, it is believed that European sailors discovered trade winds, which are still significant in wind-based naval travel. Explorers also brought back words from the native languages, which are now integrated into European languages. For example, "jaguar" is a word of Guarani origin from Paraguay.

The mighty conquistadors also helped their home nations get rich, both monetarily and culturally.

The nautical routes established also enhanced communications and trade with countries across the globe, such as India and Japan.

However, while these explorers are usually praised highly for their discoveries, I believe they are also responsible for the diminishment of the number of pure Native Americans, who were either slaughtered during war or enslaved until death.

The idea of slavery has sadly been in effect throughout humanity for centuries. Native Americans were enslaved in parallel to the European occupation of Africa, where Africans were also enslaved. The Atlantic slave trade was established by the Europeans in the 16th century, and was one of the largest scale examples of human trafficking.

More than 12 million people were trafficked across the Atlantic. People's rights were stamped upon. Local Native Americans and Africans were reduced to disposable work machines, with barcodes and their owners' initials engraved on their skin. Their land was exploited, consumed and stolen by the colonisers for centuries.

I believe that the Atlantic slave trade, established by European powers, is what strengthened white superiority in the world.

The superficial idea of skin colour defining one's status was reinforced during this era, later evolving into racial segregation and inequality on national scales. For example, the British colonisation of South Africa led to apartheid, where "whites" were superior to "blacks", according to the law.

The mass introduction of African slaves to South America significantly reduced and endangered the population of pure natives.

Although one can argue that this helped the ethnic and genetic diversity of South America in the long term, citizens there today might find it difficult to establish their true identity and ancestral history while part of such a wide variety of ethnic groups.

The establishment of maritime routes to other parts of the world has influenced the spread of Christianity, which can either be seen as beneficial - since it unites people from around the world through religion - or hazardous, as it destroys local traditions and religions.

The transport routes founded by the explorers eventually led to the colonisation of places such as India, Australia and south-east Asia.

Although one may say that European colonisers helped form the modern world by establishing trade, introducing new technologies and uniting the globe, I believe they also exploited local traditions and cultures and forced their language upon the natives, destroying their historic identity.

For example, Native Americans were forced to speak Spanish or Portuguese due to their colonisation. Gold and national treasures were looted, and unfair treaties were signed due to colonisation which stemmed from the European occupation of the Americas.

For example, national Chinese treasures were looted by the British, and the Qing Dynasty was forced to hand Hong Kong over to the British under the Nanking Treaty, after the Opium Wars.

It is believed that European colonisation is one of the factors responsible for the current wealth gap across the globe.

Conquistadors also brought their own fauna into the New World. The animals they brought, and the conquistadors themselves, were responsible for the introduction of foreign diseases.

For example, smallpox is said to have killed approximately half of the Aztec empire, along with other foreign diseases, due to the indigenous population's lack of resistance and treatment available.

European expeditions did contribute positively to the world: it brought about globalisation, improved cultural understanding and helped spread technology and religion.

However, its negative effects must be noted. We cannot ignore the repercussions of mass human trafficking, wealth disparity, the introduction of foreign diseases and fauna, and racial segregation.

By journeying back to the Age of Exploration, I would be able to better understand the discoveries in geography and cartography during this time.

But, more importantly, I could witness firsthand the responsibility that comes with visiting a foreign land for the first time, either on our planet or even beyond it.

French International School student Reo Shoshi, 17, came first in the newly established Junior Writers Awards' advanced category. He wrote about the discovery of the New World in the 15th century, and his longing to travel back in time to experience that era.

The annual competition attracted more than 1,000 submissions from secondary school students in Hong Kong and Macau. It was jointly organised by Norton House Global Education Initiative, Senate House Education, Upper House Academy and Young Post.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
The age of exploration


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