Digital History>eXplorations>The World Before 1492

Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes.
Waldseemüller, Martin. Library of Congress. G3200 1507 .W3

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You may wish to view our Digital Story about the World before 1492 by Michael Ray as an introduction to this section.

You will need Windows Media Player 7 or later to view this movie. It is a free download.

According to an older historical view, Europe was uniquely suited to lead the world into the modern age. It alone possessed the navigational expertise the compass, the astrolabe, and mapmaking skills to launch the great nautical explorations which resulted in the colonization of the Western Hemisphere and the development of the world economy.

In fact, it was not clear in 1400 that Europe was poised to enter into an era of unprecedented expansion. Famine, pestilence, war, and death ravaged Europe from the 14th and to the mid 15th century. The Bubonic plague killed 25 million, a third of Europe's population. The Hundred Years War, a series of armed conflicts between 1337 and 1453, was only the worst of the rebellions and social unrest that marred European life.

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