These European transformations began with radically new ideas not only about Europe’s place in the world but about humanity’s place in the universe. One reason was knowledge of the earth and its peoples brought back by explorers. Scholars and cartographers had known since the 1300s that the earth was round, which Plato, Aristotle and Eratosthenes had understood one and a half millennia earlier and Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas since. The Catalan atlas of 1375 marked an ‘Asia’ that might be reached by sea. Ptolemy’s ‘Geography’ became known around 1410. However, even a century after Columbus, European geographers entirely underestimated the size of the globe, or the ratio of water to land, and seriously misunderstood the shapes and relationships of the continents. The discoverers changed all that. Soon after 1600, not only Africa but India, China, Japan and Brazil, and much of the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific had been charted and mapped with reasonable accuracy, their characteristics and peoples described and analyzed, often in a markedly detailed and sympathetic way. Scholarly writings dealt with the Congo, Japan and China. Closer knowledge of these civilizations inevitably changed assumptions about Western Europe’s uniqueness.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Industrial Revolution National Consciousness Sovereign Power East India Company
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