Colonialism Across Europe

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  • 0:05 Europe Expands
  • 1:22 Columbian Exchange
  • 2:26 Conquest, Commerce,…
  • 3:36 English Expansion
  • 5:11 Colonial Control After 1650
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

In the late 1400s, European explorers learned how to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This lesson explores the impact of the colonization of the Americas by Europeans and the reasons they emigrated.

Europe Expands

Europeans and Native Americans exchanged their respective crops or products
Columbian Exchange Chart

Have you ever wondered how Europeans came to settle in areas across the Atlantic Ocean? In the 15th century, Europeans learned how to best sail across the ocean with a good understanding of its currents and wind patterns. They also invented new tools, like astronomical tools, to allow them to use the stars for navigation. Eventually they also developed sails to use for more efficient movement and no longer relied on the strength of rowers.

To understand the colonial movement in Europe, this lesson will explore Portugal, Spain, France, and England in succession. The first country that attempted to reach outward was Portugal. This country was small and had just become independent around 1139. It had very few clashes within its borders and could focus on growth. Portugal set its sights on the west coast of Africa.

Although Portugal was the pioneer in growth, Spain can be credited with discovering America. Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, discovered the New World. However, he had based his navigation on a miscalculation of the Earth's circumference, believing Japan to be less than half its actual distance from his point of origin. He believed he had reached an area in Asia instead. Of course, intentional or not, Columbus' actions changed the world forever.

Columbian Exchange

As travelers began to increase in number, people in Europe, Africa, and the Americas naturally began to learn about each other's culture and share products. People shared new kinds of food and livestock like horses, sheep, goats, and cattle. Native Americans taught Europeans about new farming techniques and produce. Europeans learned to harvest tobacco, corn, beans, nuts, tomatoes, and potatoes. In return, Native Americans learned about wheat, oat, rice, and grapes and melons. However, along with these new products came new diseases. The exchange of goods, techniques, and disease among Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans is known as The Columbian Exchange.

European settlements by country in 1754
European Settlements Map

The land in new areas was affected as well. Farming led to deforestation and land clearance. New livestock consumed masses of native plants. The diseases that spread among natives, however, were devastating and led to the death of millions.

Conquest, Commerce, and Settlement

Colonization could occur in three different ways. Empires of conquest sought to take over the natives of a new area by using them as slaves. Spain saw natives as a source of free labor. France, however, believed the natives provided an opportunity for trade and partnership. France's efforts in the new areas were based more on a system of commerce than conquest. They found success by creating a fur trade market. Other countries, like England, attempted to simply remove natives from new areas and replace them with their own people. English and Scottish people used this system of settlement to colonize the Americas.

Spain and Portugal were dominant in the Americas for a long time. However, many countries began to expand after 1600. France continued to base its expansion mostly on commerce with the Native Americans. They also developed a peaceful relationship with them. France, however, had a considerably smaller amount of people settling in the new areas. Most of the French settlers were men who came to trade or were Jesuit priests. Eventually, English settlers came to dominate North America.

English Expansion

Colonial economies during the 17th century were varied based on their location. In the south, the economy was based mostly on crop production. In northern colonies, the economy was more diverse and included more trade. It was during this time that the reliance on white indentured servants shifted to African slave labor. By 1700, the labor force in the south was growing to include more slaves.

Puritans came to North America to escape persecution

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