European Exploration: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 The Age of Exploration
  • 0:28 The Lure of Gold
  • 1:55 The Love of God
  • 2:47 The Quest for Glory
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Philip McMurry

Philip has taught college history, English, and political science, and he has a doctorate in American history.

Europeans began to explore other parts of the world in the late 1400s and throughout the 1500s. This lesson takes a look at the three main reasons that spurred this European exploration.

The Age of Exploration

Imagine what it would be like to leave your home and have no idea where you were going that day. What would be some reasons that you might go out exploring? Maybe you would like to make new friends or maybe you would like to see the ocean for the first time. Well, according to many historians, Europeans in the 1400s and 1500s, during what was called the Age of Exploration, went exploring for three major reasons: gold, God, and glory.

The Lure of Gold

In the late 1400s, Europeans began experimenting with a new economic system called capitalism, which allowed for private ownership of wealth and the tools for creating wealth (like farming land and factories).

This led to strong economic growth throughout the 1500s, as well as the creation of a new economic group called the bourgeoisie (pronounced boo-shwah-zee). The bourgeoisie was like the middle class - not super rich but not poor - made up of business owners and bankers who had extra money to spend and boosted the economy.

With more people having money to spend, Europeans developed companies to meet the needs and wants of European customers. And what did many Europeans want? Things from other parts of the world! Some of the biggest items being bought and sold from foreign lands were:

  • Spices: European food was very bland, so exotic spices, like cinnamon from Asia, were very popular.
  • Tea: Europeans loved to drink tea, but it was mostly grown in the distant lands of India.
  • Sugar: The people of Europe loved their desserts, but sugarcane was grown in tropical climates far from Europe. And finally:
  • Silk: European fashion included a lot of silk clothing, and silk was produced in China.

So, many of the early explorers were simply trying to find new and exotic locations where they could buy things for a low price, return home, and sell them to Europeans for a high price. These explorers searched for new trade routes, the quickest ways to and from faraway locations, and along the way, they often stumbled across new lands.

The Love of God

The early 1500s saw the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which was a religious movement that aimed to improve the Catholic Church, which many people thought had become dishonest and obsessed with money. This movement was led by the German religious leader Martin Luther and was what led to the creation of what we now know as the the Lutheran (or Protestant) Church.

The idea of losing popularity scared the Catholic Church, so it started working harder to spread Catholicism to other parts of the world. The Church even convinced European governments and leaders to support its efforts.

The spread of Catholicism led to a lot of exploration. But sadly, it also led to a lot of war over religious issues. Many non-Catholic people were mistreated and even forced to practice a religion they didn't believe in. This, however, led to even more exploration, as these people searched for new lands where they could escape to and where they could freely practice their own religion.

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