Europeans explored and settled overseas territories, encountering and interacting with indigenous populations.
From the 15th through the 17th centuries, Europeans used their mastery of the seas to extend their power in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In the 15th century, the Portuguese sought direct access by sea to the sources of African gold, ivory, and slaves. At the same time, the rise of Ottoman power in the eastern Mediterranean led to Ottoman control of the Mediterranean trade routes and increased the motivation of Iberians and then northern Europeans to explore possible sea routes to the East. The success and consequences of these explorations, and the maritime expansion that followed them, rested on European adaptation of Muslim and Chinese navigational technology as well as advances in military technology and cartography. Political, economic, and religious rivalries among Europeans also stimulated maritime expansion. By the 17th century, Europeans had forged a global trade network that gradually edged out earlier Muslim and Chinese dominion in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.
In Europe, these successes shifted economic power within Europe from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic states. In Asia, the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch competed for control of trade routes and trading stations. In the Americas, the Spanish and Portuguese led in the establishment of colonies, followed by the Dutch, French, and English. The pursuit of colonies was sustained by mercantilist economic theory, which promoted government management of economic imperatives and policies. The creation of maritime empires was also animated by the religious fervor sweeping Europe during the period of the Reformations (Catholic and Protestant). Global European expansion led to the conversion of indigenous populations in South and Central America, to an exchange of commodities and crops that enriched European and other civilizations that became part of the global trading network, and, eventually, to migrations that had profound effects on Europe. The expansion also challenged parochial worldviews in Christian Europe. Yet the Columbian Exchange also unleashed several ecological disasters — notably the death of vast numbers of the Americas’ population in epidemics of European diseases, such as smallpox and measles, against which the native populations had no defenses. The establishment of the plantation system in the American colonies also led to the vast expansion of the African slave trade, one feature of the new Atlantic trading system.
Sub-Concept 1: European nations were driven by commercial and religious motives to explore overseas territories and establish colonies.
Sub-Concept 2: Advances in navigation, cartography, and military technology allowed Europeans to establish overseas colonies and empires.
Sub-Concept 3: Europeans established overseas empires and trade networks through coercion and negotiation.
Sub-Concept 4: Europe's colonial expansion led to a global exchange of goods, flora, fauna, cultural practices, and diseases, resulting in the destruction of some indigenous civilizations, a shift toward European dominance, and the expansion of the slave trade.