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The Science and Technology of Exploration

As you know, technology has an enormous impact on our lives. We rely on scientific and technological discoveries and inventions for communication, transportation, and entertainment. Have you thought about how science and technology contributed to the European exploration of the world? In this activity, you'll learn about some of the most important discoveries and inventions that allowed Europeans to travel throughout the world and to change the world forever.

1. Examples of Science and Technology

The expansion of European empires relied on increasing scientific knowledge and technological capabilities. Go to the following Web sites to find out about some of these developments. Then answer the questions below.

a) What were some of the most significant obstacles to European travel?

b) How did each of the following technologies or scientific discoveries impact Europeans' ability to explore?

2. Columbus and Navigational Technology

What technologies did Christopher Columbus employ in his famous voyages? Browse this Web site about the navigation techniques and equipment used by Christopher Columbus:

Then answer these questions:

a) What navigational technologies did Columbus employ?

b) What were Columbus' navigational shortcomings? Did he have any difficulties in using the instruments he brought?

c) Did Columbus' success in reaching the "New World" result from his use of science and technology, or do you think it was more related to luck or other factors? Explain your answers with examples from this Web site.

3. The Results of Science and Technology

As you probably know, the "Age of Exploration" resulted in European countries establishing colonies and, in some cases, empires, around the world. Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries took part in claiming non-European lands as their own. Some of these lands are still held as European colonies today. Below is a Web page showing a map of the British Empire after the "Age of Exploration." Look carefully at this map; the empire is represented in red.

Using your understanding of navigational technology and scientific discovery during the "Age of Exploration," explain the ways in which you think this map might have turned out differently if it hadn't been for the technology that was developed. In other words, would the world be the same as it is today? Would Europeans have established colonies around the world? If so, how would they have done it? If not, who would live there now, and in what general ways might those places be different? Which scientific discovery or technology do you think was the most significant in contributing to the spread of European empires, and why?