Effects on the Cultural, Political, and Economic Landscape of Europe
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were times of great change in Europe due to the exploitation and exploration of the Americas. Countries such as Spain and England began to see the merits of the “New World” and continuously sent fleets of ships across the Atlantic Ocean to investigate the mysterious and promising new continent. This colonization sparked a vast number of cultural and economic changes in Europe – a new opportunity of obtaining fortunes overseas, booms in industries such as tobacco, mining, and sugar, as well as an altered cultural perception for Europeans.
First and foremost, the Americas opened itself up as a vast continent ripe for the taking. It offered both economic and social opportunities to anyone willing to cross the Atlantic. Warlike gentry who were unsatisfied with the state of things in their own nation could leave their European homes and begin their campaigns anew in the Americas – initially, the largest group of these new conquerors were the Spanish conquistadores. Without traveling themselves, merchants and royalty could obtain valuable resources by importing goods or sending out ships of their own. New jobs arose for those willing to take part in this process, and a whole new industry was created in Europe to exploit the Americas.
The Americas were not only a place for Europeans to gain a new economic start, however. Imports from the New World offered a source of wealth for opportunistic merchants and kings as well. The discovery of the Potosi silver mines was probably the greatest in magnitude, and for a period of time 500,000 pounds of silver came back to Spain annually. These riches were used to finance the projects of the Spanish king in Europe. Using the wealth gained from the Americas, Spain could properly finance the militant phase of the Counter Reformation. Spain, in this sense, had an economic advantage over countries such as England and France due to its dominance of the Americas. It was not only the extremely rich that were affected, however. Goods such as tobacco and sugar could be grown in abundance in the Americas and Europeans soon developed a taste for these luxury items.
The changes in Europe were not only economic
With the opening of the Americas, Europeans saw and experienced cultures that were completely different from their own. This opened up questions about what it meant to be European as opposed to what it meant to be someone living in America, which contributed to an overall European national identity. Europe had already been considered a place of significant commerce, culture, and trade, but with this new discovery its role was further solidified. The European Atlantic coast enjoyed greater prosperity and towns located along the seaboard flourished in comparison to their central counterparts. With prime access to the East and the newly discovered Americas, Europe became the central location in world affairs and the opinions of those living there were altered accordingly.
These cultural and economic changes shaped European history for years to come
The prospect of obtaining fortunes overseas as well as the boom in industries like tobacco and sugar changed the way Europeans interacted with each other economically, while the altered cultural perceptions brought up by the discovery of the Americas presented Europe as the center of culture and commerce, re-defining what it meant to be a European. The discovery of the Americas thus created a Europe with new opportunities and new perspectives – a change with vast social and commercial implications.