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Explorers to the new world were from Spain, the Netherlands, England and France.
  • Spanish explorers like Columbus, Balboa, Cortez, de Leon, de Soto, and Coronado became very famous.
    • Others like Drake, Verrazano, Raleigh, Carter, Champlain, Cabot and Hudson are not as well known here as in South America.
      • Each one of these explorers contributed to the formation of a new world.
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Christopher Columbus was an experienced Italian sailor from the town of Genoa. Unable to convince the Italian rulers to sponsor his voyage to sail, he convinced the Spanish that he would be able to sail west across the Atlantic Ocean to find a sea route to Asia.
  • Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sponsored his first trip. He sailed for 33 days before spotting land, thinking they were in Asia. Columbus landed on an island in the present-day Bahamas, though the exact island of his landing is unknown.
    • While Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas (Norse explorers in the 11th century had found and briefly colonized Greenland and Newfoundland), his 1492 exploration led to the first sustained contact between European nations and the Americas. In the following decades, several more explorers sponsored by several different governments would send their own explorers to investigate the new land.
      • Upon landing, Columbus gave voice to many of the European motivations for exploration mentioned above. He wrote of the rich natural resources he saw in the new land:
        • "Hispaniola [name Columbus used for where he had landed] is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful ... the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals...." Ominously, he also wrote of enslaving the native peoples. To Columbus, his voyage and discovery were a triumph of the Christian God: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."

Columbus' voyage has given rise to several different historical interpretations. Some, such as the American historian Howard Zinn, have condemned Columbus for engineering widespread theft, enslavement and genocide of the native peoples. Others, such as the American naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, have praised Columbus for his excellent seamanship and his great contribution to the fortunes of Western Europe.
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Age_-_Voyages_Map.jpg


primary_sources.PNGRead "The Columbus Letter," written by the explorer in 1493 in which he declared his successful voyage to the "islands of the India sea."
Read Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress, an excerpt from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

Multimedia.pngAssessing Columbus, by 8th grade teacher Amy Trenkle uses the Columbus Memorial in Washington, D.C. provides a basis for a critical response to the Columbus holiday.

Columbus--Hero or Villain? by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (1992).

Quest to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day Sails Ahead, CNN (October 10, 2016)


Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer intent on discovering possible trade routes between the Spice Islands of the Southeast Pacific and Europe.

  • Intent on sailing west to Asia by way of what was known as the "Southern Ocean", Magellan's Spanish expedition ultimately resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

    • Setting out from Spain in 1519 with five ships, only one ship, the Victoria, returned three years later. Eighteen of the original 270 crew members survived the journey;

      • Magellan was not among them, having been killed by a poison arrow in a skirmish with native Filipinos. Magellan and co. were the first Europeans to see and sail the Pacific Ocean, and named it Mar Pacifico for its supposed peacefulness.

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Click here for more information about Ferdinand Magellan's life and journey around the globe.

Click here to learn about 10 surprising facts about Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe.

Click here for an animated video describing Magellan's journey in its entirety (8:20)

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Image result for ferdinand magellan












Juan Ponce de Leon was one of the Spanish Empire's most ambitious and successful explorers.

  • He began his journey for fame in fortune in 1493, joining Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the New World. His arrival on the coast of Florida in 1513 marked the beginning of permanent European contact with North America. Ponce, Puerto Rico, is named in Ponce de Leon's honor.

    • Ponce de Leon spent significant amounts of time searching for rumored gold and the famous "fountain of youth" on the island of Puerto Rico and in Florida while serving as governor of Hispaniola, what is present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

      • de Leon helped to establish colonies in Puerto Rico and Florida, and discovered the Gulf Stream that would help future European explorers find their way home. Ponce de Leon was killed in July of 1521, when a Native American raid attacked his party of settlers in Florida and left him mortally wounded.


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Image result for ponce de leon map

Click here for information about Ponce de Leon's early life and career as explorer, including information on his exploits in Puerto Rico and Florida.

Click here for a short video discussing the historical validity of Ponce de Leon's search for the "fountain of youth".

Click here for a quiz about the life and achievements of Ponce de Leon.










external image Essener_Feder_01.pngAmerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer, financier, and navigator. Following several expeditions to the recently found coasts of "Asia", Vespucci became convinced that the newly discovered lands were not part of Asia, but rather a New World.

  • Following this declaration, a German geographer named Martin Waldseemuller suggested for the that the new lands be called Americus or America in a pamphlet; this is the first documented instance of the New World being referred to as the Americas.


Click here for information about Amerigo Vespucci's early life, exploration career, and achievements.

Click here for a short video discussing the life and explorations of Vespucci that swayed him to declare the discovery of Columbus to not be part of Asia, but a New World.



Female_Rose.pngJeanne Baret (July 27, 1740 - August 5, 1807) was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, disguising herself as a man on a French expedition from 1766-1769. She is given credit for much of the botanical discoveries made on Louis Antoine de Bougainville's journey around the globe.
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Click here for more information on the life of Jeanne Baret and her journey around the globe.





timeline2_rus.svg.pngExploration Timeline

  • 1493 Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and established permanent colony on Hispaniola
  • 1498 Northern Coast of South America by Venezuela
  • 1502 Coastline of Central America by Panama/Honduras
  • 1513 Vasco Nunezde Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean
  • 1519-1521 Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico/Aztec Empire
  • 1519-1521 Ferdinand Magellan reached Orient by sailing around Cape Horn, South America
  • 1531-1535 Francisco Pizarro explored West Coast of South America, laid waste to the Inca Empire in the Peruvian Andes, and founded Lima
  • 1531-1537 Diego de Almagro aided in the conquest of Peru
  • 1536-1538 Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada explored the Northern Andes, founded Bogotá, and searched for El Dorado (as did brother Pizzaro)
  • 1540-1541 Pedro de Valdivia conquered and explored Chile and founded Santiago
  • 1541 Francisco de Orellana traveled over the Andes down the Amazon River also searching for El Dorado

Trade goods that were brought back to Europe: gold, silver, dyes, cotton, vanilla, hides from livestock, cacoa, maize/corn, tobacco, manioc/cassava.