by Courtney Roy

Prince Henry the Navigator

Portugal

Area of exploration: supported exploration of the western coast of Africa

Goals of exploration:

  • establish a Christian empire in western Africa to aid Portuguese wars against the Moors of northern Africa
  • find new sources of gold
  • create maps of the African coast

Impact: The trips funded by Henry the Navigator led to more exploration of western Africa, and the following discoveries:

  • the Madeira Islands (João Gonçalves Zarco, 1420)
  • Cape Bojador (rounded by Gil Eannes, 1434)
  • Cape Blanco (Nuño Tristão, 1441)
  • the Gambia River (Alvise da Cadamosto, 1456)
  • Cape Palmas (Diogo Gomes, 1459–1460)

Bartholomeu Días

Portugal

Area of exploration: coast of western Africa

Main expedition: 1488: rounded the southernmost tip of Africa

Goal of exploration: find a water route to Asia

Impact: Días led the Portuguese closer to discovering a water route to Asia.

Vasco da Gama

Portugal

Area of exploration: coast of western Africa

Main expedition: 1498: rounded the southernmost tip of Africa and reached India

Goal of exploration: find a water route to Asia

Impact: Da Gama found a water route to Asia and brought back a small but impressive collection of jewels and spices, which encouraged further exploration.

Christopher Columbus

Spain

Area of exploration: Caribbean

Main expeditions: Columbus made four main expeditions to the area: in 1492, when he reached the present-day Bahamas and later Cuba and Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti), followed by three additional expeditions in 1493, 1498, and 1502.

Goal of exploration: find a western water route to Asia

Impact: Although Columbus believed that he had landed on the fringes of Asia, he had actually discovered the New World and opened up additional exploration of the Americas.

Vasco Núñez Balboa

Spain

Area of exploration: Caribbean

Main expedition: 1513: discovered the Pacific Ocean and the Isthmus of Panama

Goal of exploration: further exploration of the New World

Impact: Balboa discovered a new passage for exploration and the Pacific Ocean; he also claimed the Pacific Ocean for the Spanish empire.

Ferdinand Magellan

Spain

Area of exploration: southern tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean

Main expedition: 1519–1522: Magellan started in Spain with five ships and navigated to the southern tip of South America, discovering the strait that is named from him. After passing through the strait, he continued into the Pacific Ocean. Though Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines, his ships went on to complete the first known circumnavigation of the globe.

Goal of exploration: seeking access to Asia across the Pacific Ocean

Impact: Magellan discovered a new passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; his expedtion was the first known to circumnavigate the globe.

Juan Ponce de Leon

Spain

Area of exploration: modern-day Florida

Main expedition: 1513 and 1521: Ponce de Leon likely initially thought that what is now Florida was an island when he explored the area.

Goal of exploration: seeking gold

Impact: Ponce de Leon explored mainland North America.

Hernán Cortés

Spain

Area of exploration: Mexico (from modern-day Cuba)

Main expedition: 1519: Led by a Spanish castaway, Cortés came into contact with the Aztec empire, which he conquered for Spain in 1521.

Goal of exploration: gold

Impact: Due to a smallpox outbreak, the Aztec population dwindled quickly, and Cortés played a major role in the conquest of the empire. The Aztec empire eventually spent 300 years under Spanish rule. Cortés also brought Spanish crops, animals, language, laws, customs, and religion. Intermarriage between the surviving Aztec and the Spanish led to the culture of mestizos.

Francisco Pizarro

Spain

Area of exploration: South America (modern-day Peru)

Main expedition: 1532–1538: conquered Peru and the Incan empire for Spain

Goal of exploration: seeking gold and silver for Spain

Impact: Pizarro conquered the Incan empire for Spain and spread Spanish influence in South America.

Hernando de Soto

Spain

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1539–1542: through Florida west into the continent

Goal of exploration: gold, silver, jewels

Impact: De Soto was the first known European to cross the Mississippi River.

Francisco Coronado

Spain

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1540–1542: Mexico through modern-day Arizona and New Mexico and into modern-day Kansas

Goal of exploration: fabled “golden cities,” which were actually adobe pueblos

Impact: Coronado furthered the spread of Spanish influence on the continent, opening up the Southwest of the modern-day US to Spanish settlement.

John Cabot

England

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1497–1498: northeastern coast of North America

Goal of exploration: a northwest passage through the New World to the Orient

Impact: Cabot established an English presence in North America, though England did not make any serious attempts to settle there for nearly 100 years.

Giovanni Verrazano

France

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1524: from France up the northeastern coast of North America from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia

Goal of exploration: establish a presence in the New World for France

Impact: Verrazano helped to establish a French claim in North America.

Jacques Cartier

France

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1534: the St. Lawrence River as far inland as modern-day Montreal

Goal of exploration: establish a presence in the New World for France

Impact: Cartier established a presence for the French in modern-day Canada.

Sir Francis Drake

England

Area of exploration: North America

Main expedition: 1577–1580: circumnavigated the globe, passing through the Strait of Magellan; captured a Spanish ship (which was carrying silver from Peru) off the coast of South America; explored the coast of California, claiming it for England; and returned to Europe through the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans

Goal of exploration: establish English presence in the New World, assert English dominance over Spain

Impact: Drake’s expeditions led to an increase of tensions between Spain and England.

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Discussion

Great overview of explorers


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