The New Age After the 1500s



After 1500 there were many signs that a new age of world

history was beginning, for example the discovery of America and the

first European enterprises in Asia. This "new age" was dominated by

the astonishing success of one civilization among many, that of

Europe. There was more and more continuous interconnection between

events in all countries, but it is to be explained by European

efforts. Europeans eventually became "masters of the globe" and they

used their mastery to make the world one. That resulted in a unity of

world history that can be detected until today. Politics,

empire-building, and military expansion were only a tiny part of what

was going on. Besides the economic integration of the globe there was

a much more important process going on: The spreading of assumptions

and ideas. The result was to be "One World." The age of independent

civilizations has come to a close.

The history of the centuries since 1500 can be described as a

series of wars and violent struggles. Obviously men in different

countries did not like another much more than their predecessors did.

However, they were much more alike than their ancestors were, which

was an outcome of what we now call modernization. One could also say

that the world was Europeanized, for modernization was a matter of

ideas and techniques which have an European origin. It was with the

modernization of Europe that the unification of world history began. A

great change in Europe was the starting-point of modern history.

There was a continuing economic predominance of agriculture.

Agricultural progress increasingly took two main forms: Orientation

towards the market, and technical innovation. They were

interconnected. A large population in the neighborhood meant a market

and therefore an incentive. Even in the fifteenth century the

inhabitants of so called ?low countries? were already leaders in the

techniques of intensive cultivation. Better drainage opened the way to

better pasture and to a larger animal population. Agricultural

improvement favored the reorganization of land in bigger farms, the

reduction of the number of small holders, the employment of wage

labor, and high capital investment in buildings, drainage and

machinery.

In the late sixteenth century one response to the pressure of

expanding population upon slowly growing resources had been the

promoting of emigration. By 1800, Europeans had made a large

contribution to the peopling of new lands overseas. It was already

discernible in the sixteenth century when there began the long

expansion of world commerce which was to last until 1930. It started

by carrying further the shift of economic gravity from southern to

north-western Europe, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, which

has already been remarked. One contribution to this was made by

political troubles and wars such as ruined Italy in the early

sixteenth century. The great commercial success story of the sixteenth

century was Antwerp's, though it collapsed after a few decades in

political and economic disaster. In the seventeenth century Amsterdam

and London surpassed it. In each case an important trade based on a

well-populated hinterland provided profits for diversification into

manufacturing industry, services, and banking. The Bank of Amsterdam

and The Bank of England were already international economic forces in

the in the seventeenth century. About them clustered other banks and

merchant houses undertaking operations of credit and finance. Interest

rates came down and the bill of exchange, a medieval invention,

underwent an enormous extension of use and became the primary

financial instrument of international trade.

This was the beginning of the increasing use of paper, instead

of bullion. In the eighteenth century came the first European paper

currencies and the invention of the check. Joint stock companies

generated another form of negotiable security, their own shares.

Quotation of these in London coffee-houses in the seventeenth century

was overtaken by the foundation of the London Stock Exchange. By 1800

similar institutions existed in many other countries. It was also the

time of some spectacular disastrous investment projects, one of which

was the great English South Sea Bubble. But all the time the world was

growing more commercial, more used to the idea of employing money to

make money, and was supplying itself with the apparatus of modern

capitalism.

One effect quickly appeared in the much greater attention paid

to commercial questions in diplomatic negotiation from the later

seventeenth