Europe underwent several massive changes after the exploration of the Americas, the Columbian Exchange, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and several religious wars. Before these events, the Europeans lived under monarchies where religion and government were one in the same and world trade was non existent. These events ushered in early modern Europe and changed the continent forever. In the 1450s, rapid changes overtook Europe.
Some of these changes were technological, involving advances in firearms and sailing, economic, involving the development of trade networks, and religious, leading to the exploration of the Americas. Before the exploration of the Americas, the farthest Europeans traveled was northwest toward Ireland. Europeans had always been followers of the sea, but the bold exploration into the Americas was their greatest achievement. Before these changes, ninety percent of Europeans were farmers living in small villages. There were food shortages due to war and low grain yields which produced a society that was prone to disease.
There was a blend of desperation and ambition that lead the Europeans to the Americas. The Americas meant salvation and security from a war-torn and disease-ridden land. Early modern Europe was a world of inequalities. One quarter of all children died within the first year of life, peasants and craft workers made several hundred times less than aristocrats and nobles, and kings were weak and warrior lords ran small towns. The upper classes provided protection and land for the lower classes and homicide, rape, and robbery were commonplace.
Most feared change because early modern Europe lacked order and security; order and security were so fragile that society clung to these things to keep their lives stable. The sudden deaths due to the Black Death, which began in 1347, restored the balance between resources and people. People realized that the more people died, the better wages were, prices were lower, and there was more land. When Christopher Columbus explored the Americas about 150 years after the outbreak of the Black Death, the Europeans that settled the Americas experienced the same problems. There was a shortage of food and land.
In the Americas, Europe’s desperate and hopeful population believed that the New World would provide jobs, land, and wealth. Advances in technology made settling overseas attractive to those looking for power and wealth. More efficient ways of establishing credit and transferring money came along with world trade. (Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, Stoff, 2006) The Columbian Exchange was both cultural and biological. The Columbian Exchange was the exchange of European products, such as livestock, food, and diseases, to the Americas and the exchange of the same products from the Americas to Europe.
The Catholic church, horses, gunpowder, African slaves, and diseases were introduced to the Americas. The Americas introduced foods such as corn, peppers, pumpkins, turkeys, and tobacco to Europe. Products from Asia, such as grapes, coffee, sugar cane, rice, and olives were introduced to both Europe and the Americas courtesy of African slaves and European traders. (Harrison, 2006) The Columbian Exchange was extremely important to the changes in Europe. In the 1450s, Europeans wanted to study the world around them, including art. It was a new age in Europe that was dubbed the Renaissance.
The Renaissance began in Italy and spread throughout Europe. This movement including not only studying old art, but influencing new artists. Master artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, focused on realism rather than religious topics. (“The Dawn of a New Age”, 2005) Because artists focused less on religious topics, the Renaissance was not only about art, but also about religion. During the second decade of the sixteenth century, radical religious changes were taking place in Europe. The Roman Catholic church defined religion in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The Catholic church was a hierarchy. Religious institutions in the Middle Ages were decentralized and local. The popes of the Catholic church grew more powerful, and by 1500, the Catholic church had land throughout Europe and collected taxes from church members. Parish priests neglected their duties while popes and bishops flaunted their wealth. Out of this came the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther. The Catholic church taught that one had to live a life of good works in order to achieve salvation, but the Bible said that salvation came by faith alone.
Martin Luther, due to this notion, became critical of the church. He posted his infamous 95 theses attacking the Catholic hierarchy in 1517. (Davidson et al. , 2006) After Martin Luther’s attacks, the Catholic church proposed its own reforms. This was known as the Counter-Reformation. Some reforms encouraged society to return to ethical living, but others were only reactions to reformers’ criticisms.
However, during this time, an important group known as the Jesuits was formed. This group was officially recognized by the Catholic church in the 1540s. “The Counter-Reformation”, 1996) The Scientific Revolution was the most influential of all the changes in Europe during this time. The Scientific Revolution changed European thought in every aspect of human life. For example, the view that the world functions like a machine was introduced at this time. Human knowledge was also separated into different sciences. (“The Scientific Revolution”, 1996) In short, the Scientific Revolution fine-tuned human thinking and got people to see the world differently. Many religious wars were also a part of the changes in European life.
When referring to “religious wars”, ten different wars involving religion come to mind. These wars lasted from 1562 to 1598. Religion was the basis for the wars, however, it involved several other aspects of life. In people’s minds, religion was intertwined with society. Religious tolerance was non existent, therefore, new ideas led to destruction. (“The Wars of Religion”, 2004) All of these events happened for a reason. The Europeans were a desperate people; they longed for security and happiness. The entrance into the Americas was a welcome opportunity for a better life.
The Renaissance and Scientific Revolution made individuals think about the world around them instead of only accepting what they were given or taught. The Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and religious wars expressed different ideas on religion, creating religious tolerance that the world has come to rely on today. Without all of these events, Europe would still be in the Middle Ages. The exploration of the Americas, the Columbian Exchange, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the religious wars all helped to usher in modern Europe.
Before these changes, Europe was a war-trodden and disease-ridden country plagued by poverty and intolerance. These important events helped to enlighten Europeans and gave them hope for a better life. All of these factors showed Europeans a different way of looking at the world and their role in their society. After these events, Europeans looked forward to wealth, security, and order. They had a greater understanding of what the world held and how it worked. People began thinking instead of just living.