Posted by: Ed Darrell | October 3, 2011

Shortchanging the Age of Exploration

We really shortchange the Age of Exploration in Texas high schools — it’s much more interesting, complex, and fun in reality than in the snippets students get with a few hours in 9th grade geography, a cursory rundown in sophomore world history, and the allotted 32 minutes in U.S. history.

So, here’s some supplemental information. Geography provides an easy place to start.

The Age of Exploration or Age of Discovery as it is sometimes called, officially began in the early 15th century and lasted until the 17th century. The period is characterized as a time when Europeans began exploring the world by sea in search of trading partners, new goods, and new trade routes. In addition, some explorers set sail to simply learn more about the world. Whatever their reasons though, the information gained during the Age of Exploration significantly helped in the advancement of geographic knowledge.

A student might do very well to read that article before a test.  The site also offers information on cool exploration voyages, including some completely overlooked in Texas curricula:

Also during the Age of Discovery were the famed voyages of Christopher Columbus. These voyages started as an attempt to find a trade route to Asia by sailing west. Instead, he reach America in 1492 and shared information on this newly found land with Spain and the rest of Europe. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral explored Brazil, setting off a conflict between Spain and Portugal in terms of the newly claimed lands. As a result, the Treaty of Tordesillas officially divided the world in half in 1494.

Some other important voyages of exploration that took place during the Age of Exploration were Ferdinand Magellan’s attempted circumnavigation of the globe, the search for a trade route to Asia through the Northwest Passage, and Captain James Cook’s voyages that allowed him to map various areas and travel as far as Alaska.

If a student were curious about the three key navigation tools that made these long sea voyages feasible, where might a student look?

Portabel diptych sundial, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portable Diptych Sundial, ca. 1598 Hans Troschel the Elder (German, Nuremberg, 1549–1612) Ivory and brass 3 1/2 x 2 3/8 in. (8.9 x 6 cm) Gift of Mrs. Stephen D. Tucker, 1903 (03.21.38) Source: Hans Troschel the Elder: Portable Diptych Sundial (03.21.38) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art - "The growing production of mechanical clocks during the Renaissance had the effect of stimulating the construction of a variety of timekeeping instruments. Sundials were used for setting clocks, as well as for regulating their still inaccurate movements. Both the variety and number of sundials proliferated, but Nuremberg sundial makers specialized in small, folding, easily portable types made of ivory or wood. This dial, which can be used to tell the time in several different systems of counting the hours, was made to be used in Nuremberg's latitude of 49 1/2 degrees. Other portable sundials made in Nuremberg can be adjusted for use in several latitudes. Source: Hans Troschel the Elder: Portable Diptych Sundial (03.21.38) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art"

A wise student might be aware of the fourth navigation tool ignored by most texts:  Clocks.  The development of reliable instruments to keep time (some of which are explained and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art pages), especially on a rolling ship, made possible the greater use of day-time navigation tools aboard ship.


  1. Despite the fact that we already studied this, there were many details I did not know .. the good thing is that now i know them, the bad thing is that I did not read this before the test .. but for the next time i will try to be aware of whatever thing you send us.

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