HIST 1020: World History II
August 20, 2012: The World Map in 1750
• What is history?
• One of the central points I want you all to be taking away from this course is that names
and dates are important, but only in so far as they are the tools with which historians
build interpretations. History, that is, the stories we tell about the past, is built upon
facts, but more importantly upon interpretation. In other words, history—and one’s
view of the world in general—depends on one’s perspective.
• Maps can be useful tools to see the variety of perspectives available to understand the
past and the world. We all know that there are hundreds of ways to translate
information into different kinds of maps. What are some of the kinds of maps out there?
• Historical maps of course work the same way: we can learn certain aspects about space
and the relationship between the author and his world by looking at his or her map.
Today, I’d like to use some maps to explore—a little bit—about the different ways the
world was seen in the middle of the eighteenth century, when our course starts.
• In this course, I am going to be making a number of generalizations about various
societies. Today is no exception.
The world from the perspective of Europe
• Because I am a historian of Europe, we will begin our journey through the world in
1750 on the European continent and with the European perspective. And, frankly, a
majority of the maps we will be looking at—today, but also throughout the course,
illustrate information from a European (or North American) perspective.
• Europe was dominated in the mideighteenth century by a number of very strong
empires. A majority of the most powerful European powers were expanding and
strengthening through overseas conquests. The exception to this is Russia, which
focused almost exclusively on landbased expansion and consolidation, similar to the
methods of the Ottoman Empire. 2
• Russia, too, had undergone a great period of imperial expansion at the turn of the
eighteenth century under the rule of Tsar Peter the Great. Russian expansion across Asia
was not only a military process. The growth of the fur trade was a crucial factor.
• It was during this time that Russia really became noticed by western Europe.
• The Ottoman Empire
• The Hapsburg Empire was on the decline since the midseventeenth century.
• Great Britain
• Imperial Spain was on the wane.
• But Europe was increasingly looking outwards to the wider world.
• Even small European states had developed overseas empires, which after several
centuries they hoped to exploit more efficiently. They also had built their military
capability and gained administrative experience as they fought one another for greater
• As many of you know, in the eighteenth century, Europeans were getting their feet
under them as truly global explorers. Most of the Caribbean, Central, and South
America were conquered by Europeans, particularly by the Spanish, but also the
Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and even some Germans (though that didn’t last
The world from the perspective of the Americas
• The Americas were arguably the most profoundly transformed world region by the mid
eighteenth century. At this point, they had become a global crossroads whose products,
including silver, sugar, and tobacco, changed the world. The wealth of the Americas
was extracted at incalculable cost to the native populations.
• Already in the early sixteenth century, millions of native Americans had died from the
effects of conquest, overwork, and epidemic disease. By 1750, few indigenous
Americans remained unaffected by the arrival of Europeans. Even in the vast jungles of
the Amazon Basin and the Great Plains of North America, Europeanintroduced
diseases, animals, and trade goods steadily transformed everyday life.
• The numbers of native Americans began to rebound in Latin America in the late
seventeenth century, but they would never regain the population, or the cultural and 3
political power that they had had when Europeans first arrived in the late fifteenth
• Livestock imported from Europe roamed far and wide in the Americas, transforming the
landscape and displacing native species.
• The Americas were linked not only to western Europe, but also to Atlantic Africa and
• As a result of the extraordinarily high death rates among native Americans, European
merchants brought enslaved West and West Central Africans brought to work the
plantations and mines.
• The native Americans, by the mideighteenth century were facing significant population
• Disease had devastated huge numbers of their populations.
The world from the perspective of Africa
• The vast and ecologically diverse continent of Africa had long been linked together by
trade in salt, copper, iron, cola nuts, and other commod