The Age of Discovery:Cultural Encounters in the Early Modern World c.14 - HI6040

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


A century after the discovery of the Americas, in a treatise published in 1580, the radical Reformer Jacob Paleologus argued that it was most unlikely that the ancestors of the American natives could have crossed the Ocean and he concluded hence that all humans cannot descend from one single individual, Adam. So the discovery of America not only challenged traditional geographical knowledge, but also questioned fundamental religious, anthropological and historical assumptions. This module will explore early modern encounters with new worlds and with non-European cultures and it will ask about the manifold changes of European life which these discoveries brought about.

The seminars of the first term will be dedicated to the different stages of European discoveries, starting with Columbus' discovery of America and ending with Mungo Park's attempts to discover the sources of the Niger river. Based on the weekly reading of one primary source, we will follow explorers, travellers, ambassadors, soldiers and missionaries on their expeditions to the inner parts of Africa, to the court of the Shah of Persia, to China and to the Americas. The module discusses the religious, intellectual, political and economical contexts of these discoveries and it will ask how the various actors organized and methodized their expeditions and how they interpreted their discoveries. The second term will be dedicated to the study of some of the consequences these discoveries entailed. How did they affect traditional European ideas about mankind, religion, the world and their position in it? How did they influence European life style, fashion, art and literature?


Contact hours

This module will be taught through two 2-hour seminars each week, with the exception of Enhancement Weeks and one week per term that will be dedicated to coursework feedback.

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by:

- Essay 1 (2500 words) – 9%
- Essay 2 (2500 words) – 9%
- Guided Readings – 4%
- Seminar Participation – 2%
- Presentations (10 minutes) – 6%
- Vallaloid Debate (1500 words) – 5%
- Exhibition and catalogue (1500 words, plus images/exhibits) – 5%
- Exam 1 (2 hours) – 30%
- Exam 2 (2 hours) – 30%

Indicative reading

Abulafia, David, The Discovery of Mankind: Encounters in the Age of Columbus (New Haven, 2008)
Benjamin, Thomas, The Atlantic World. Europeans, Africans, Indians and Their Shared History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2009)
Bitterli, Urs, Cultures in Conflict. Encounters between European and non-European cultures, 1492-1800 (Stanford, 1989)
Grafton, Anthony, New Worlds, Ancient Texts. The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, Mass., 1992)
Hunt, Lynn et al. The Book that Changed Europe. Picart and Bernard's Religious Ceremonies of the World (Cambridge, Mass., 2010).
Laven, Mary, Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Enounter with the East (London, 2011)
Rubiés, Joan-Pau, Travellers and Cosmographers. Studies in the History of Early Modern Travel and Ethnography (Aldershot, 2007)
Stagl, Justin A., History of Curiosity. The Theory of Travel 1550-1800 (Chur, 1995)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate a knowledge and systematic understanding of the history of European discoveries and intercultural encounters between the 15th and the 18th century and of their intellectual, religious and cultural consequences.
- Demonstrate a broad conceptual command of the course, and a thorough and systematic understanding of the latest research.
- Demonstrate their capacity to assess and critically engage with a wide range of primary sources, both visual and written.
- Demonstrate independent learning skills by being able to make use of a wide range of high-level resources, including up-to-date research in peer-reviewed journals, information technology, relevant subject bibliographies and other primary and secondary sources.
- Critically evaluate key texts and other materials at a high level.

The intended generic learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate the ability to express complex ideas and arguments orally and in writing, skills which can be transferred to other areas of study and employment.
- Demonstrate enhanced communication, presentational skills and information technology skills
- Demonstrate the acquisition of an independent learning style when engaging with the course content, and the ability to manage their own learning.
- Analyse, discuss, deconstruct and demonstrate cogent understanding of central texts and, subsequently, assemble and present arguments based on this analysis; by virtue of this process, students will also have gained an appreciation of the uncertainty and ambiguity which surrounds the core themes of this module.
- Approach problem solving creatively, and form critical and evaluative judgments about the appropriateness of these approaches.
- Demonstrate transferable skills, such as taking minutes, guide peers through readings; produce a variety of text and assessment genres.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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