The Discovery of the World c.1450 - 1800 - HI6040

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19
Canterbury Autumn and Spring
View Timetable
6 60 (30) DR J Loop







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 impressions, which these encounters made and the manifold changes of European life they brought about. Based on the weekly reading of one primary source, we will follow travellers, merchants, scholars 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. We will watch them drawing maps of uncharted lands and compose dictionaries of unheard languages. And we will not only listen to European voices, but will also try to reconstruct the experiences and impressions of non-European actors and visitors. The central aim of this module is to discuss the religious, intellectual, political and economical contexts of these discoveries and cultural encounters. We will ask how the various actors organized and methodized their expeditions and how they interpreted their discoveries. The module will also address the consequences, which these discoveries entailed. How did they affect the traditional European ideas about mankind, religion, the world and their position in it? How did they influence European life style, fashion, art and literature? How did they affect the lives, social structures and cultures of the discovered people?


This module appears in:

Contact hours

3 hours a week throughout the Autumn and Spring terms.

Some subjects and themes to be covered

- Marvels and Travels: Travellers in the 14th century (Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, John de Mandeville)
- ‘Of Cannibals’ and the Noble Savage: Descriptions of the New World
- African slaves and African scholars in Europe
- An expedition to Ethiopia gone wrong – Johann Michael Vansleb (1635-1679)
- To the sources of the river Niger: The expeditions of Mungo Park (1771-1806)
- A traveler in disguise: Johann Ludwig Burckhardt alias Sheich Ibrahim (1784-1817) and the discovery of Petra and Mecca
- From the history of mankind to the history of the world

Method of assessment

1) 2 x 2500 word essays, each worth 15% of the coursework mark (each worth 6% of the total mark).
2) 1 x 3500 word essays, worth 30% of the coursework mark (12% of the total mark).
3) 2 x 15 minute presentations, each worth 20% of the coursework mark (each worth 8% of the total mark).
4) The module will also be tested in 2 x two–hour exams – which will make up 60% (30% each) of the final mark for the module.

Indicative reading

• Abulafia, David, The Discovery of Mankind: Encounters in the Age of Columbus (New Haven 2008)
• 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)
• Rubiés, Joan-Pau, Travellers and Cosmographers. Studies in the History of Early Modern Travel and Ethnography (Aldershot, 2007)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

11. The intended subject specific learning outcomes

As a consequence of taking this module all students will have:

11.1 acquired a firm grasp of the history of European discoveries between the 15th and the 18th century and of their intellectual, religious and cultural consequences.

11.2 demonstrated a broad conceptual command of the course, and a thorough and systematic understanding of the latest research.

11.3 demonstrated their capacity to assess and critically engage with a wide range of primary sources, both visual and written.

11.4 demonstrated 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.

11.5 acquired the ability to analyse key texts and other materials critically at a high level

12. The intended generic learning outcomes

As a consequence of taking this module all students will have:

12.1 enhanced their ability to express complex ideas and arguments orally and in writing, skills which can be transferred to other areas of study and employment

12.2 enhanced communication, presentational skills and information technology skills

12.3 demonstrated the acquisition of an independent learning style when engaging with the course content, for example in the preparation and presentation of course work, in carrying out independent research, in compiling bibliographies and other lists of research materials, by showing the ability to reflect on their own learning and by mediating complex arguments in both oral and written form

12.4 analysed, discussed, deconstructed and demonstrated cogent understanding of central texts and, subsequently, assembled and presented 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

12.5 approached problem solving creatively, and formed critical and evaluative judgments about the appropriateness of these approaches

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