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Columbus, de Gama, and Zheng He! 15th Century Mariners. Crash Course: World History #21

In which John Green teaches you about the beginning of the so-called Age of Discovery. You’ve probably heard of Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” America in 1492, but what about Vasco da Gama? How about Zheng He? Columbus gets a bad rap from many modern historians, but it turns out he was pretty important as far as the history of the world goes. That said, he wasn’t the only pioneer plying the seas in the 1400s. In Portugal, Vasco da Gama was busy integrating Europe into the Indian Ocean Trade by sailing around Africa. Chinese admiral Zheng He was also traveling far and wide in the largest wooden ships ever built. Columbus, whether portrayed as hero or villain, is usually credited as the great sailor of the 15th century, but he definitely wasn’t the only contender. What better way to settle this question than with a knock-down, drag-out, no holds barred, old-fashioned battle royal? We were going to make it a cage match, but welding is EXPENSIVE.

Resources:

The Age of Reconnaissance by JH Parry – An explanation of the technologies that made these voyages possible, and a nice detailed record of many of the important voyages.

When China Ruled the Sea by Louise Levathes: A history of the Ming dynasty’s ventures into maritime exploration.

Unknown Seas by Ronald Watkins: A highly readable account of Vasco da Gama’s introduction of europe into the Indian Ocean trade.

Crash Course World History is now available on DVD!

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