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Travel from Europe and the Middle East

Renaissance Travel: Exploration And Empire

With the beginning of the early modern period, the primary image of travel gradually transforms from the traditional images of epic and pilgrimage into something new—exploration. There is a sense in which exploration retains the heroic character of epic travel: it often highlights conflict, whether conflict with the elements and a hostile landscape or conflict with the other cultures encountered. But explorers, while at some level imperialists, are, during the early period of exploration at least, not really larger-than-life figures. The curiosity about geographic features and other cultures ceases to be a minor sin and becomes the animating reason for travel. The explorer travels expressly to find new lands and peoples, desiring to trade with other cultures or to exploit the riches of new lands. In the initial European encounter with America, Christopher Columbus was very much the medieval man, looking during his voyage for the lost earthly paradise, said to be located in the west. The Spanish conquistadors saw themselves as feudal overlords of subject peoples, and conducted their conquests accordingly. Narrators of their voyages over the ocean and over land contributed to a perspective on the native civilizations they found there, a perspective that inherited the sense of wonder found in medieval travel narratives but also a less benign questioning of the humanity of the others who were encountered. Seeing the native civilizations as strange and wondrous tended to dehumanize the people encountered. But the New World yielded another, more tangible, reward to the explorers—the gold and silver of the Americas. Ultimately all the European exploratory ventures took part in a quest for resources, either precious metals or the natural resources of the lands discovered.

Exploration narratives were writings in search of a genre. It was important, for the first time, that each explorer "answere for himselfe, justifie his owne reportes, and stand accountable for his owne doings," according to England's greatest Renaissance collector and travel narrative editor, Richard Hakluyt, because these reports were becoming the guidebooks for colonists and pioneers. Curiosity about people, languages, and geography became a virtue, and truthfulness became important.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Toxicology - Toxicology In Practice to TwinsTravel from Europe and the Middle East - Ancient And Medieval Travel: Epic Heroes, Pilgrims, And Merchants, Renaissance Travel: Exploration And Empire