By 1400, a fundamental shift was occurring among the world’s civilizations. Chinese and Middle Eastern empires had been at the forefront of civilization for hundreds of years; sophisticated methods of governance, trade systems, and technology allowed them to exert near-global influence. But Mongol invaders from the East undermined the preeminent role of the Islamic and Chinese empires. For a time, the Ming dynasty of China attempted to fill the power vacuum that appeared when the Mongols conquered eastern Europe and Asia Minor. Meanwhile, internal and dynastic struggles continued to upset affairs in western Europe, where some states and kingdoms nevertheless experienced a rise in political and commercial power.
In this unit, we will examine world civilizations in a comparative light to see how and why western European society eclipsed other powerful civilizations in Asia. We will first examine the transition from an Asian-dominated world economy to a European-dominated one. We will then consider the two emerging European empires—Spain and Portugal—who spearheaded trade and conquest in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the New World. Finally, we will study the Age of Discovery and its impact on native peoples, Europe, and the balance of world trade.