The New Age After the 1500s

After 1500 there were many signs that a new age of world
history was beginning, for example the discovery of America and the
first European enterprises in Asia. This "new age" was dominated by
the astonishing success of one civilization among many, that of
Europe. There was more and more continuous interconnection between
events in all countries, but it is to be explained by European
efforts. Europeans eventually became "masters of the globe" and they
used their mastery to make the world one. That resulted in a unity of
world history that can be detected until today. Politics,
empire-building, and military expansion were only a tiny part of what
was going on. Besides the economic integration of the globe there was
a much more important process going on: The spreading of assumptions
and ideas. The result was to be "One World." The age of independent
civilizations has come to a close.
The history of the centuries since 1500 can be described as a
series of wars and violent struggles. Obviously men in different
countries did not like another much more than their predecessors did.
However, they were much more alike than their ancestors were, which
was an outcome of what we now call modernization. One could also say
that the world was Europeanized, for modernization was a matter of
ideas and techniques which have an European origin. It was with the
modernization of Europe that the unification of world history began. A
great change in Europe was the starting-point of modern history.
There was a continuing economic predominance of agriculture.
Agricultural progress increasingly took two main forms: Orientation
towards the market, and technical innovation. They were
interconnected. A large population in the neighborhood meant a market
and therefore an incentive. Even in the fifteenth century the
inhabitants of so called ?low countries? were already leaders in the
techniques of intensive cultivation. Better drainage opened the way to
better pasture and to a larger animal population. Agricultural
improvement favored the reorganization of land in bigger farms, the
reduction of the number of small holders, the employment of wage
labor, and high capital investment in buildings, drainage and
machinery.
In the late sixteenth century one response to the pressure of
expanding population upon slowly growing resources had been the
promoting of emigration. By 1800, Europeans had made a large
contribution to the peopling of new lands overseas. It was already
discernible in the sixteenth century when there began the long
expansion of world commerce which was to last until 1930. It started
by carrying further the shift of economic gravity from southern to
north-western Europe, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, which
has already been remarked. One contribution to this was made by
political troubles and wars such as ruined Italy in the early
sixteenth century. The great commercial success story of the sixteenth
century was Antwerp's, though it collapsed after a few decades in
political and economic disaster. In the seventeenth century Amsterdam
and London surpassed it. In each case an important trade based on a
well-populated hinterland provided profits for diversification into
manufacturing industry, services, and banking. The Bank of Amsterdam
and The Bank of England were already international economic forces in
the in the seventeenth century. About them clustered other banks and
merchant houses undertaking operations of credit and finance. Interest
rates came down and the bill of exchange, a medieval invention,
underwent an enormous extension of use and became the primary
financial instrument of international trade.
This was the beginning of the increasing use of paper, instead
of bullion. In the eighteenth century came the first European paper
currencies and the invention of the check. Joint stock companies
generated another form of negotiable security, their own shares.
Quotation of these in London coffee-houses in the seventeenth century
was overtaken by the foundation of the London Stock Exchange. By 1800
similar institutions existed in many other countries. It was also the
time of some spectacular disastrous investment projects, one of which
was the great English South Sea Bubble. But all the time the world was
growing more commercial, more used to the idea of employing money to
make money, and was supplying itself with the apparatus of modern
capitalism.
One effect quickly appeared in the much greater attention paid
to commercial questions in diplomatic negotiation from the later