The 17th century is frequently called the age of the Scientific Revolution because it was a time in which human beings came to a better understanding of the natural world and their place in it. Men of science emerged who advanced new ideas and new methods for discovering truth. No longer relying exclusively on the Bible or the external authority of the Church, these men believed that knowledge about the world was best acquired through rational inquiry based on evidence. The consequences of the Scientific Revolution were immense. Long-standing ideas about human beings and the world in which they were lived were shown to be false. Men like Nicolaus Copernicus (Poland), Galilei Galileo (Italy), Rene Descartes (France), and Isaac Newton (England) challenged both the teachings and authority of the Church by asserting that human beings could better understand the world by using their minds to observe evidence and draw conclusions from it.

Although the men who advanced the methods and ideas of Scientific Revolution were European, it would be a mistake to think of this as a strictly European movement. In 1600, the world was connected as never before as new networks of exchange had been opened. Americans, Europeans, Asians, and Africans intermingled to trade not only physical goods but also values and ideas. The writings of the ancient Greeks, which had been lost in Europe after the fall of Rome, were rediscovered through contact with the Muslim world which had preserved them for centuries. The insights of Hindu mathematicians made their way back to Europe along with pepper and tea. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, the fact that the world was much bigger than had been believed and filled with people, plants, and animals that had been previously unknown forced people to ask new questions and to seek new answers.

The achievements of the Scientific Revolution were also spread along the trade routes established in the 16th century. In China, Qing dynasty emperors and scholars were deeply interested in European advances in mathematics and their practical application for predicting eclipses, reforming the calendar, and making accurate maps of the empire. Likewise, scholars in the Ottoman Empire were focused on the usefulness of the new science for making maps and calendars. Japan remained officially closed to European influence, but, through their trading relationship with the Dutch, sought knowledge about the human body from the anatomical discoveries of European doctors. Because each of these cultures had deeply developed scientific traditions of their own, they made use of European science by creatively adapting it to their own purposes and ends.

Thus, the 17th century was a time of intensified cultural borrowing. Peoples that had been introduced to each other in the 16th century selectively borrowed new elements learned from interactions with others and integrated them into their own cultural and intellectual traditions. Filipinos, Siberians, and many Native American peoples borrowed elements from Christianity. Likewise, people in southeast Asia and north Africa peoples adopted elements from Islam. North Indian Sikhs continued to draw on both Hindu and Islamic teachings. Europeans borrowed ideas learned from Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist philosophers. European doctors also looked to both Native American and Chinese medicinal traditions to understand better the use of plants in the treatment of illnesses.

It would be a mistake however to think that the borrowing was even-handed or even, strictly speaking, voluntary. Europeans, who had begun to gain global military, political, and economic power in the 16th century, continued to use that might to oppress and enslave indigenous peoples and to rob their lands of its resources for their own purposes. Some of the world’s larger nations, such as the Chinese and Japanese, were able to repel Europeans by closing their borders. But many of the world’s peoples found themselves increasingly under siege as they desperately sought to preserve their own identities and traditions.

In this chapter, we will seek to understand all that has been mentioned above as we look at the continued impact of early modern globalization. Our study begins by looking at the various geographical regions of the world in the 17th century. The initial “global overview” discusses important rulers, cultural trends, and developments that impacted the lives of people. The remaining sections of this part of the book focus on the following important 17th century events: the Peace of Westphalia and the rise of the nation-state and the Scientific Revolution.


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