The Legacy of “Discovery” and Modern Re-evaluations

The complicated impact of the Age of Exploration.

The Jesuits
The British East India Company
Haitian Creole
10 times higher
The Slavery Compensation Act of 1837

Re-evaluating the Eurocentric Narrative of "Discovery" in the Age of Exploration

The Age of Exploration has been subject to much modern historical critique, with many scholars re-evaluating the traditional Eurocentric narrative of “discovery”.

The narrative of “discovery” in the context of the Age of Exploration erases the fact that these lands and peoples were already known to and inhabited by indigenous populations.

It also casts the event of colonization in a positive light, as a form of enlightenment, perpetuating the false idea of the “noble savage” and the superiority of European culture.

In reality, the Age of Exploration was marked by the violent colonization and exploitation of lands of indigenous populations, often resulting in genocide, forced labor, and cultural destruction. Therefore, it is important to use language that acknowledges the agency and history of the indigenous peoples and to approach the topic with sensitivity and critical awareness.

The Lasting Economic Impact of Colonialism.

The Age of Exploration had a lasting impact on global economic inequalities, with many countries in the Global South still feeling the effects of colonial exploitation today.

For example, during the 16th century Spanish conquest of Latin America, vast amounts of gold and silver were extracted from local populations to fund European wars. This wealth was then used to finance further exploration and colonization efforts around the world.

In addition, exploitative labor practices such as slavery and indentured servitude were employed by Europeans to extract resources from their colonies at minimal cost. These policies created an unequal power dynamic between Europe and its colonies which persists even today.

For instance, African nations are often forced to accept unfair terms when trading with wealthier Western countries due to their lack of bargaining power. Furthermore, many former colonies have been left with weak economies due to centuries of underdevelopment caused by colonial rule.

The Cultural Genocide of Native Americans through Boarding Schools

The legacy of the Age of Exploration in America is one of cultural genocide. In an effort to assimilate Native Americans into European-American culture, the US government established boarding schools for indigenous children in the late 19th century.


These schools were designed to strip away native languages and customs, with students being punished for speaking their own language or practicing traditional ceremonies. This policy had a devastating effect on many tribes, leading to a sharp decline in native languages and cultures across North America.

Today, of an estimated 300 North American native languages, at least 123 have no remaining native speakers. Of 115 remaining languages surveyed in 2012, only 35 were spoken by more than 1,000 people.

The majority are therefore considered “critically endangered” or “extinct” according to UNESCO’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger, necessitating efforts in preservation from linguists and tribal communities alike.

The Spread of Christianity through Exploration and Missionaries

The Age of Exploration saw the spread of Christianity to new parts of the world, with missionaries traveling to Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Jesuits were particularly active in this regard, establishing missions in China and Japan as early as 1549.

In South America, Franciscan friars sought to convert indigenous populations while also protecting them from exploitation by Spanish colonists. Missionaries such as Bartolomé de las Casas advocated for native rights against colonial oppression.

Christianity has since become a major global religion, with over 2 billion adherents worldwide today. In North America specifically, the legacy of its early colonies’ separatist foundations can still be seen through the Protestant churches that dominate in America today, such as the Baptist, Lutheran, and Episcopal Churches.

Impact of European Colonialism on India and Southeast Asia

The Age of Exploration had a profound impact on India and Southeast Asia, with European colonial powers establishing trading posts in the region.

The British East India Company was particularly influential. Over time, the company grew in power and influence, and by the 19th century, it effectively controlled much of India.


In 1858, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British government abolished the East India Company and assumed direct control over India, establishing what came to be known as the British Raj.

This occupation saw an influx of new ideas and technologies from Europe, such as railways and telegraphs which modernize parts of India. However, it also brought about exploitation and subjugation for many local populations who were forced into servitude or denied basic rights.

The Ongoing Impact of European Arrival on Indigenous Australians.

The arrival of Europeans brought with it devastating consequences for Indigenous Australians, including dispossession from their land and displacement from traditional lifestyles.

Today, many Aboriginal people still face systemic racism and inequality in areas such as education, health care and employment opportunities. In addition, there are ongoing political issues surrounding the recognition of native title rights over land that was taken away during colonization.

This is exemplified by the Uluru Statement From The Heart which calls for constitutional reform to recognise Indigenous Australians as First Nations peoples with a voice in parliament.

Such movements call, for example, for the abolition of Australia Day, which marks the first landing of the First British fleet in 1788.

The Lingual and Geographical Legacies of Exploration

Trans-Atlantic slavery gave rise to several creole languages, still commonplace in former slave colonies, which developed as hybrids of european and african tongues. This includes the French based Haitian Creole and Papiamento in Aruba – a Portuguese and Spanish derived language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean.

Another fraught linguistic legacy of exploration is place names; many cities, towns and geographical features were given new names by Europeans to reflect their own language and culture.

In some cases original names have survived. For instance, New York was originally called Manna-hataan by its Native American, retained in today’s “Manhattan”.

In recent years there has been a global movement to reinstate Indigenous place names where possible, with some countries like Canada and New Zealand taking steps towards this goal.

This reflects a wider shift towards recognising the importance of preserving cultural heritage for future generations while also acknowledging past wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples during colonization.

The Legacy of Slavery and Systemic Racism for Black Americans.

The legacy of slavery for Black Americans has been one of economic deprivation and systemic racism. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade saw millions of African people forcibly taken from their homes to be sold as slaves in the Americas.

This resulted in a long history of exploitation and discrimination against African Americans that continues to this day. In 2020, the death of George Floyd sparked a global movement with the rallying cry ‘Black Lives Matter’ highlighting ongoing issues such as police brutality and racial injustice.

Economic inequality remains rife; according to research by Brandeis University, median wealth for white households was 10 times higher than that for black households in 2016. This disparity can be traced back to centuries-old policies such as redlining which prevented Black families from accessing mortgages or other forms of credit due to their race.

The Legacy of the Slavery Compensation Act of 1837: Calls for Reparations

The Slavery Compensation Act of 1837 was passed by the British government to compensate slave owners for the loss of their “property” following the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. This act has had an ongoing economic legacy, as the compensation payments were financed by loans that were repaid by the British government through taxes on the general population.

This has led to calls for reparations to be made to the descendants of slaves, who have not benefited from the profits made by their ancestors’ forced labor. The argument is that the profits made from slavery were not only unjust, but also continue to have a lasting impact on the economic fortunes of those who were not compensated for their labor.

The institutional reckoning of profits from slavery is a complex issue, with many factors to consider, including the ongoing effects of racial inequality and discrimination. However, the case for reparations continues to be made, as many argue that it is a necessary step towards acknowledging the injustice of slavery and working towards a more equitable future.

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