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17th Century Timelines
Episode Seven: Century of
the Telescope (1600-1700)
17th Century World Context.
Commerce boomed from 1450 to about
1640. More traveling merchants arrived
in local markets to trade. Traveling
merchants were often the junior
members of merchant families, with the
older relatives living permanently in
market towns.
Large quantities of trade goods were
bought and stored in warehouses to be
distributed to local markets. Thus, local
markets were linked to regional
systems, and regional markets in turn
became more connected to the larger,
global system as the volume of trade
Between the 11th and 14th centuries,
Muslims borrowed the Hindu
concepts of zero and the decimal
system, making double entry
bookkeeping possible. But how could
a merchant know the value of coin
minted in Constantinople compared to
the value of one minted in Baghdad?
The circulation for foreign coins caused
problems. Money changers became a
necessity. As they traded local and
foreign coins, money changers set the
value of various currencies. Gradually
money changers became established
bankers. They started issuing letters of
credit, the ancestors of modern credit
Now merchants could travel with a
letter guaranteeing them credit at the
next local bank. This freed merchants
from the need to barter and the
dangerous practice of lugging chests
of coins from market to market. In
the 14th century, the Italians had
borrowed these practices-and added
some of their own.
Joint Stock Companies
The joint stock company, an invention of
the 14th century and ancestor to the
modern corporation, enabled investors to
buy shares of ownership with limited
liability. Joint stock companies could
raise larger sums of money for business
ventures; investors were protected from
losing any more than their initial
investment should the scheme fail.
Italian commercial practices spread
north, where nation states became the
governing political organization.
Speculation in the buying and selling of
stock offered another possibility for
getting rich. Wealthy European
merchants and early bankers formed
uneasy alliances with their rulers as
commercial interests and government
decisions became intertwined.
While the concept of capitalism
developed out of this economic
transformation of southern Europe in
the 14th century, by the 17th century
the major seats of economic activity
were in the north.
Metal production increased, with
Japan, Europe, Mexico, and Peru
leading the way. An increasing
demand for goods forced an
inflationary spiral in Europe, where
by the 1640's there was inflation, then
speculation, then something of an
economic slump.
For example, tulips had arrived in
Europe via the Ottoman Empire as
highly prized, exotics. Speculation in
tulip bulbs made tulip merchants
wealthy as the price of bulbs steadily
climbed. Markets were established for
a regular tulip exchange. Twelve acres
of land were offered for a single bulb.
Prices soared, wobbled, and finally
crashed in 1636. Speculators were
ruined. England, France, Holland, and
Russia joined the rush to establish
Cold weather in northern Europe and
northeastern Asia led to food
shortages. European printing
increased in volume. New areas of
the world were subjected to
deforestation as land was cleared for
commercial crops and timber, which
was eagerly sought for shipbuilding
and other enterprises.
Commercial Revolution and the
Triangle Trade
By 1600, the northern European
extension of the commercial
revolution was in full swing.
Populations expanded. French,
English, and American fur traders
traveled west.
Russians began a great eastward
expansion that would result in a fur
trading empire extending from the
Urals to Alaska. The initial bonanza
of American gold and silver was
replaced by European investments
in a mining and plantation economy
in the Americas.
As the popularity of sugar increased
among ordinary people, the idea of
sugar plantations in the Americas
spread to new places-mainly the
islands of the Caribbean.
A three-way trade developed.
Sugar, tobacco, silver, fish,
timber, and furs were shipped from
the Americas to Europe.
Europeans manufactured goods for
export to Africa and the Americas.
In Africa they traded for slaves to
work the plantations and gold to be
exported to Europe.
The Atlantic economy expanded.
More European colonies were
established in the Americas. The
center of European trade shifted
from the Mediterranean to the
Trade Across the Indian Ocean
In the Indian Ocean, the Dutch
joined the Portuguese in trying to
capitalize on the Far Eastern
markets. But few European
products were of interest to Asian
buyers. Asian products already
dominated the markets.
In Nanking, for example,
workshops produced a million
pieces of china for annual
export. A textile center in Bengal
produced two million pounds of
raw silk annually during the
Cotton weavers in the Indian city of
Gujarat produced three million
pieces of cotton a year for export
alone. By comparison, Leiden, the
largest single textile center in
Europe, produced less than 100,000
pieces of cloth yearly.
Cultural Expression
Economic prosperity financed new forms
of cultural expression during this long
period from 1450 to 1640. This was an
age of stunning architecture that saw the
construction of Moscow's St. Basil's
Cathedral, the Taj Mahal, Saint Peter's
in Rome, the Hindu temple complex at
Renaissance paintings, Persian carpets
from Tabriz, Benin bronzes, blue and
white Ming porcelain, and Japanese
lacquerware illustrated the artistic
achievements of this period. With
commercial expansion came a new
European interest in exact
measurements, the accurate accounting
of time, and the beginnings of
systematic scientific research.
Important Dates and Developments
from the 17th Century
1601 – First Welfare program
1603 – Shakespeare’s Hamlet
1605 – Cervantes’s Don Quixote
1609 – First Regularly printed
1610 – Galileo proves that the
Earth revolves around the sun
1610 – Tea imported to Europe
1628 – Harvey explains
circulatory system
1633 – First child-rearing book
1656 – First pendulum clock
1666 – Newton’s Law of gravity
1674 – Microorganisms observed
1683 – First public museum
17th Century
Rene Descarte 1596 – 1650
René Descartes introduced
groundbreaking concepts in mathematics,
science and philosophy. Called the
inventor of analytic geometry and a
founder of modern philosophy, the
Frenchman also made advances in optics
and physiology.
He introduced what came to be called
the Cartesian method: beginning
inquiry with universal doubt, as
opposed to medieval philosophy, in
which faith played a prominent role. He
also identified a split between mind and
body, a dualism that remains an issue in
philosophy today. But he is best
remembered for one simple statement:
"I think, therefore I am."
Galileo Gaililei 1564 – 1642
By challenging views of the natural
world that had prevailed for 1,500 years,
Italian astronomer, physicist and
mathematician Galileo Galilei changed
the way we think. By inventing a
mathematical approach to everyday
experience, he discovered the laws of
inertia, falling bodies and the pendulum.
With a telescope he built, he also made
astronomical discoveries that convinced
him of the heliocentric view of the
universe, which Copernicus had
formulated earlier but had been hesitant
to publish. Galileo took the chance but
was forced to recant his findings before
a Catholic Church tribunal in 1633.
Nonetheless, his beliefs and
discoveries lived on, opening the
door for modern physics and a new
approach to scientific thought.
Louis XIV 1638 – 1715
In 1643, a few months shy of his fifth
birthday, he was crowned king of
France. He survived a revolt by the
nobility and emerged to declare himself
a divine monarch -- the Sun King.
Louis XIV was an absolutist: A
passport could not be issued without
his permission.
He raised a mighty army, fought wars
against England, Holland and the Holy
Roman Empire -- and France's own
Protestants – and constructed the
sprawling palace of Versailles, to which
he moved the royal court from Paris.
There he lived and ruled, surrounded
by indulgence, spectacle and
sycophancy. Louis is credited with
making France a leading power -- and
blamed for precipitating its decline.
John Locke 1632- 1704
Enlightenment philosopher John Locke
was noted for his writing on education,
science and religious freedom. His ideas
about politics -- that people by nature
have certain rights, including life, liberty
and property, and that their consent is the
only legitimate basis of government -had a more profound effect.
His proposals for legislative
representation and free speech
influenced the U.S. Constitution and
democratic movements around the
Claudio Monteverdi 1567 – 1643
Claudio Monteverdi was already
known outside Italy for his
madrigals and church works when
he became interested in opera, an
experimental form joining
storytelling and dialogue with
Isaac Newton 1642 – 1727
A passionately religious man in a time
of great scientific discovery, Isaac
Newton wanted to know how God's
universe worked. His quest for answers
gave us the law of universal gravitation,
calculus, a new theory of color and
light, and the three laws of motion that
form the basis of modern mechanics.
Brilliant and creative, the English
physicist and mathematician
synthesized the discoveries of
Galileo, Kepler and others,
formalizing and transforming physical
William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616
His masterly use of language has
captivated audiences for 400 years. He
penned 38 plays and 154 sonnets that
explored the complexities of the
human soul with unprecedented
emotional range. But what all his work
demonstrates is a facility for wordplay
unrivaled by any writer before or
17th Century Segments
England and Isaac Newton
USA – Virginia
Brazil – Slaves
Holland – Commerce
China – Jesuits and Science
17th Century Legacies
Asian trade dominated the global exchange.
Commerce in the Atlantic Basin between Europe, Africa and the Americas became an
increasingly important element in global trade.
Plantation agriculture is established in the Americas.
Early forms of capitalism and new business organizations like the joint stock
company develop during this period.
Fluctuations in the global market led to periods of economic expansion and
Art and architecture of this period represent a triumph in artistic expression