Science and Its Times 1450 to 1699 by Neil Schlager

By Neil Schlager

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The ultimate legacy of the voyages of Columbus—the rediscovery of the New World—was the product of a series of miscalculations. Even without knowing which lands were across the Atlantic, Columbus grievously miscalculated the distance to Cathay and the span of the Atlantic Ocean. According to his calculations and early charts, the islands upon which he landed exactly matched his projections for the locations of Cipango (Japan) and Cathay. This miscalculation in distance may have been initially willful on his part in order to gain the support of the crown and his crewman.

Violent encounters with indigenous tribes in Alabama convinced de Soto to abandon plans to establish Mobile as the chief city of the Spanish territories in the region. Future Spanish expeditions paid little attention to the area, which was eventually claimed and settled by the French. ration was the introduction of European disease that swept through Native populations that were not able to fend off foreign contagions. The grand sweep of de Soto’s venture, as well as travel among the Indians themselves, drastically increased the number of people who were exposed to bubonic plague, smallpox, and various fevers.

Even the island’s Spanish settlers were bristling with hostility for T I M E S V O L U M E 3 17 SAIT 3 Exp & Dis (1) Exploration & Discovery 1450-1699 10/28/00 12:25 PM Page 18 the pair. Their discontent eventually burgeoned into open rebellion and pleas to the Spanish court for intercession. When Columbus arrived, he attempted to restore order with his usual harsh tactics, including hanging. Soon, however, the Spanish chief justice arrived, and the results of his investigation did not flatter the Columbus family.

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