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The age of discovery often referred to as the Age of exploration is a period in history that started in the early 15th century and continued up to the 17th century. It is during this period that Europeans explored Africa, Oceania and Asia. The exploration was sparked by the fall of Constantinople in the year 1453 which severely sparked European trade links by lands with Asia (Thomas, 1997). This therefore, meant that Europe had to seek routes in the East by sea in order to continue with their trade, this is what led to the long distance maritime travels.
The age of Discovery can be described as the bridge between the middle ages and the Modern Era; it is in fact what led to the rise of the European nation states. However, during this period there were rise of colonial empires, wide transfer of human population (mostly slaves) and also transfer of communicable diseases (Thomas, 1997). It was also a period of wars and serious human rights violation. For this reason, there are scholars that have proposed that this period should be referred to as the age of destruction instead of the age of discovery and exploration. This paper is going to explore this issue and see whether indeed this period should be referred to as the age of destruction.
The 15th century exploration of the African coast by the Portuguese is often seen by most scholars as the harbinger of European colonialism. Pope Nicholas V legitimized slavery by stating that any pagans and Saracens as well as other unbelievers could become a slave. The papal bulls served as a justification for slave trade as well as European colonialism. African slaves started trickling in and they replaced other enslaved persons from other religions. However, it is also at this time that the Atlantic slave trade was established (Thomas, 1997). Slavery was made a legal institution in 13 of American colonies, and the profits of the slave trade in the West Indian plantations in fact contributed to the British economy at the time of the Industrial revolution.
Further, it is at this time that Europeans started discovering new lands through naval explorations, the European colonizers started to migrate as well as settle in lands that were outside their native continent (Nardo, 2010). This was in the African coast and other coasts like the Asian coast. This was under the directions of the Invaded and colonized Canary Islands in the 15th century. When they reached these lands, they chased most of the natives away from the fertile lands and they converted much of the land to the production of wine and sugar. It is imperative to understand that this wine and sugar was not in any way used in the colonies but it was sent back to their original countries (Morison, 1971).
This therefore, meant that they used forced and cheap labor to produce goods which the natives never used. According to one scholar named John Thornton, the actual motivation that existed for European expansion as well as the navigation breakthrough was the exploitation of the opportunity for immediate profits by raiding and exploiting cheap labor and land from colonized territories (Morison, 1971). The Europeans used the Canary Islands as their bases, and they began their activities down the western coast of Africa and performed raids where slaves were captured and sold in the Mediterranean.
There were always resistances and it is obvious that there are resistances and massacres that history did not record. Africans were resistant to colonialism and slave trade and a lot of Africans died in this resistance (Klein, 1999). For example, almost in every country that colonization occurred, there was armed resistance which consequently created wars where a lot of people died. Further, it is at this time that serious human rights violations occurred. Africans were viewed as animals and therefore, they were treated as such. They underwent harsh conditions especially during their travels to the Americas and Europe to work as slaves.
With such evidence, it can therefore, be concluded that the age of exploration or age of discovery as it is popularly referred to should be replaced with age of destruction (Nardo, 2010). This is because this was a dark time in human history where wars took place, diseases were spread, slave trade was encouraged and new colonies were made.
Morison, S. E. (1971). The European discovery of America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Nardo, D. (2010). The European colonization of Africa. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Pub.
Thomas, H. (1997). The slave trade: The story of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440-1870. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Klein, H. S. (1999). The Atlantic slave trade. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.
The book, ‘Slavery in Alabama’ by James Benson Sellers focuses on the analysis of slavery in Alabama. Since its initial publication in 1950, the book remains as the only comprehensive and statewide study of the prevalence of slavery in Alabama. The author of the book concentrates on examining the social and economic aspects of people faced by slavery. In addition, he makes a description of the prevalence and implementation of slavery in this state. Unlike other authors during this time, eh uses emotions and a clear description of the torture and experiences that slaves had while under their masters.
The author continues with his description of slavery under imperial rulers (masters especially the whites) during the colonial and territorial periods in the state. After giving a vivid description of slavery in this state, the author continues with his work where he describes and focuses on the transplantation of the slavery economic system from Atlantic seaboard states to Alabama. In his description of the transplantation, he aims at describing the spread of slavery from other nations neighboring Alabama to the state. While carrying out his work, Sellers used different materials as his sources.
He used some primary sources including government documents and as well, city records done during the colonial period. In addition, the author used sources such as personal papers (works from other authors) and as well church and newspaper prepared during this time of the colonial surveillance in Alabama. Considering his different sources while preparing his work, the author had a wide variety of materials to include in his book. Some of which included discussion of the church and slavery. More so, he describes his treatment of the pro slavery defense during this time. This increased the comprehensiveness of his work. While reading his work, we learn different approaches and methods used colonial masters while dealing with slavery. The paper is an analysis of James Benson Sellers work ‘Slavery in Alabama’.
As stated earlier, the book focuses on the effects and influences that slavery had on economic and social lives of people living in Alabama. According to James, he states that slavery in Alabama expanded along with the commercial agriculture aiming at satisfying the shortages of cheap and controllable fieldworkers. According to the description made in the book, slavery implementation was different depending upon the region and as well, the nature of the economic activities carried out. In large plantations, slaves worked in large groups (gangs). The gangs were under supervision of white seers and some enslaved drivers.
Most of slaves found in the state of Alabama worked in modest farms. Typically, Alabama’s slaveholders owned multiple slaves depending on the size of their plantation firms. In Alabama (according to the description made in the book), masters reduced the travelling distance between them and their slaves by making the slaves work and alongside sleep in the master’s premises. Apparently, slaves and masters had the opportunity of developing temporary bonds due to their interactions while working and sometimes some slaves ended up being loyal to their masters.
Comparing slavery carried out in Alabama and other states during the colonial period, there are some similarities based on how the masters treated their slaves and the roles slaves had. In Alabama, before the slaves retired to their cabins in the evening, they had a role of chopping wood, repairing tools and attending vegetable gardens. While under their masters, slaves did not have their freedom of interacting with others outside their farms. However, slaves had families that were a fundamental survival mechanism that helped them cope with the horrors of their circumstances while working in the farms. Most slaves during the colonial period in Alabama lived in nuclear families where mothers raised the children. Unlike white families, slave families had most of the household chores carried out by mothers. More so, fathers lacked status and property. As a result, slave families were less patriarchal.
While preparing his work, Benson ensures that it is a complete analysis of slavery in Alabama. He continues with his description where he describes religion during this time. During this era in Alabama, Evangelical Christianity dominated the religious life of Alabama’s slaves. The spread of Christianity among slaves in Alabama was due to sermons delivered by the preachers. Preachers warned the masters on promoting Christianity among their slaves with an aim of promoting their domination and faith with their slaves. Therefore, slaveholders had the motivation of spreading Christianity to their slaves from the northern abolitionists who continuously criticized the morality of the Christians who owned slaves.
Lastly, before concluding on the analysis of slavery in Alabama, it is important to highlight its spread from Atlantic seaboards to Alabama. As from the description made, slavery accelerated from the growth of economic activities carried out in the state. Cotton spread from the south was one agricultural activity attributed to the spread of slavery from the south. More so, migration of slaveholders from other cities and nations such as South Carolina and Georgia contributed to the spread of slavery in the state since the slaveholders migrated with their slaves. In addition, a large group of slaves in Alabama came with slave traders. This description in the book makes the book a clear analysis and comprehensive study reference for slavery in Alabama.
Sellers, James Benson. Slavery in Alabama. University, Ala: University of Alabama Press, 1950.
Sellers, James Benson. Papers. 1825.
Harvey, Meriwether. Slavery in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn, Ala: [s.n.], 1907.
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