In The Routledge Research Companion to Marine and Maritime Worlds, 1400–1800: Oceans in Global History and Culture, edited by Claire Jowitt, Steve Mentz, and Craig Lambert. London: Routledge, 2020.
Among the most complex issues of early modern history is the nature of the European breakout onto the world ocean and the so-called ‘age of discovery’. Assessments of what happened and why, what is meant by words like ‘discovery’, and even what the era’s chronological limits are, change from generation to generation and place to place, and depend in part on who is considering the matter and in what context. A modern dictionary defines ‘discover’ as ‘to notice or learn, especially by making an effort’. Yet the seventeenth-century jurist Hugo Grotius maintained that discovery involved ‘actual seizure […] Thus the philologists treat the expressions “to discover” and “to take possession of” as synonymous’. A further difficulty arises from the entanglement of the motives behind the voyages of discovery, what was actually discovered, and what resulted from Europeans’ encounters with the rest of the world.More