Travel Through Maps & Narratives: An Exhibit on Travel & Tourism
Explorers: The Influence of Travel
Travel for the sake of exploration had significant influence on European states from the 13th to the 17th centuries. Such exploratory travel served a variety of purposes and was undertaken by a significant number of people. Some hoped for new territory, others anticipated undiscovered natural resources while still others wanted trade routes with Asia or the Americas. Many explorers were backed by monarchs and wealthy patrons, while others were self-financed in the hope of earning fame, fortune, and adventure.
Whatever their motives or goals, explorers and their travels were influential in their home countries. Personal narratives of travelers’ exploratory voyages written in and around the Renaissance became popular among people who had never had the opportunity to travel. These accounts of far-off places were interesting to read, but not always accurate. Because the audience of such travel narratives had not been to the places described, the authors frequently enhanced or exaggerated experiences to make them more interesting. What resulted was a series of fantastical descriptions that were interesting to read, but not genuine. Narratives that did accurately describe voyages of exploration were not as widely read.
While enhanced accounts deluded the general public about the true nature of European explorers’ travels, information brought back by travelers to scientists, geographers, and governors had significant influence on foreign policy decisions, maps and technological innovations of the time. The need to chart the position of ships in open water on long exploratory voyages led to the invention and perfection of the sextant and the chronometer, as well as other navigational tools. Furthermore, it was these travelers who did reconnaissance for European monarchs hoping to expand their empires. Monarchs asked explorers and travelers who had knowledge of the territory they wanted to exploit for advice about how to proceed.
Perhaps the most important outcome of such travel for exploration was the expansion of geographic knowledge and the revision of maps of the period. Before the Age of Exploration, medieval Europeans had an incomplete view of the world. As a direct result of the travels of several explorers, including Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan and James Cook, European maps began to incorporate somewhat more accurate interpretations of Asia and Africa as well as places entirely new to European maps such as the Americas and Pacific Islands. Such travel led to the so-called Columbian Exchange, during which animals, plants, diseases, human populations, and ideas began to circulate between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.