The West is a major player in the world’s political, philosophical and cultural landscape. The Western legacy includes contributions from Classical Greece and Rome, the medieval Christian kingdoms, and later the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, industrialization and modern democracy. The West also has a unique place in history as the first major civilization to seek to abolish slavery and enfranchise women, and as the source of globalization and international trade.
The Age of Discovery begins, with Western seafaring nations exploring new lands and charting far-away shipping routes. The discovery of the Americas ushered in the modern era of Western colonization, with Europeans establishing a complex network of colonies across Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands.
European settlers take advantage of new technologies and push westward into untamed territories. They encounter new religions, languages and cultures that change the course of history.
Explorers like Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Hernando Cortés expand Spain’s empire into North America. By bringing in new crops and animals, and using superior weapons such as gunpowder, they make great strides. But they also introduce Old World diseases that ravage Amerindian populations. The result is that the natives, called Indians by Columbus, soon become a minority within the colonized territory.
After the Civil War, American settlers push to expand their national frontier. The Missouri Compromise brings the state of Missouri into the Union and makes slave-holding legal in California. John Bidwell organizes a group to lead the first wagon train of western settlers, and his party treks overland from Mexico to Oregon. But after crossing the Rocky Mountains, they are massacred by once-friendly Yuma Indians at Canyon de Chelly.
The explorer Lewis and Clark reach the mouth of the Yellowstone River, where they discover that the region is a volcanically active wonderland. At the upper Missouri, they meet a Shoshone chief whom Sacagawea recognizes as her brother. They travel on to the Pacific Ocean, where they reach Seattle in December.
As modern industrial technology spreads from Britain, it creates a new class of rich businessmen and large numbers of workers. This economic transformation changes the world, spawning movements such as socialism and communism.
The United States, France and the British Empire engage in a scramble for the Pacific islands, with each country claiming ownership of a small archipelago. A rebellion in Hawaii overthrows the queen and establishes a republic, led by Americans. The United States and other European powers then establish a colony in Panama, which becomes a gateway to Latin America. This is the beginning of what would become a global system of trade and diplomacy. The United States is now the dominant power in the world. Its global influence continues to grow today, with its military strength, financial wealth, technological advancements and its leadership in democracy and human rights. A growing number of countries are seeking to join the ranks of Western democracies, with China and India leading the way. The West is also now a leading force in space exploration.