There was once a time in our history, before computerized maps and satellites and tracking programs. Sailors had to guide themselves by the stars and very basic and inaccurate maps. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe there was advancement in technology and learning that led to widespread exploration and trade among countries. The introduction of the compass, advancements in cartography, the printing press, and other inventions led to increased trade and exploration throughout Europe.
Before the fifteenth century, sailors often didn’t venture far from what they knew because maps were extremely inaccurate and weather was unpredictable. In the fourteenth century a style of maps, called portolon charts, were introduced. These were pictures of harbors, ports, cities, and coastlines inscribed on sheepskin. These maps were valuable to the merchant and traders between cities, but to the explorer changing continents they were basically useless. The compass was also a major improvement to previous methods.
Before this invention, sailors used the stars to navigate and stay on their somewhat planned course. However, during the day they were at a loss. When the compass was invented, it allowed sailors to know their bearing all the time. People soon learned to notice and pay more attention to weather patterns while sailing. They discovered the trade winds among the seas and noted where they were in relation to each other and what their effects on shipping were. The winds caused either a faster and smoother trip or a longer and rougher voyage, depending on the direction of the ship and the wind involved.
This was an advancement to previous methods because they now knew what to expect and prepare for instead of guessing or being surprised. They could also plan routes and try new routes. This led to a period of time called the Age of Sail. The printing press was one of the biggest and most important inventions of this time period. Before, literature and documents were scarce and not very common. After the printing press was introduced, literary works and various types of documents were more available to the common person. This encouraged people to become more educated because they now had the means to do it.
The printing press also had an effect on cartography. Because maps had to be either inscribed or drawn, they were rare and not very public. After the printing press, maps were able to be duplicated and shared with other cartographers. In doing this, they could compare their maps with other peoples and create a newer and more accurate representation of the land and sea. This caused people to become more sure and trusting of these maps, making them venture out further than they had before, thus increasing trade. The design and size of ships were also changing during this time.
The Europeans began to incorporate the methods of other countries, such as China, into their own shipbuilding process. One change was the multiple sails on the ship which allowed for better upwind travel. The all-in-one rudder was also a major improvement because it allowed for easier and faster steering and better control and stability of the keel. All in all, various changes and improvements occurred during this time. Inventions and improvements such as map making, compasses, understanding of weather patterns, and the printing press were all factors in the increase in exploration and trade in Europe.