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Teaching the age of discovery

Everyone who has been to school has learned about the Age of Discovery.  This is the study of what happened in Europe from the 15th until the 17th centuries.  On the surface, this may seem a dry and daunting task but it does not have to be this way.

One way in which teachers can make this topic exciting is to have your students write a report about the role of coinage during the Age of Discovery.  Here are some of the things that you will learn in doing so:
1.    The Middle Ages in Europe were on the wane as the earliest travelers returned from the Far East with odd and curious spices, which became valued as Europeans learned to liven up their cooking by using them.
2.    The spice trade spurred post-medieval European economies.  While they wanted to trade with the Far East, which is where the spices came from, they had to have money, which was coins.  Therefore a fondness for precious metals, especially silver, grew in Europe that lasts even today.
3.    During this time Europeans had few coins to trade with other than small, silver, hammer struck pennies.  There were many reasons for this shortage of coinage however the desire to trade spurred a need for money.  It also spurred the need for finding new deposits of silver and gold to mine.
4.    The Spanish provided most of the solution for the Europeans.  This happened because the greatest infusion of circulating coin came from 15th century Spanish discoveries in the New World, which was a byproduct of Spain’s search for a shorter trading route to Asia.
5.    The Spanish also found a lot of sunken treasure, including coins.  A lot of people are fascinated with these types of stories.  This is especially true in recent years as technology for undersea archeology and treasure salvage has developed.

Another way of teaching your children about this time period is through the study of pirates.  It was during the age of discovery that countries such as England began to use statues as a tool against piracy.  These early statues included the offenses at Sea act of 1535 and the Piracy act of 1698.  Herein it was stated that piracy was illegal.  These acts also defined what procedure was to be used in Piracy cases.  However, it was still up to customary law to actually define what piracy was and what activities constituted piracy.

Those students who are interested in science may also be interested in studying silver during the age of discovery.  Herein students will find that silver is one of the cheapest precious metals.  However, before the Age of Discovery it traded at one sixth the price of gold whereas today it currently sits at about one fiftieth the price of gold.  This is because it is a soft metal that needs to be alloyed with other metals before being made into jewelery so that it can be made stronger and more resistant.  This is why ‘Sterling Silver’ contains at least 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper to keep the silver from tarnishing.


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