The Shipbuilding-Cartography Revolution and the Frontiers of Cheap Nature in the Capitalist World-Ecology, 1400-1550

Engin Yilmaz, Binghamton University

This paper analyzes why Portugal was the first state to start European colonial expansion in the fifteenth century and how the shipbuilding-cartography revolution helped the colonial expansion of Portugal. The shipbuilding-cartography revolution originated in the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and is conceptualized as a linked revolution in shipbuilding technologies, scientific developments in cartography, and innovations in instruments of navigation. Understood as such, the shipbuilding-cartography revolution was influential in the reasons behind why it was the Portuguese that led European colonial expansion in the fifteenth century. As a result, this paper underscores how the shipbuilding-cartography revolution was a crucial factor behind Portuguese colonial expansion and how in return it was produced by colonial expansion itself. In addition, the paper tries to demonstrate how the shipbuilding-cartography revolution played a crucial role in the emergence of a capitalist world-economy by tracing the historical geography of Portuguese colonial expansion in the first half of the long sixteenth century (1450-1557). The significance of Portuguese colonial expansion for European colonial expansion and the significance of the shipbuilding-cartography revolution to Portuguese colonial expansion are underscored using a world-ecological perspective. In this respect, the Portuguese colonial expansion is conceptualized through movements of commodity frontiers linking capitalist production, ecological transformation, and technological and scientific development ushering in the makings of the modern world. The world-ecological perspective allows for a conceptual narrative that presents technological and scientific developments in a dialectical relationship with processes of environment-making, state-formation, and capital accumulation.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 9. Climate and Ecology in World History