Social Studies Project 1
The Age of Exploration
The desire to explore the unknown has been a driving force in human history since the
dawn of time. From the earliest documented accounts, ancient civilizations have explored
the earth by sea. Early adventurers were motivated by religious beliefs, the desire for
conquest, the need to establish trade routes, and hunger for gold.
Early explorers did not sail into the unknown without some idea of their final destination.
Although they were searching for a specific land or route, they oftentimes were surprised
at what they discovered. Sometimes the place they were seeking was only known in
legend or rumor.
The captain of the ship needed funding and manpower and could not get underway
without support from a rich benefactor. Most voyages were made in the name of the royal
ruler of a particular country. The crewmen who signed on to these long and dangerous
voyages were not the most experienced seamen, but large numbers of them were needed
to help man the sails and to replace those who fell ill or died. The ships that the royal
leaders provided were not always new, but the captain took what he was given.
The captain himself was not always an experienced seaman. Desire for wealth and fame
was often his only motivation for undertaking dangerous voyages. He could be a
merchant, adventurer, soldier, or gentleman of the court. Under his command were the
pilot or first mate (who was in charge of navigation), and the crew (who worked the sails
and rigging and made repairs to the ship while in uncharted waters).
There were many other sorts of jobs on board. As well as the cook, special jobs were
carried out by the parson, surgeon, master gunner, boatswain (in charge of the sails),
carpenter and quartermaster. Other members of the crew would, of course, carry out all
the duties, including keeping watch, handling sails, and cleaning decks.
The ship's cook was often selected from seamen who were wounded or maimed and
therefore unfit for other duties. Little cooking was done at sea. Food stores often
consisted of pickled or dried meat and ship's biscuits (made from flour with a little water
to make them hard). By the end of the voyage, these biscuits would be full of black
insects called weevils.
Other foods included cheese, onions, dried beans, and salted fish or recently caught fresh
fish. Water supply was another serious problem. Fresh water did not always keep in
barrels and wine turned sour. Fresh water was the first thing the crew looked for
whenever the ship reached land.
There was a great deal of sickness at sea. Seamen were often cold and wet, rats carried
disease, and the poor diet not only caused malnutrition but scurvy. Scurvy was caused by
a lack of vitamin C in the diet. Without fresh fruit and vegetables, which contain vitamin
C, sailors suffered from this terrible disease which rotted the skin and gums and caused
teeth to fall out and was often fatal. Illness too came from eating too much salt with the
As well as injury from shipboard accidents, there was risk of death or maiming in times
of battle. Ships' surgeons worked in cramped and filthy conditions with no anaesthetic for
patients having amputations. Infection and gangrene was commonplace.
A seaman's life was hard, and he had to be tough to survive, so ship's officers kept strict
discipline on board. In this way they hoped to keep morale high and prevent mutiny.
Punishments at sea were designed as warnings to others. Of course some captains were
crueler than others. Seamen could be 'tarred and feathered', tied to a rope, swung
overboard and ducked or 'keel-hauled' (dragged round the underneath of the ship).
Flogging was the most common, though, with the whole crew often being made to watch.
A rope's end was used, or the infamous 'cat o' nine tails.' A seaman found guilty of
mutiny or murder would be hanged from the yard arm.
It was not always possible to fill ships' crews with volunteers, especially in wartime, so
the Law allowed “press gangs” to seize men and force them to join a ship. Officially,
only men who were already seafarers were supposed to be taken, but in practice gangs
grabbed many others, such as apprentices or labourers. The grief and anger of pressed
men at being torn from their families was another reason why on board discipline had to
You will be working in groups of two or three. You will randomly select an explorer
from the following list.
John Cabot, James Cook, Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, Jacques Cartier, Samuel
de Champlain, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, The Vikings, Hernando
Cortez, Vasco de Gama, Henry Hudson, John Franklin.
There are two parts to your project. Follow the instructions carefully. Illustrate with
pictures, maps and charts where appropriate. I have included numerous links for each
explorer to help your research.
Prepare a PowerPoint Presentation
Give background information about the explorer including a photo or illustration.
Be sure to:
Clearly identify the explorer you are researching.
State the dates of birth and death.
State the explorer’s country of origin?
Provide expedition information including reasons for the trips and difficulties
Be sure to:
Tell which ruler and country he served.
Explain what he discovered.
Include maps of the voyage, destinations, and land explored or claimed,
Include timeline of the explorer's life, and explorations,
Part 2 Answer all of the following questions.
In what ways was the life remarkable?
Did this person make any major mistakes or bad decisions? If so, what were they
and how would you have chosen and acted differently if you were in his shoes?
What are the two or three most important lessons you or any other young person
might learn from the way this person lived?
What do you think it means to be a hero? Was your person a "hero?" Why? Why
The Explorers of Canada
European Explorers in the "New World"
Discovery and Colonization of America
European Explorations of America
The Age of Explorers
Explorers of the Millennium
Great Explorers of the World and their Expeditions
Explorers and Exploration
Expeditions: The Great Ones
Explorers of the World
Erik the Red's Saga
The Columbus Navigation Homepage
Columbus and the Age of Discovery
Columbus and the New World, 1493
Sir Francis Drake
Francis Drake: The Voyage
Who was John Cabot
John & Sebastian Cabot
Fact file-John and Sebastian Cabot
History of John Cabot
John Cabot and the 1497 voyage
Half Moon Replica
Henry Hudson Explorer of the Hudson River
Ferdinand Magellan, Explorer
Ferdinand Magellan, the Greatest Voyager of Them All
Prince Henry, the Navigator
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama and the Sea Route to India
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama's Maritime Voyage to India, 1497
Champlain's 1607 Map
Samuel de Champlain, Voyages
The Voyages of Jacques Cartier
Captain Cook Links
James Cook, Voyage of the Endeavor 1768-1771
An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico
"Empires Past: Aztecs: Conquest"