Fritze, Ronald H. New Worlds: The Great Voyages of Discovery 1400-1600. Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers, 2002. xii, 285 p. ISBN 0275979822.
This substantial and well-produced book offers a balanced and workmanlike history of the first two centuries of European expansion. The first two chapters set out the medieval background, and the succeeding four chapters deal essentially with the expansion of the Portuguese and the Spaniards. This is no work of research; it relies only on secondary literature in English. But because so much has been published in English since the time of the quincentenario, it is remarkably useful to have this work brought together and sanely assessed.
On all the contested or novel aspects of European expansion, Fritze has something helpful to say. Take, for instance, the section about Atlantic islands on pages 21 and 22. It would hardly be possible to better this succinct account of newly emerged views about the nature of the early modern Atlantic Ocean. Another example of efficient synthesis is the description, on pages 98 to 107, of the preparations made by Christopher Columbus before 1492. Each major theme is accompanied by maps that are exceptionally clear and well drawn.
The numerous plates are another matter. Fritze chooses on many occasions to use reproductions of plates from such nineteenth-century authors as William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving and Woodrow Wilson, and these sometimes seem curiously anachronistic. There are also some wonderfully sharp color plates (pages 2, 10, 15, 30 and so forth), but these are reproduced without any indication of where they come from, apart from the name of such photographic agencies as “Heritage Image Partnership”. It is a serious impediment to scholarship and understanding, if we are to be supplied only with the names of these commercial enterprises, instead of learning that images come from a certain book or manuscript in a certain library or archive.
This reliance, as one must imagine, on a “picture researcher,” also leads to curious mis-identifications, like the image on page 34 “by an unknown cartographer,” who must in fact be Cristoforo Buondelmonte, or the image on page 90 showing “Lisbon, 1553, by an unknown artist”. It too is attributed to “Heritage Image Partnership,” and in fact comes from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum of Braun and Hogenberg (3 vols., Cologne, 1572-1618). The description of the jacket illustrations (found on the back flap of the dust jacket) is also very odd, as it appears to refer to some quite different publication.
This book, then, has some serious weaknesses in the choice and description of plates, as well as in its limitation to English-language material. But within those limitations, it offers an excellent conspectus of recent scholarship on the great voyages of discovery between 1400 and 1600.
The University of Texas at Arlington