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Europe became a powerful force during this time period because of their willingness to adapt and use three key innovations that existed in other parts of the world: gunpowder weapons, navigation and ship-building technology, and finally the printing press (which developed independently in Germany). But at a time when competition among the Europeans resulted in big risks and innovations, the Chinese and Japanese returned to more traditional lifestyles in order to maintain stability, and the Muslims, while retaining powerful land-based empires, allowed innovations in shipping and weaponry to pass them by.

The biggest impact of these new technologies was the expanded knowledge of the world that resulted from exploration by the European nations. Using their superior weapons and larger trading ships, the Europeans established new overseas trading empires, moved lots of plants and animals, enslaved and transported people across oceans, and generally transformed the interactions of the entire world. They fought wars with one another in Europe and—when they were unable to establish suitable trading relationships—went to war in the places they wished to conquer.

Increased contact meant the spread of new ideas and technology (such as the printing press), and the exposure to new cultures transformed both education and religion. The establishment of new Protestant churches in northern Europe increased the power of the kings and nation-states at the expense of the Catholic Church. Conversely, religious conflicts led to increased migrations from northern Europe and the resettlement of large numbers of colonists in the New World.

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