A Note on Sources
As with my previous books, I approached this project as an interested generalist with a background in history. The book is written for other interested generalists, and its focus is on the interaction of often-conflicting personalities and the overarching idea of unintended change over time. My objective in this book is not to challenge generally accepted interpretations of these individuals or their actions, but to place them in a different and hitherto unexplored context—their role in the development of a key modern concept, the foundation of the principle of the freedom of the seas and international law.
1494 tells a story that spans centuries and crosses the boundaries of conventional study in historical periods. I am not an expert in the history of Spain, Portugal or the Netherlands and have not read the primary sources in their original languages. This book— like many books on “big ideas” or concepts that weave a circuitous route through various times and places—does not rely on the discovery of some overlooked “fact” to advance the scholarship of a particular period, but rather offers a new interpretation: to connect these seemingly disparate events and wrap them around a larger idea and theme, to show how a seemingly minor domestic action can set in motion events that reverberate for centuries and, in doing so, influence global politics and philosophies that have fundamentally altered the world order.
This book links several different periods of history and events that would not usually be presented together. I believe the cross-pollination of these events, and linking them through a shared theme, offers a new and unexplored window to view the way the history of the world evolves and changes over time and place, influencing the development of society in unintended and unexpected ways. My objective is to introduce the grand theatre of these momentous events to people who may know little about them, or who only know the details of one aspect of the story, to show how they are connected and to prompt a discussion of ideas.
1494 is a “big picture” look at the panorama of an entire forest rather than an examination of the trunks of individual trees, so a great deal of biographical and technical detail has been condensed to tell this story. This is a single-volume account of the centuries-long story of the Treaty of Tordesillas, and I encourage readers to delve more deeply into those aspects of the story that fascinate them. Following are some suggested readings on particular topics.