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Lesson Plan: Seville (Navigation)

Blog Post | Infrastructure & Transportation

Lesson Plan: Seville (Navigation)

You can find a PDF of this lesson plan here.

Lesson Overview

Featured article: Centers of Progress, Pt. 36: Seville (Navigation) by Chelsea Follett

During the European age of exploration and discovery, perhaps no other city better epitomized the spirit of the times than Seville, Spain. Today we know Seville as the sunny capital of the region of Andalusia. But during the century following the Iberian conquest of America, Seville was one of the most important cities in Europe.


Watch this 6-minute lighthearted video about a couple’s tour of Seville. It will give you an idea of its location and a general feel for the city.

When you’re done watching, with partners, in small groups, or as a whole class, respond to the following questions:

  • It seems that many shops in Seville are closed on Sunday. Use your background knowledge: What are some of the social and cultural reasons for Sunday being a day off for most people in Seville?
  • How do the couple’s choice of transportation and their predicament in Seville represent current trends in globalization and technology?
  • The architecture of Seville is a syncretic blend of different styles. Which two cultures have had the biggest impact on the buildings and urban design—such as plazas, courtyards, and fountains—of southern Spain?

Questions for reading, writing, and discussion

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

  • The article mentions three UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of which is now called the General Archive of the Indies (formerly the Merchants’ Exchange House). This iconic building symbolizes the economic system that Spain used during its Golden Age. Name that economic system and some of its defining characteristics.
  • In addition to the new kind of ship called the galleon, what other types of navigational technology did Portuguese and Spanish mariners use in their voyages of exploration? Where did much of this technology originate, and which historical and geographical factors allowed Iberians to capitalize on it?
  • Describe the public-private arrangement created to fund Magellan’s voyage.
  • In your opinion, what were the most important outcomes of the Spanish expedition that circumnavigated the globe in 1519–1522? Explain at least three outcomes.

Extension Activity/Homework

Compare Seville with another city.

Follett describes how Seville benefited from being at the center of a global trade network during the 1500s. She also mentions that Islam was outlawed in 1502 and that enslaved Africans could be seen in Seville during the period. These facts show us that although Spain possessed a rich cosmopolitan culture, religious intolerance and extreme human rights abuses also characterized Spanish society at that time.

Historians caution against judging past societies through the lens of modern values. Nevertheless, it can be useful to compare and contrast the practices of diverse civilizations to see how they dealt with universal problems.

The Centers of Progress series has profiled several cities during their respective “golden ages.” Choose one of the following cities and read its associated article. Then, complete the table below. Compare your chosen city to Seville for each of the criteria.

Chang’an (Trade)
Hangzhou (Paper Money)
Florence (Art)
Edinburgh (Scottish Enlightenment)
Vienna (Music)
Amsterdam (Openness)

Seville during the 1500s______during the______
Religious toleration
Economic freedom
Equality for all people under the law
Respect for the rights of women and ethnic minorities
Representative forms of government

Write an essay in response to a prompt.

Follett writes, “Europe’s great powers competed for mastery of oceanic trade avenues and raced to be the first to discover promising sea routes and uncharted lands.” Some historians cite the competitive multistate system of Western Europe as key to those states’ success in the pre-modern period. They argue that unified civilizations such as China under the Ming dynasty lacked such competition and thus did not have an incentive to innovate.

Write a short essay answering the following prompt:

Describe the extent to which political fragmentation played a role in Western European innovation, exploration, and conquest during 1450–1750.

Be sure to provide context, include a thesis statement, and cite evidence both from the article and your own background knowledge to back up your claims.

Create an architectural photo story.

Choose one of the three examples of monumental architecture in Seville: the Mudéjarstyle Alcázar royal palace, the Seville Cathedral, or the General Archive of the Indies.

Create an architectural photo story about one of the three buildings using Google Slides or PowerPoint. Describe the main elements of the building, including its dimensions, its significance to Spanish and world history, unique aspects of its style and construction, and important works of art and historical figures associated with it.

Imagine that you are telling a story about the building through photography. You may use any source for the images, but you must cite them.

CNN | Infrastructure & Transportation

Uber Eats Is Launching Robot Deliveries in Japan

“Uber Eats customers in Japan can soon have an autonomous robot deliver their food on the streets of Tokyo.

Uber announced a partnership Tuesday between robotics firm Cartken and Japanese industrial titan Mitsubishi Electric to launch autonomous sidewalk robots that will start delivering Eats orders in parts of Tokyo beginning next month.”

From CNN.

New York Times | Space

Odysseus, a Private Lunar Lander, Launches Toward the Moon

“Another month, another try at the moon.

A robotic lunar lander launched into space early Thursday morning. If all goes well, on Feb. 22 it will become the first American spacecraft to gently set down on the moon’s surface since the Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972.

It would also become the first private effort to reach the surface of the moon in one piece. Three earlier attempts, by an American company, a Japanese company and an Israeli nonprofit, failed.”

From New York Times.

Blog Post | Air Transport

Aeroplanes, Airships and Beta Bias

This article was published at the Pessimists Archive on 2/8/2024.

We cannot understand to what practical use a flying machine that is heavier than air can be put.

Manchester Guardian, 1908

This amusing quote was shared on Twitter by ex-Financial Times assistant editor Brian Groom. Naturally we went looking for the original source and after a little digging, we found it:

The Manchester Guardian, later renamed The Guardian

Revealed is the quote’s context: a comparison between aeroplanes and airships, prompted by a historic breakthrough: 1 week prior the Wright Brothers publicly proved possible heavier than air flying machines.

Sizing up the aeroplane against then dominant airships was a natural reaction to the breakthrough. Like many others, The Manchester Guardian (later renamed The Guardian) noted the existing limits of this nascent technology and the upsides of the established alternative.

Airships didn’t need a runway to take off or land, were easy to control, could hover mid-air and allowed the transport of many people at an average cruising altitude of 650ft – while the Wright Brothers only achieved 20ft. (The fact Airships were full of highly flammable gas went unmentioned.)

The Manchester Guardian commended the Wright Brother’s impressive “acrobatic” achievement and “great feat of mechanical engineering”, but dismissed the aeroplanes military potential because of early downsides: its low cruising altitude meant “it presented a target that no one who had ever handled a gun could possibly miss.” And its use in reconnaissance was doubted due to its limited capacity to carry passengers and the difficulty of piloting, giving “no opportunity to observe the world below.” The piece would end by commending the English, French and German governments for its focus on airship development.

The US Military officials present at the Wrights public demonstration were more optimistic however – seeing beyond early limits – towards possible improvement, with the Navy signalling intent to begin purchase of the new technology immediately.

Only 6 years later World War I would begin, military Aeroplanes would take to the skies – first for reconnaissance – helping the allied forces prevent the German’s invasion of France, among other things. This new intelligence advantage, saw weaponization soon follow, as each side sought to take out each others reconnaissance crafts.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, France suggested it create a flying corps of 4,500 aeroplanes, the US set a goal of 22,625 – echoing the enthusiasm of its military leaders on first witnessing manned flight. It never managed to fulfil this goal and purchased the majority of its planes from France and the United Kingdom. By the end of the war it would form the Royal Airforce, the first dedicated airforce in the world, one that would play a key roll in World War II.

Beta Bias

On paper – looking at pros and cons – dismissing the aeroplane would have felt fair, convincing and well reasoned in 1908. The problem though: this could apply to many nascent breakthrough technologies when comparing them to established alternatives. It isn’t a fair or useful comparison.

This common error in thinking about technology is certainly a strain of “status quo bias,” but should probably have a name: we’re christening it “beta bias.”

Beta Bias: The inclination to compare an early-stage version of a new technology, typically in its beta or developmental phase, with a more developed and established alternative technology. This comparison often overlooks the growth potential, cost reductions and future improvements of the new technology, leading to an underestimation of its eventual impact and utility.

Every nascent innovation has a more developed predecessor, more familiar and socially acceptable, with clear advantages, and disadvantages that society has rationalized. We’ll be exploring ‘beta bias’ more in our next post.

News.com.au | Tourism & Leisure

World’s Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the Seas Sets Sail

“The world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, has officially set sail on its maiden voyage, with passengers sharing what life is really like on board the 365 metre vessel.

Icon of the Seas left the Port of Miami, Florida, on Saturday for its first seven-night island-hopping trip that will feature a series of idyllic locations in the Caribbean.

The ship, which is five times larger than the Titanic and longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, has a double occupancy capacity of 5610 guests – though it could accommodate up to 7600 if every possible bed was booked – and 2350 crew.”

From News.com.au.