Vine Deloria Jr. E. Napp When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, 'Ours.' Among the early modern empires, those of Western Europe were distinctive because they were initiated by maritime expansion and because the conquered territories lay an
ocean away from the imperial heartland Following the voyages of Columbus, the Spanish focused their empire-buildings in the Caribbean and then in the early sixteenth century turned to the mainland and conquests of the Aztec and Inca empires Meanwhile the Portuguese established themselves along the coast of present-day Brazil In the early seventeenth century, the British, French, and Dutch launched colonial settlements along the eastern coast of North America E. Napp
E. Napp Geography provides a starting point for explaining Europes American empires. It was the countries on the Atlantic rim of Europe (Portugal, Spain, Britain, and France) that led the way to empire in the Western Hemisphere. These nations were simply closer to the Americas than was any possible Asian competitor. Furthermore, the fixed winds of the Atlantic blew steadily in the same direction Once these air currents were understood and mastered, they provided a far different
environment than the alternating monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean, in which Asian maritime powers had long operated There was little incentive for Chinese, Indian, or Muslim participants to venture much beyond their own waters Europeans, however, were powerfully motivated to do so European states and trading companies enabled the effective mobilization of both human and material resources E. Napp E. Napp
European seafaring technology, built on Chinese and Islamic precedents, allowing them to cross the Atlantic with growing ease, transporting peoples and supplies across great distances. Ironworking technology, gunpowder weapons, and horses initially had no parallel in the Americas, although many peoples subsequently acquired them. Divisions within and between local societies provided allies for the determined European invaders Various subject peoples of the Aztec Empire resented Mexica domination and willingly joined Hernn Corts
A violent dispute between two rival contenders for the Inca throne, the brothers Atahualpa and Huascr helped the European invaders But perhaps the most significant of European advantages lay in their germs and disease to which the Native Americans had no immunities These diseases decimated societies Chief among the factors explaining European acquisition of empires in the Americas was the demographic collapse of Native American societies E. Napp E. Napp
Scholars generally agree that the preColumbian population of the Western Hemisphere was substantial, on the order of that of Europe, perhaps 60 million to 80 million. Long isolation from the Afro-Eurasian world and the lack of most domesticated animals meant the absence of acquired immunities to Old World diseases, such as smallpox, measles, typhus, influenza, malaria, and yellow fever. When Native Americans came into contact with these European and African diseases, Native American peoples died in appalling numbers, in many cases up to 90% of the population
The densely settled peoples of Caribbean islands virtually vanished within fifty years of Columbuss arrival Central Mexico, with a population estimated at some 10 million to 20 million, declined to about 1 million by 1650 The situation was similar in North America Not until the late-seventeenth century did native numbers begin to recuperate somewhat from this catastrophe, and even then not everywhere E. Napp E. Napp
A native Nahuatl account depicted the social breakdown that accompanied the smallpox pandemic: A great many died from this plague, and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food, and everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their beds. As one prominent scholar wrote of The Great Dying, surely [it was] the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species. In sharply diminishing the population of the Americas, this great dying created an acute labor shortage and certainly did make room for immigrant newcomers, both
colonizing Europeans and enslaved Africans Various combinations of indigenous, European, and African peoples created entirely new societies in the Americas, largely replacing the many and varied cultures that had flourished before 1492 Europeans and Africans brought not only their germs and their people but also their plants and animals Wheat, rice, sugarcane, grapes, and many garden vegetables and fruits, as well as weeds, took hold in the Americas E. Napp
Even more revolutionary were their animals horses, pigs, cattle, goats, sheep all of which were new to the Americas and multiplied spectacularly in an environment that was largely free of natural predators. E. Napp In the other direction, American food crops such as corn, potatoes, and cassava spread widely in the Eastern Hemisphere, where they provided the nutritional foundation for the immense population growth that became everywhere a hallmark of the modern era. In Europe, calories derived from corn and potatoes helped push human numbers from some 60 million in 1400 to 390 million in
1900 Amerindian crops later provided cheap and reasonably nutritious food for millions of industrial workers Potatoes especially allowed Irelands population to grow enormously E. Napp E. Napp But when an airborne fungus, also from the Americas, destroyed the crop in the midnineteenth century, many Irish died of starvation or were forced to emigrate. This Great Hunger or Great Famine, also
known as the Irish Potato Famine, greatly affected the people of Ireland. In China, corn, peanuts, and especially sweet potatoes supplemented the traditional rice and wheat to sustain Chinas modern population explosion In Africa, corn took hold quickly and was used as a cheap food for the human cargoes of the transatlantic trade Never before in human history had such a large-scale and consequential exchange of plants and animals operated to remake the biological environment of the planet Furthermore, the societies that developed within the American colonies drove the
process of globalization and reshaped the world economy of the early modern era E. Napp The great cultural diffusion that began with Columbuss arrival in the Americas and that occurred between Eastern and Western Hemispheres is known as the Columbian Exchange. E. Napp The silver mines of Mexico and Peru fueled both transatlantic and transpacific commerce, encouraged Spains unsuccessful
effort to dominate Europe, and enabled Europeans to buy the Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain that they valued so highly The plantation owners of the tropical lowland region needed workers and found them by the millions in Africa The slave trade, which brought these workers to the colonies, and the sugar and cotton trade, which distributed the fruits of their labor abroad, created a lasting link among Africa, Europe, and the Americas, while scattering peoples of African origin throughout the Western Hemisphere E. Napp
E. Napp This enormous network of communication, migration, trade, the spread of disease and the transfer of plants and animals, all generated by European colonial empires in the Americas, has been dubbed the Columbian exchange and it gave rise to something wholly new in world history; an interacting Atlantic world connecting four continents. The long-term benefits of this Atlantic network were very unequally distributed Western Europeans were clearly the
dominant players and their societies reaped the greatest rewards The colonial empires of the Americas greatly facilitated a changing global balance of power, which now thrust the previously marginal Western Europeans into an increasingly central and commanding role on the world stage What the Europeans had discovered across the Atlantic was a second old world, but their actions surely gave rise to a new world in the Americas E. Napp
E. Napp Each of the various colonial empires Spanish, Portuguese, British, and French had something in common. Each of them was viewed through the lens of the prevailing economic theory known as mercantilism. This view held that European governments served their countries economic interests best by encouraging exports and accumulating bullion (precious metals such as silver and gold), which were believed to be the source of national prosperity. Colonies provided closed markets for manufactured goods of the mother country
and if they were lucky, supplied great quantities of bullion as well But beyond mercantilism, colonial societies differed sharply from one another The kind of economy established in particular regions settler-dominated agriculture, slave-based plantations, ranching, or mining likewise influenced their development In the former lands of the Aztec and Incas, the economic foundation lay in commercial agriculture, much of it on large rural estates, and in silver and gold mining Native peoples rather than African slaves or European workers provided labor
E. Napp E. Napp Forced Native American Indian labor known as the Encomienda System existed in the Spanish colonies in Mexico and Peru. On this economic base, a distinctive social order grew up, replicating something of the Spanish class hierarchy while accommodating the racially and culturally different Indians and Africans as well as growing numbers of racially mixed people. At the top of colonial society were the peninsulares or Spanish settlers, who were
politically and economically dominant and rapidly becoming the landed aristocracy But Spaniards born in the Americas (creoles) resented the pretensions to superiority of those born in Spain (peninsulares) Spanish missionaries and church authorities were often sharply critical of how these settlers treated native peoples But the most distinctive feature of these new colonial societies in Mexico and Peru was the emergence of a mestizo, or mixed-race population, the product of unions between Spanish men and Indian women E. Napp
E. Napp Mestizos were largely Hispanic in culture, but Spaniards looked down on them during much of the colonial era, regarding them as illegitimate, for many were not born of proper marriages. But their growing numbers and economic usefulness as artisans, clerks, supervisors of labor gangs, and lower-level officials in both church and state bureaucracies led to their recognition as a distinct social group. At the bottom of the class hierarchy were the indigenous peoples, known to Europeans as
Indians Indians were subject to gross abuse and exploitation as the primary labor force for the mines and estates of the Spanish Empire and were required to render tribute payments to their Spanish overlords Many learned Spanish and converted to Christianity But traditional markets operated regularly and maize, beans, and squash continued as major elements of Indian diets Christian saints blended easily with specialized indigenous gods E. Napp
E. Napp Memories of the past also persisted, and the Tupac Amaru revolt in Peru in 1780-1781 was made in the name of the last independent Inca emperor. Thus Spaniards, mestizos, and Indians represented the major social groups in the colonial lands of what had been the Inca and Aztec empires. Despite the sharp divisions among the groups, some movement was possible. In Brazil, ruled by Portugal, and in the Spanish, British, French, and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, sugar became an important
cash crop Europeans found a very profitable crop in sugar, which was much in demand in Europe, where it was used as medicine, a spice, a sweetener, a preservative, and in sculptured forms as a decoration that indicated high status Produced almost exclusively for export For a century (1570-1670), Portuguese planters dominated the world market for sugar But when the British, French, and Dutch entered the world market for sugar, the Portuguese monopoly ended
E. Napp E. Napp The most characteristic feature was the massive use of slave labor. Horrendous working conditions and a high death rate (5 to 10 percent per year) were characteristic of slavery in sugar plantations. A substantial majority of Brazils population was either partially or wholly African. Mulattoes, the product of Portuguese-African unions, emerged in colonial Brazil. But in the southern region of North America, less racial mixing and a sharply defined racial system emerged.
Also by 1750, slaves in the U.S.A. had become self-reproducing and a century later almost all North American slaves had been born in the New World Yet that was never the case in Latin America where Brazilian slave owners calculated the useful life of their slaves at just seven years But more slaves were voluntarily set free in Brazil than North America And free blacks and mulattoes in Brazil had far greater opportunities than their counterparts in North America In North America, any African ancestry made a person black and racial prejudice clearly existed
E. Napp Color in Brazil, and in Latin America generally, was only one criterion of class status, and the perception of color changed with the educational or economic standing of individuals. E. Napp A third and distinctive type of colonial society emerged in the northern British colonies of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania The lands the British acquired were widely regarded in Europe as the unpromising
leftovers of the New World Many British settlers sought to escape aspects of old European society rather than to recreate it in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies The British settlers were far more numerous Numerous small-scale and independent farmers A largely Protestant England was far less interested in spreading Christianity The Protestant emphasis on reading the Bible increased literacy E. Napp
E. Napp Preferring to rely on joint stock companies or wealthy individuals operating under a royal charter, Britain had nothing resembling the elaborate bureaucracy that governed Spanish colonies. And for much of the seventeenth century, a prolonged struggle between the English king and Parliament meant that the British government paid little attention to the internal affairs of the colonies. Therefore, elected colonial assemblies contested the prerogatives of royal governors sent to administer their affairs. And what had once been the dregs of the colonial world became the United
States, which was more politically stable, democratic, economically successful, and more internationally powerful than a divided, unstable, and economically less developed STRAYER QUESTIONS What enabled Europeans to carve out huge empires an ocean away from their homelands? What large-scale transformation did European empires generate? What was the economic foundation of colonial rule in Mexico and Peru? How did it shape the kinds of societies that arose there? How did the plantation societies of Brazil and the Caribbean differ from those of southern colonies in British North America?
What distinguished the British settler colonies of North America from their counterparts in Latin America? E. Napp
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