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Contact, Conflict, and Exchange in the Atlantic
World to 1590
Explain the characteristics of the various Native American groups who occupied North America
prior to contact with Europeans.
Describe the characteristics of European society on the eve of contact.
Describe characteristics of early West African empires and identify their religious and social
Define the term “Columbian Exchange” and explain its impact on Europe and the Americas.
Describe the development and impact of Spanish settlement in the New World.
Trace effects of the Protestant Reformation on the exploration and colonization efforts of England
and France.
Separate the class into three groups. Assign each group to one culture (Native American,
European and West Africa) and have them organize a descriptive essay on each group as
they operated in 1492. Be sure to have students examine religion, family, politics and the
economy in their assigned society.
Pretend it is 2,000 years in the future and you are an anthropologist whose mission it is to gain an
understanding of the people and culture of North America in the early twenty-first century. All
written records are mysteriously gone. What kinds of conclusions might you reach about the
former residents as you dig through the layers of debris?
You may wish to use the first chapter to help students learn how to read and study the textbook.
Explain how the chapters are structured, with major themes supported by in-depth analyses of
these themes.
Use the chapter excerpts from Christopher Columbus’ diary to explore European perceptions and
treatment of Native Americans during the fifteenth century. What did the Europeans find negative
about the natives? What role did race and culture play in how Europeans treated Native
In Search of the Lost World (52 minutes; Indian cultural development)
The First Americans (53 minutes; archaeological exploration of Native Americans)
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1: Contact, Conflict, and Change Exchange in the Atlantic World to 1590
Alistair Cooke’s America: A Personal History of the United States, Episode 1, “The Found Land”
(55 min)
Ponce de Leon (A&E Biography, 50 minutes)
[For each chapter, there will be one or two quotes that you may find interesting to use as an “icebreaker” at the beginning of class. See the Introduction section for more information.]
“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and
councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I
cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God
help me. Amen.”
– Martin Luther, 1521
“History is all things to all men. In other words she is a harlot and a hireling, and for this reason
she best serves those who suspect her most. Therefore, we must beware even of saying, ‘History
says. . .’ or ‘History proves. . .,’ as though she herself were the oracle; as though indeed history,
once she had spoken, had put the matter beyond the range of mere human enquiry. Rather we
must say to ourselves: ‘She will lie to us till the very end of the last cross-examination.’ . . .In
other words the truth of history is no simple matter, all packed and parcelled ready for handling in
the marketplace. And the understanding of the past is not so easy as it is sometimes made to
– Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, 1965
You are a member of the expedition of Hernando de Soto. The year is 1541, and your group has
been exploring in the southeastern part of North America for about two years. Describe the lands
and the peoples that you have encountered. Be sure that your descriptions are historically
accurate. (You may need to consult outside sources.) What are your feelings concerning these
native peoples? How do you feel about the life you may have left behind forever? Has this
adventure been what you expected? Why or why not?
You are a native of San Salvador. Columbus and his company have recently arrived in your
homeland. Describe these strange people. What do they look like? What kinds of unusual things
do they do? How have you communicated with them so far? What problems have arisen because
of their arrival? How do you feel about this event so far?
The First Americans were comprised of numerous diverse cultures scattered throughout the
A. Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans were descendants of Asians who
had arrived during the last Ice Age; their societies were diverse, but they all developed
1. The Maya of the Yucatan were the most advanced, with calendars, hieroglyphics, and
stone pyramids.
2. The Aztecs controlled lands in Mexico from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific.
3. North of the Aztecs were the desert-dwelling Hohokam and the Anasazi, ancestors of
modern Pueblo Indians.
4. In the Mississippi Valley lived the Adena-Hopewell, known for their large earthen
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1: Contact, Conflict, and Change Exchange in the Atlantic World to 1590
The people of the Eastern Woodlands resided between the Atlantic Ocean and the
Appalachian Mountains.
1. Though they had significant cultural differences, great similarities also existed.
2. Nature-based religion and the kinship group were extremely important to the various
peoples of this region.
II. European overseas expansion had begun in earnest even before Columbus reached the New World
in 1492.
A. Encouraged by Prince Henry “the Navigator,” Portugal in 1420 began a slow exploration of
the West African coast, moving ever closer to a route to the Far East.
B. Exploration and conquest were aided by several advances in technology, including the
astrolabe, the caravela redondo, and new ways of firing weapons from ships.
III. Their African explorations soon involved the Portuguese in an Atlantic slave trade.
A. West African cultures were diverse, but all shared some common features.
1. Empires such as Ghana and Mali had developed trade links with Europe and Arabia.
2. Through such trade, many West Africans became converts to Islam.
3. In the continent’s interior, traditional religions prevailed, and kinship groups remained
B. Although slavery was common among African cultures, the Atlantic slave trade that
developed was different, in that it was economic rather than social.
IV. Fearing that Portugal’s empire would become too strong, Spain began to seek another route to the
Far East, but Columbus found the lands of the New World instead.
A. Spain and Portugal appealed to the Pope to delineate their relative spheres of control; this he
did in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which gave lands east of a line of demarcation to
Portugal and west of the line to Spain.
B. As more explorations occurred, it became clear that the known world was rapidly expanding,
and England and France joined the quest for power and influence.
V. For the first few decades, conquistadores from the Spanish Empire dominated the exploration and
settlement of the New World.
A. One by one, the native populations succumbed to the Spanish, and the Aztecs and Incas were
B. The Spanish then turned to the exploration of Florida and the lands of the American
C. A cultural exchange began that would change both the Old World and the New forever.
1. Diseases decimated the natives, with smallpox the most deadly.
2. Livestock and crops also began to move back and forth across the Atlantic.
3. For the most part, Native Americans held on to their cultures despite the efforts of the
D. Religion was perhaps the most complex issue between the two groups.
1. Europeans arrived with missionaries who believed their duty was to Christianize the
2. Natives who did accept Christianity did so in their own way, with the result that a
blending of old and new faiths frequently occurred.
E. The Spanish established an imperial government in the Americas that was closely supervised
by the monarch in Spain.
F. The New World economy of Spain was based on mercantilism, the economic system that
stressed the importance of a favorable balance of trade.
G. Over time, the Spanish established the encomienda system, which forced natives to labor for
1. Natives often resisted this subjugation to the point of death.
2. Harsh working conditions and diseases also resulted in the deaths of many natives.
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1: Contact, Conflict, and Change Exchange in the Atlantic World to 1590
VI. After the mid-1500s, religious upheaval in Europe brought Protestants as well as Catholics to
A. The Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses and came to
fruition through the work of John Calvin set Europeans at odds with each other and put
thousands of people on the move.
1. France remained staunchly Catholic, although a significant Protestant minority
2. England under King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, and his daughter,
Elizabeth I, brought England permanently into the Protestant fold.
B. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, large numbers of French and English came to
America, for a variety of reasons.
1. French Protestants known as Huguenots attempted several early American settlements,
but in each case they were repulsed.
2. English Sea Dogs concentrated on piracy for amassing wealth for a time, but finally
turned to colonies, with Walter Raleigh trying first at Roanoke, and the first successful
colony being established at Jamestown in 1607.
Conclusion: By the early seventeenth century, the European countries had established themselves
throughout the Americas. For the Spanish and the Portuguese, the main goal was to discover and
exploit the wealth they were sure existed. Secondarily, they began to establish more traditional
colonies, still exploiting the Native Americans. The English, French, and Dutch, arriving later, shared
Spain’s goals, yet their settlement patterns would differ markedly.
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.