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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Collision Of Cultures - Document Overview

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here was a day when life was as it had always been, when the only vessels to be looking for were those canoes that carried the ferocious, long-haired people reputed to eat human flesh. And then came the following day, when vessels like no others hove into view, and in so doing hewed a new horizon for the islanders. These vessels, resembling small islands with "trees" covered in cloth rather than leaves, carried light-skinned beings wrapped in cloth and metal. Were these men? The islanders were perhaps more curious than fearful as they contemplated the correct response to these newcomers. Should the islanders fete them, fight them, or flee them? They would try all three.

When Christopher Columbus sailed into view of the island he named San Salvador in October 1492, he was greeted by inhabitants he promptly and erroneously called Indians because of his preconceived notions of the world. He was not the only one to operate under cultural concepts that undermined first—and second, and third, and subsequent—contact. Preconceptions operated on both sides while eastern and western Atlantic peoples tried to make sense of each other from within their own frames of reference. As a result, when Columbus and subsequent explorers landed on the other islands of the Caribbean and then the shores of the landmass that blocked their passage to the Pacific, they would encounter hospitality and hostility from the natives who perceived both opportunity and threat in these contacts.

During those first few years of mutual discovery, some seventy-five million people inhabited the continents later known as the Americas. The ancestors of these aborigines had themselves migrated from Asia thousands of years earlier. Over the centuries, these peoples had created richly diverse civilizations. Some of these "Indian" societies had formed highly complex cultural, political, and economic organizations. They had conceptualized intricate cosmologies, built magnificent cities, and established mighty dominions based on agriculture and trade. The most powerful native empire at the time of Spanish exploration was that of none of them was prepared to deal with the impact of the European invasion.

The Europeans who crossed the Atlantic came from different empires or kingdoms and spoke various languages, but their home cultures were not dissimilar. Thus there were similarities as well as differences in how they viewed and treated the natives. These Europeans may have had mixed motives for exploring and exploiting the New World, but they all carried with them powerful biological, cultural, and technological weapons. They sowed germs, wielded the cross, and fired guns. Many did so while seeking gold, spices, and other precious commodities. Others, both Catholics and Protestants, saw the Native Americans as potential converts to the Christian faith. The Catholic Church in Rome had long before approved the use of military force as a means of controlling people who rejected the proclaimed teachings of Jesus Christ. In the New World, Spanish authorities were required to read a statement (the requerimento) to the Indians, inviting them to embrace Christianity. If they did not, the Spanish were then allowed to subjugate them by force. Variations on this precedent were practiced in other areas of the New World by the expansionistic and evangelistic Europeans.

The people on each side of this cultural divide viewed the other through the prisms of their own ethnocentrism. Such views led some individuals to repudiate negotiations based on commonalities and instead go to war over their differences. Furthermore, ethnocentrism caused both sides to over and underestimate the capabilities of the other as they clashed over such ideological concerns as governmental and religious doctrines and fought over such material matters as mineral resources and territory. Yet despite the inherent ethnocentrism of everyone involved, not all thought contact should be a synonym for conflict. There were individuals among the Europeans and aborigines who sought to understand, if not appreciate, other peoples. Humanity as well as inhumanity was inherent to cultural contact.


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