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America's History in the Making

Mapping Initial Encounters

Theme 1

Early encounters between Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans expanded existing trade practices, uniting previously isolated regions and initiating the Columbian Exchange.

Europe could not rival the sophistication of China’s cities or bureaucracies in the 1400s. The Muslim world, which included much of central and southern Europe and northern and western Africa, was arguably better governed and educated. Asians and East Africans were already carrying on an extensive trade with each other. But Western Europe’s emerging nation states were aggressive—taking risks and embracing innovation in search of greater wealth, power, and markets.

A desire for Asian spices and textiles drew the Portuguese south in the 1400s, along the shores of West Africa, where they traded for slaves and eventually made their way around the continent to India. Columbus hoped for a more direct route and made the first of four journeys to the Americas in 1492. His accidental landing in the Caribbean initiated what is now termed the Columbian Exchange, a sustained exchange of people and other organisms across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Columbian Exchange was facilitated by extensive Native American trade routes, which had predated Columbus by more than a thousand years. These trade routes connected major urban centers, such as Cahokia in Illinois and Etowah in Georgia, with other communities.

Primary Sources

Texts

Text Artifact

Francisco A De Icaza, Diccionario, no. 169.1923

Francisco de Icaza, Diccionario autobiográfico de conquistadores y pobladores de la Nueva España, 2 vols. (Madrid: Imprenta “El Adelanto de Segovia”, 1923), I, 214.

Text Artifact

Juan Garrido's Memoir to Charles V of Spain, 1538

Matthew Restall, "Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America," in The Americas, vol. 57, no. 2 (October 2000), 171—205.


Artifacts

Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History

Anonymous Sioux, PICTOGRAPHS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS. A PRELIMINARY PAPER. Pp. 3-246 in Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1882-1883). Courtesy of Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Martellus World Map

"Henricus Martellus, WORLD MAP, FROM "INSULARIUM ILLUSTRATUM", PLATE VII (1489). Courtesy Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Art Resource, NY.

Narbona Panel, Canyon De Chelly

Robert Mark, DETAIL OF NAVAJO/ DINE PICTOGRAPH, CANYON DE CHELLY (2002). Courtesy National Park Service, Museum Management Program, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument Narbona Panel Detail, [CACH # RCS-RM-064].

Waldseemüller World Map

Martin Waldseemüller, UNIVERSALIS COSMOGRAPHIA SECUNDUM PTHOLOMAEI TRADITIONEM ET AMERICI VESPUCII ALIORU[M]QUE LUSTRATIONES, (1507) Courtesy Library of Congress.

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