Reading-Second Week Chapter 3 and 5

In Chapter 3, Taylor writes not only of the initial conquest of the land known as New Spain, but also of the development and regulation of the new empire. I had previously not known about how far the drastic decrease in population spread into North America due to the Spanish. To find slaves, Spanish went from Venezuela to Florida to South Carolina (Taylor, p. 52). This, coupled with disease, devastated the surrounding areas. Another topic I found interesting in this chapter was the thought and actions associated with consolidation and the Mexican natives’ attitude toward the Spanish. The conquistadores were good at conquering, but not at ruling a long lasting colony. The monarchs wanted to control, tax, and establish Spanish institutes in New Spain (Taylor, p. 59). Trying to manage the colonies from across the Atlantic proved extremely difficult. The priests wanted to convert the natives through peaceful relations, unlike the the conquistadores (Taylor, p. 59). Some Mexican Natives thought they could “outlast their Spanish masters” just as they had done with previous invasions, but the Spanish were far too technologically advanced (Taylor, p. 60). The bullion influenced the Spanish economy and the rest of Europe. The influx of gold and silver caused inflation, which was exacerbated by the weakened manufacturing industry. (Taylor, p. 63).

In Chapter 5, Taylor mainly focuses on the French involvement in Canada and their relationship with the Natives. The French and the Natives were both dependent on the fur trade. The Natives were dependent on the modern materials the French produced and traded. The French were dependent on the fur for profit, but the trade also provided protection from the Natives. Taylor portrays the French as being taken of advantage of by the Natives. The Natives “negotiated from a position of strength (Taylor, p. 93). The Natives took advantage of different fur traders and would travel to find the best price. As Sylvia pointed out, the Natives expected the French to be their allies in intertribal wars. The fur traders kept their posts small, to discourage more traders in the area.

Blog Post #2- Chapters 3 and 5

The shocking brutality of the Spanish conquistadores was the thing that stood out to me most in reading Chapter 3. So brutal were the Spanish, in their “conquering and colonization [of] vast stretches of the Americas” (Taylor, 51) that even the other European nations who were also colonizing American lands during that time period were shocked and appalled by their actions. The English, who were competitors with the Spanish when it came to colonizing the “new world”, even came up with the term “Black Legend” to describe the horrifying ways in which the Spanish treated the natives. Now, the English clearly weren’t upstanding in their treatment of the natives who had been living independently for hundreds of years before British arrival, but it says something that even they drew a more appropriate line as to what was acceptable in the treatment of natives than the Spanish.

Before reading these chapters and discussing them in class, it was my understanding that most European nations who were involved in the early colonization of the Americas had the same motivation for being there and mostly went about colonization in the same way. It is clear however, that this is not the case. There were varying levels of violence, peaceful interaction with natives,  trade, implementation of religion, etc with almost every European nation that attempted to colonize the land. Taylor made it known early that part of his reason for writing this book was to give a more comprehensive and complete overview of this history; almost as a way to fill in the gaps that are so often left there when American history is told. Him more indepthly describing the differences in which various nations went along in colonizing these lands better gives the reader an understanding of how and why things developed the way they did during early colonization.

American Colonies, Chapter 3: “Conquest and Race in New Spain”

In Chapter 3, Taylor demystifies the “Black Legend” of Spanish cruelty by highlighting both the atrocities and developments of Spanish conquest—a lucrative venture for bullish entrepreneurs and an onerous governance for the Spanish crown. Continuing his comparative perspective, Taylor examines the Spanish conquest through lens of the Native peoples as well as the Spanish. I, however, found his description of the Spanish motives especially interesting. He notes that while Spanish colonization was “a private enterprise . . . in the pursuit of profit,” it also served to extend the control of the Spanish crown and Catholic church by means of the requerimento (57). Though driven by seemingly disparate interests, the Spanish conquerers—in the Taylor’s presentation, at least—used their separate interests as motives and justifications for the atrocities of their conquests, particularly at Tenochtitlán. Describing Cortes’ visit to the enchanting city—I say “enchanting” because of Bernal Diaz’s description of it—Taylor writes that the Spanish explorers were “inflamed [with] desire to conquer, plunder” (53). Yet, they abhorred the gruesome rituals and idolatry of the Aztecs. So they employed their religious duty ‘to give light to those . . . in darkness’ as justification to eclipse the Aztec culture and society with their own customs (58). Perhaps no event described in Chapter 3 better reflects the Spanish cultural conquest than the construction of the cathedral in Mexico City. Tenochtitlán’s ruins became the cornerstones of a Christian temple, born on the backs of its own people.

I find it interesting that among the list of Spanish motives for conquest Taylor excludes racial prejudice. Granted, Taylor states in Chapter 5 that Europeans perceived the Native peoples as “socially and culturally inferior” rather than racially unequal (107). But I find it hard to believe that the confrontation of two foreign, ethnically homogenous groups would not provoke racial prejudice, although admittedly my this assertion is influenced by modern instances of racism.

Regardless, I think there is a better explanation for Taylor’s exclusion of racism in his list of Spanish motives. In her post last week, Caitlin noted Taylor’s argument for colonial social-hierarchy as the origin of racism in America. Racial oppression, she stated, was “created through the colonial process,” not pre-meditated. With this view in mind, Taylor’s description makes sense. As the Native peoples were assimilated—or coerced, depending on your view—into the Spanish colonies, they were exploited and worked on haciendas as sharecroppers. And as Taylor’s argument would suggest, a racial hierarchy (castas) evolved from the social hierarchy, with Natives and African slaves at the bottom and whiter peoples towards the top. So, whether an omission for the sake of his argument or a fine example of racism evolving out of classism, the absence of racial qualifications for the Spanish conquest seems best explained by Taylor’s previous argument. I think Caitlin would agree, but I look forward to hearing her response.

On a different note, we spent much of class last Thursday discussing common words and phrases used when describing the history of the American Native peoples. Many words—like “village,” as opposed to “city”—we concluded, fail to accurately convey the complexity and sophistication of Native civilization and culture. In fact, some words reflect cultural ignorance more than just historical inaccuracy. I think this recent blog is especially relevant to that conversation:

Week One Reading

The introduction sets up a new perspective of observing early North America History. It goes in great detail about how many people view this era simply through the lenses of Europeans and specifically the males of the colonists and how they shaped this new land for themselves. It makes note of how many native peoples are ignored or are considered insignificant in the development of the area.  It also states that minorities are generally overlooked in the grand scheme of things, as well as many significant women.  Also the intro makes note that British America is not the only important colonies in North America, although it is one of the largest.

The first chapter begins by describing how native peoples used to be determined by historians as a static people, whose behavior at the time of colonization could be used to depict how their ancestors behaved. Taylor continues by pointing out that neither the Europeans nor the Natives were more or less violent than the other, as native tribes have waged war with one another. Although the Europeans did possess superior power compared to the native groups, thus the scope in which they would spread and inflict harm to the native people and region would seem larger in scope.

Taylor truly shows the productive and advancing culture of the native people, describing first mass exodus across the land bridge. The native people truly adapted to their new hostile environment and began to thrive.  They eventually developed horticulture as a means to better collect and maintain food supplies. They also developed many intricate religions such as Hohokam and Anasazi which shows a sense of community among different groups.

Taylor, Chapter 2: An Environmental Perspective

Sherwood Callaway

HIS 141, Blog Post 2

For context, my post today has mostly to do with the environmental history Taylor presents in chapter 2.

Generally speaking, chapter 2 was concerned with three things: thee driving forces behind European exploration, the decimation of local inhabitants upon European contact, and the environmental ramifications of European-American interaction. The Europeans pursued exploration because it offered new opportunities for commercial exploitation and religious conversion. Their experiences in the western Atlantic –where they subdued the Guanche through “just” warfare, manipulation of local politics, and by unintentionally introducing of foreign diseases, plants and animals – demonstrated these benefits, and prepared the Europeans for their “new world.”  Finally, the breadth and variety of economical implications resulting from making contact was astounding; rampant disease destroyed whole Indian nations, crops were exchanged and food supplies significantly altered, livestock introduced, deforestation dramatically increased, etc.

Simply, the Europeans threw America’s natural balance completely out of whack.

Taylor deserves credit for giving sufficient attention to the role of the environment in this period. In his post last week, Wells was first to recognize the way Taylor weaves anthropological and environmental histories together. Certainly, one cannot be separated from the other, but less mindful historians often diminish the weightof the latter. Taylor has proven himself otherwise; for example, he quotes Thomas Malthas’ principle of population, acknowledging man’s environmental dependency.

After reading the first chapter, I assumed Taylor’s interest in environmental history was conditioned by his subject material— the Indians. Wells may have felt the same, since in his blog post he employed the examples of the Anasazi and the Hohokam. Under this impression, I considered Taylor backward and hypocritical, since much of his introduction was spent condemning historical inaccuracies like that of the nature-loving Indian. However, this reading has clearly proven that Taylor’s interest in environmental history is simply part of a well-rounded modus operandi. The environment pertains equally to all three parties this time; the Europeans gained more efficient crops like maize and potatoes; the Indians suffered from alien disease, flora and fauna; the Africans benefit from the introduction of cassava, and enjoyed some protection from slavers, thanks to the harshness of their environment.

I applaud Taylor for his including this historical dimension, and am excited to experience other aspects of American history through it.

Chapters 3 and 5 response

Chapter 3 focused on “New Spain” and how the Spanish went about colonizing the Americas. It focused on many different aspects of their methods while also focusing a great deal on the natives who were already there. I found the details and facts about the indigenous people very interesting. As Cortés finds himself charging through the Mexican countryside, he comes across the massive city of Tenochtitlan, which was bigger than any city he’d ever seen. It was the home of around 200,000 inhabitants, far more than the 70,000 of Seville in Spain. Nonetheless, Cortés decides that he needs to take it for Spain. Even though the city has over 200,000 people, the technology of Cortés’ army was able to overthrow the city in only a few months. This brings to light the power of technology in warfare: although the Spanish were vastly outnumbered, they took the city with relative ease. I think one thing that helped them was that they were able to gain not just the trust of the Aztecs, but the reverence as well. Aztecs saw the invaders as Gods and welcomed them into the city with open arms. Cortés was rightfully amazed by what he saw, but that didn’t deter him from taking the city with force. The astonishing thing is how easily he conquered 200,000 people. Both cities, Seville and Tenochtitlan, practiced agriculture and hunting, the only differences were the advancements that Europe made in the Renaissance. It resulted in better technology, including weaponry. If the two empires fought each other two hundred years earlier the outcome would have been very different.

Chapter 5 focuses on the east coast and mainly France’s experience with the natives of that area. Unlike the Aztecs of central Mexico, the natives of the northeast coast, the Abenaki and the Micmac to name two, were not very united and did not have a major city like Tenochtitlan. Their populations were not nearly as large and they minded their own business until Europeans arrived and sought something that they had. Fur trading was huge in the area and it served as a great way to create good relations between the Indians and Europeans. When Europeans saw that the Indians with all types of exotic fur, they instantly wanted them. More and more Europeans arrived in search for exotic furs. I think that this was a great way for the relationship between the two peoples to form. Trading formed a relationship based on trust that would have been great if it could have lasted. Eventually, though, the Indians didn’t have a need for more knives and other things that the Europeans could offer and trading was not exactly welcomed by them. What could have been a great relationship based on trading and helping each other out could not be sustained any longer and eventually, relations turned sour.

Chapters 3 & 5 Reading

Taylor aims to show the more complex side of early American life and not display it so one-sided as many other accounts do. Robbie notes in his post that, Taylor recognizes many groups of people contributed to the colonization of America, not just Europeans, but Natives and Africans, too. I agree with Robbie’s point that the history of America “cannot be developed through a single story line,” because there are too many different groups of people that contributed to the colonization of the New World to only focus on one. More importantly, the path the English took to colonize hinged on the actions of the other European colonizers and the Indians. Taylor forces his readers to consider that the Natives are not always weak and subordinate, and the Europeans do not always easily conquer and colonize.

For example, Taylor portrays the French as more of a tool of the Natives instead of the other way around, as I previously would think. Once the French and Indians established a trade of furs and European goods, the Indians began to dominate the exchange. They “became adept at driving a hard bargain” and when they received higher payment for their furs, the Indians became lazier with their work, while the French still had to hunt and fish to supply the trade (Taylor 97). The French, in starting trade relations with different Indian tribes, were also forced into an unspoken alliance with these tribes. As a result, the Indians expected the French to help in intertribal wars, and the French had to deal with their own casualties as the enemy Indians attacked French villages in retaliation.

In his account of the history of New Spain, Taylor is thorough in his descriptions of the failures of this colonization, not just its successes. While many Spaniards, like tailor Diego de San Lorente, thought they would have a life of riches in Mexico, most early Spanish settlements failed. Eventually, the Spanish began to establish more successful towns and develop strong military protection. Taylor still mentions, however, the opinion of the Spanish king’s prime minister in 1631, who questioned whether the difficulties that came with New World colonization actually strengthened the Spanish empire or only made the homeland weaker (Taylor 66).

Taylor writes one of the more powerful accounts of early American history because he does not write solely from the perspective of the successful European colonizers. He notes the powerful role some Indians did have at the time, details the many failures of the first colonizers, and makes readers notice that the early days of colonization created cultural conflicts that still exist in our country.

American Colonies: Introduction & Chapter 1 Reading

Alan Taylor notably discredits the conventional, childlike view of American History in the introduction of his bookAmerican Colonies. In his view, the popular cultural tale of white men escaping from an oppressive monarchy to a land of freedom and opportunity appeals, “because it offers an appealing simplification that contains important (but partial) truths.” (Taylor x) Thankfully, he offers a more detailed description of how Native Indians and Europeans interacted.

I was impressed that the author strove to include the history and background of the native people. Taylor forced me to think not only about the acclamation of the colonists as they came into the new world, but also of the changes this immigration had on the Indians and the environment of North America.

Along with the section in the first chapter on how the Paleo-Indians lived in small groups by following and hunting different herds, I was really interested in how these small tribes grew and evolved into a settlement-like agricultural community. His discussion on the development of horticulture, by the Indians, through crossbreeding maize with wild grass to “create hybrids” (Taylor 10-11) with all of these protective, beneficial qualities sheds light on the innovation and intelligence of the Indian people. It was uplifting to read that not all Europeans thought of the Indians as savage beasts to be tamed and dominated, and that some of them even regarded them “by nature admirably ingenious.” (Taylor 20)

I drew a parallel between the 12th century powerhouse of Cahokia and our own modern world. In discussing Cahokia, Taylor says that as the growing population exhausted natural resources such as trees, animals, and crops, “the environmental strains became exacerbated into a severe crisis…” (Taylor 16) The doubts and rebellions caused by this overpopulation was a factor that led to the collapse of Cahokia. In modern times, we are obviously not dealing with the collapse of our civilization, but we are beginning to face similar problems with overpopulation and the drain on natural resources.

Week One Reading Response

In his introduction, Taylor recognizes the conventional approach to understanding early American history and does not discard this narrative as completely invalid. He does, however, offer a more sophisticated view of North American colonization. I found his discussion of the role of racism in colonization particularly interesting. Taylor suggests that the oppressive racial roles inflicted on Native and African Americans were not pre-meditated but were in fact created through the colonial process. He points to a rise in white solidarity among European colonists as both an effect of the new work force found among racial minorities and the need to unite a white military as well as a cause of the subjugation of minorities. Even more interesting, however, is that he argues that the freedoms and rights so idealized as the foundations of our diverse American society are also offshoots of this racism. As white solidarity increased, Taylor says, the white elite was forced to offer more political and social freedom to lower class whites.

Taylor’s discussion of Native Americans was equally as interesting. He uses the term colonization to describe the migration across the land bridge from Asia into North America but also depicts this momentous incident as more of an accident than an earth-changing event. This casual discovery of America stands in sharp contrast to the usual fanfare and glorification that surrounds Columbus’ arrival in the “New World.” His notes on agriculture also challenged many common beliefs. The Agricultural Revolution marks the change in periods of human history and is generally thought of as one of the key factors that allowed modern culture and civilization to develop. Taylor, however, points out many of the downfalls of the agricultural system such as decrease in biodiversity, increased stress on the environment, and greater opportunity for the spread of communicable disease. Taylor backs up his claims with archeological evidence. His descriptions of the proof for his arguments were almost as comprehensive as his arguments themselves. He explains the archeological discoveries in terms of the tools and keepsakes found with the bodies that demonstrate gender roles as well as the physical characteristics that point to diet and tendencies towards violence.

In both of these sections, Taylor challenges customary and straightforward conceptions of early America. The differences in these readings stem from the differences in each of their purposes. The introduction seeks to explain the author’s purpose in writingAmerican Colonies while the first chapter includes more detail and is more focused on describing specific aspects of a culture rather than providing a broad overview of all the time periods the book covers.

Introduction-Chapter 1 Post (#1)

Author Alan Taylor has a very interesting line on the first page of the Introduction that, in my opinion, gives early insight into what this book will discuss. After shortly describing white Europeans’ motivation for immigrating to what is the present day United States, Taylor opens his fourth paragraph with a captivating person opinion- “But the traditional story of American uplift excludes too many people” (Taylor, Introduction) To me, this line immediately informs the reader that the purpose of this book is to give a more complete description of American History, one that fills in the holes and gives credit to those often forgotten in less “detailed” accounts of American History. The first chapter in the book immediately shows that Taylor does indeed intend to fill in those blanks. In it he gives brief overviews of the history of a number of Native American tribes who called the lands home way before Christopher Columbus or any other Europeans set foot in the “new world”.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter as it informed me about much I had never even heard regarding early life in the Americas. I had known that Christopher Columbus did not in fact “discover” these lands but I was unaware of the deep history that so many different native tribes had on the land. Taylor also gives a description of the natives that does not mesh with the way they are often portrayed today. Modern day filmmakers have painted an image of these early natives in moves (which is admittedly the extent of my previous study on this topic) as a supremely spiritual and peaceful people who were unjustifiably taken advantage of by the Europeans. While Taylor does not defend the Europeans, he makes sure to inform the reader that the Natives were not completely innocent, peaceful tribes who wished only to be left alone. They were just as violent and war-prone as the people they fought, they simply did not have the technology and weaponry to seriously compete. I appreciated Taylor giving this perspective here. It assures me that he did his best to stay completely objective. I can only assume that the rest of the book is written in the same manor.