July – August
Encounters That Changed the World
Until October 1492, the people living on earth’s two great landmasses, Afro-Eurasia and the Americas, had been separated for over five hundred years. A diversity of societies coexisted in the Americas before Europeans arrived. The Mediterranean world was home to people of differing languages, religions and customs. An Ongoing Voyage surveys these worlds in the years preceding 1492 and considers the first sustained contacts between them from 1492 to 1600. These encounters changed the lives of the peoples in the Americas, and set the stage for cultural interactions which are still in progress.
What Came to be Called America
At the time of European exploration, millions of people were living in the Western Hemisphere, with no recorded contact with other parts of the world.
People of North and South America
We now call the peoples who first inhabited the Americas “Indians,” but no such term was used before contact with Europeans. The many Indian cultures were distinct from one another.
North America Before Europe
Present-day United States and Canada were home to hundreds of nations speaking many languages and dialects.
The Mediterranean World
Those who inhabited the shores of the MEDITERRANEAN believed they were living in the center (medi) of the world (terra).
The Iberian Peninsula, now Spain and Portugal, was a fifteenth-century crossroads, joining the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.
Change enveloped fifteenth-century Europeans.
Columbus and Those Who Followed
In what may have been the first use of the printing press for public relations, Columbus wrote and published a report of his 1492 voyage. It made him famous throughout Europe, inspired others to explore the lands he reported and guaranteed him further patronage.
Columbus died believing he had reached Asia. Others weren’t so sure. Italian merchant Amerigo Vespucci was among the skeptical. He explored the northern coast of South America and became a Royal Geographer for the King of Portugal. In 1507, German Martin Waldseemuller named the “new” continent America, in honor of Vespucci.
Europe Claims America
Encounters with Europeans varied. In most cases, Indian peoples did not fare well at the hands of the Europeans.
Conquest in America
After an initial focus on the Caribbean, Spaniards began the conquest of Mexico and Peru. They moved with swiftness despite resistance and superior numbers, overwhelming the regions’ inhabitants with modern weapons.
Adaptation to Change
By 1531, Cortes had acquired dominion over a great deal of land in today’s Mexico. He left the region for a period of time, after appointing Spanish interim administrators. When he returned, he was asked by the people of Huejotzingo to initiate a lawsuit against the Spanish administrators for theri abuses and their unjust use of the incomes secured from the town during his absence, one example of the many responses to the Spanish rule.
Africa and Europe in Brazil
Following the discovery of the vast amounts of brazilwood along the South American coastline, and the outbreaks of diseases that devastated the indigenous population, Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves to augment the workforce.
Incursions in North America
Inevitably, Europeans began to settle in North America, weakening the once-strong Indian nations with warfare and claiming more and more land for their use.
New American Nations
Indian peoples and European and African immigrants continued to shape American societies. By the end of the eighteenth-century, they began to rebel against European masters. Independence movements spread, and separate nations were created.
An Ongoing Voyage
In religion, festivity, ceremony and daily life, the assimilation that began with the first American encounters remains continuous. Yet many Americans hold on to, or eventually reclaim, their unique personal heritages as well. The tensions between tradition and change, prosperity and poverty, tolerance and intolerance in the hemisphere continue to create turbulence as Americans proceed on their “ongoing voyage.”
LOCATION: 2nd floor gallery
Curator: Library of Congress