The Evolution of Human Ecological Systems during the Period of European Colonization and Mercantile Expansion: A Preliminary Assessment

By Ethridge, Robbie | Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Evolution of Human Ecological Systems during the Period of European Colonization and Mercantile Expansion: A Preliminary Assessment


Ethridge, Robbie, Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology


Introduction

This paper, as the title suggests, deals with a broad-ranging and difficult subject, and one that anthropology, for the most part, has eschewed and left to history and geography. However, anthropology, with its emphasis on holism and its insistence that societies be viewed as a system of interrelated parts, has much to offer in explaining what happens to a particular human ecological system when it becomes incorporated into the larger world system. During the period of European colonization and mercantile expansion, many indigenous societies around the globe evolved into different systems, and in this process their relationships with the environment also changed. This paper is a preliminary assessment of some methodological aspects involved in examining the changes in a society's relationship to the environment that occur when a society becomes incorporated into the world-wide market. I also present some models that explore the dynamics of these changes.

Ecological anthropology of the 60s and 70s took a particularistic approach and generated much good work on the relationship particular groups had with their environments. Much of this work, however, fell into the traps of functionalist explanations and the ethnographic present, treating the societies under observation as relatively isolated entities in which culture served as an adaptive tool to maintain an ecological equilibrium. Ecological anthropology of the past was criticized on these accounts, and, for the most part, abandoned by anthropology.

The legacy of ecological anthropology is mixed. On one hand, these works forced us to see that humans are part of an ecosystem and that the human relationship to nature was not that much different from other animals. I view this as a major contribution to understanding humans. On the other hand, because these anthropologists did not extricate their works from functionalist explanations and the ethnographic present, their methods and theories leave us very little with which to explain change.

The underlying goal of this project derives from the University of Georgia, Department of Anthropology's goal to revitalize ecological anthropology. I understand this goal to be a long-term project in which new and pertinent questions are formulated covering human/environment interactions. One area of inquiry concerns the evolution of human ecological systems-how these systems evolve and why. The question of social evolution encompasses the broad pattern of human existence: the long-term social organization of hunters and gatherers, the domestication of plants and animals, the rise of the state, the emergence and duration of the modern world system and capitalist economy, the industrial revolution, and the contemporary global ecological system. Each of these transformations in human existence directly affected the ways in which humans conceived of, related to, and used their environment.

Anthropology, with its long-term view of humanity is in a unique position to address questions concerning these major transformations in human existence. But to do so, we must learn from the mistakes of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. We cannot slip into the comfortable confines of functionalist explanations. Nor can we afford to ignore the global economic system and its effect on indigenous peoples. As this paper shows, capitalist development can be deleterious, disruptive, and malfunctional. European colonization and mercantile expansion form the nascence of the modern world system and capitalist economy; this project is but a beginning stage of formulating questions on how and why the modern world system served as a catalyst for the evolution of indigenous societies.

Methodology

In order to examine the changes wrought in a human ecological system by colonialism, mercantile expansion, and incorporation into a capitalist market economy, one should begin by pinpointing those factors that one must consider as well as the relationship between those factors. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Evolution of Human Ecological Systems during the Period of European Colonization and Mercantile Expansion: A Preliminary Assessment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.