Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents

Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents

Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents

Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents

Synopsis

A collection of primary sources documenting the early clash of cultures in the Americas, Encounters in the New World spans the years from Columbus's voyage in 1492 to the publication of the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, in 1789. Emotional eyewitness accounts--memoirs,petitions, diaries, captivity narratives, private correspondence--as well as formal documents, official reports, and journalistic reportage give body and texture to the historical events described. A special 16-page color cartographic section, including maps from both Europe and North America, isfascinating not only for the maps' telltale imperfections, but also because they convey information about how their creators saw themselves and the world around them. A Jesuit priest's chronicle of life among his Iroquois captors, Aztec records of forbidding omens, excerpts from Columbus's ship'slog, John Smith's account of cannibalism among the British residents of Jamestown, slave auction advertisements, memoirs by several members of Cortes's expedition, the reminiscences of an escaped slave-these are just a few examples of the wealth of primary sources collected here. Jill Lepore, winnerof the distinguished Bancroft Prize for history in 1999, provides informed, expert commentary linking the documents into a fascinating and seamless narrative. Textbooks may interpret history, but the books in the Pages from History series are history. Each title, compiled and edited by a prominent historian, is a collection of primary sources relating to a particular topic of historical significance. Documentary evidence including news articles,government documents, memoirs, letters, diaries, fiction, photographs, and facsimiles allows history to speak for itself and turns every reader into a historian. Headnotes, extended captions, sidebars, and introductory essays provide the essential context that frames the documents. All the books areamply illustrated and each spans the years froincludes a documentary picture essay, chronology, further reading, source notes, and index.

Excerpt

Amerigo Vespucci found Indians shocking. “All of both sexes go about naked, covering no part of their bodies,” he wrote, and their skin is “in color verging upon reddish.” But if Europeans were astonished by Indians’ nakedness and by the color of their skin, Indians were equally amazed by the newcomers’ strange appearance. As the Aztecs in Mexico observed of the Spanish, “Their bodies were everywhere covered; only their faces appeared. They were very white; they had chalky faces; they had yellow hair, though the hair of some was black. Long were their beards; they also were yellow.”

Encounters between peoples who had not previously known of one another’s existence were bound to be profoundly unsettling. Not surprisingly, at first meeting they usually found each other bizarre in the extreme. Even as late as 1709, the Englishman John Lawson could write, “Their way of Living is so contrary to ours that neither we nor they can fathom one another’s Designs and Methods.” Europeans and Native Americans were quick to notice each other’s differences. in 1584, Arthur Barlowe found that the Algonquians who greeted the English at Roanoke Island “wondred mervelously when we were amongest them, at the whiteness of our skinnes, ever coveting to touch our breastes and to view the same.” But, while some Native Americans were awed by Europeans—at least at first—the reverse was not true; Europeans usually regarded the Indians with pity or disgust rather than admiration.

Many Native American peoples lived in small bands, tribes, or confederacies and, while they had much contact with neighboring communities, their neighbors were not likely to be very different from themselves. European peoples, on the other hand, had a long tradition of travel and exploration—to Africa and the Far East, especially— through which they met men and women extraordinarily different from themselves. Within Europe’s cultural traditions, especially those . . .

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