Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America

Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America

Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America

Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America

Synopsis

In this provocative and timely collection of essays--five published for the first time--one of the most important ethnohistorians writing today, James Axtell, explores the key role of imagination both in our perception of strangers and in the writing of history. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America, this collection covers a wide range of topics dealing with American history. Three essays view the invasion of North America from the perspective of the Indians, whose land it was. The very first meetings, he finds, were nearly always peaceful. Other essays describe native encounters with colonial traders--creating "the first consumer revolution"--and Jesuit missionaries in Canada and Mexico. Despite the tragedy of many of the encounters, Axtell also finds that there was much humor in Indian-European negotiations over peace, sex, and war. In the final section he conducts searching analyses of how college textbooks treat the initial century of American history, how America's human face changed from all brown in 1492 to predominantly white and black by 1792, and how we handled moral questions during the Quincentenary. He concludes with an extensive review of the Quincentenary scholarship--books, films, TV, and museum exhibits--and suggestions for how we can assimilate what we have learned.

Excerpt

After 1492 the world became a very different place. Western Europe's "discovery" of and imperial thrust into the equally old world of the Americas set in rapid motion the final stages of the human and biological exposure of the earth's constituent parts to each other and the tying of those parts together with nautical lines.

Before Columbus, various ancient worlds -- Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas -- lay largely isolated from each other, shrouded in tantalizing mystery or blissful ignorance. Asians knew parts of Africa and even Europe (and the Chinese at least had the technology and knowledge to exploit both), but chose largely to stay home. North Africans certainly knew Europe and had colonized the Iberian peninsula for nearly eight centuries. But Western Europeans, driven by economic forces, social restlessness, and an evangelical religion, did the most to systematically intrude themselves and their ways of life into the known, inhabited parts of the world. Save for a few readers of ancient Norse sagas, no one knew of the Americas, and the Americans knew nothing of the rest of the world.

In 1492 Cristoforo Colombo, a Genoese sailor in the . . .

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