Environmental history and Colonization
In real sense, the relocation and dominance of Europeans in the Americas was motley of usefulness and terribleness. In my own view, their settlements there was received with mixed reactions and receptions, both in the way the culture and trends of life were negatively affected and their social life greatly molded. First, they tamed the native Indians who could be only described as “wild”. The natives had no organized form of administration; they perceived and received life as it came: cultural practices and hunting. For example, with the Europeans came commodities that could be traded and many possession of such items brought prestige and leaders emerged. On the contrary, the Europeans brought pests and diseases that greatly decimated the natives.
As Crosby opines, in his article, the number of people of both the old and new worlds did not vary that much. An example is the population in the central Mexican valley and compared to the one in the Yangzi valley. Areas similar to those were many and even some of them stretching extensively towards the eastern hemisphere than in the western. The fact the American grassland areas were not very well adapted to the steppe climate, the density of people in a kilometer square were lower when compared to the Old World grasslands which could support cereals such as barley, wheat and sorghum. The environment determined which crops could thrive in which areas or not.
Subsequently, environmental determined the destiny of the diversity of the landscape both to the people and crops. This can be seen by how people in the areas with unfavorable climate were determined by the extent of diseases, “…densities in hot, wet lands of the Americas were…about the character and the geographical distribution of diseases and crops…” (Crosby, pg 120). The settlers tampered with the nature adaptability of the people, for example, in the moderate highlands, the main factors that decimated the population were diseases such as pneumonia, measles and small pox whereas in the harsh lowlands, the population density was decimated. “…decline of Amerindians of the hot, wet, coastal lowlands unrecorded but extreme.” (pg 124)
In the book, Changes in the land, as William Cronon argues, the Indians were the ones who were responsible for the landscape shaping. And once the European conquered them and took over the ownership of the property, they destroyed the natural environmental balance which in turn was adversely affected. The Indians would burn vast portions twice a year (in the spring and fall). Moreover, the Indians viewed ownership as anything that was hand-made only and therefore land ownership wasn’t recognized. However, once the Europeans arrived, they destroyed the older forest and introduced a new one complete with exotic grasses and crops and their view about the land ownership was contrary to that of the natives since they saw as a God given duty to develop the land.
There is so much perspective on the colonial American history that is offered by the environmental history. There were numerous diseases that came with the Europeans and they decimated the native population from a seventy-thousand population to just twelve thousand people. The implication of this was that the left native population could not utilize the land could no longer be in way like before. Viewed from this perspective, the continued stay of the Europeans was dangerous for the survival of the natives.
With the colonization of the land by the colonialists, they tampered with the use of the land according to the view point of the natives who saw the usage of the land as a source of hunting but contrary, the European saw it as a source of crops. The natives viewed ownership as what could be made by ones own hands but upon the arrival of the colonialists, with them came items that could be swapped for things like metal tools and the consequence was that reputation was got from the owning of specific items.. Compared to before, such items did not amount to anything and therefore prestige could not be obtained. There was the introduction of new forms of administrations whereby new leaders emerged and brought organization to the disorganized natives.
The Amerindians in the harsh coastal lowlands that were hot and wet were almost wiped out by the climate and other climate-related diseases such as pneumonia. Ever though it was brutal, it brought a natural balance whereby it kept the number of people in check. Since they were the chief sources of labor to the masters, other means had to been resorted and therefore this gave the colonialists new motivations for colonizing. “…as their lowland Amerindian subjects died off, Europeans reached out to the Bahamas, Nicaragua and the backlands of their Brazilian settlements for slaves…” (Crosby, 125)
There was Europeans brutality. After the deaths of the Amerindians, the European colonizers resorted to other means of satisfying the labor. They wanted the laborers who would build and tend to the sugar plantations in Jamaica and to the tobacco plantations in Maryland. “… new masters of the American lowlands tried to persuade Europeans to volunteer for work…convicts were conscripted and some unfortunates were simply kidnapped…”( 125). Christopher Columbus opened the doors to colonization when he initiated the transoceanic movement and the fact that the “land was left ‘unused’ an offense to God, that land had to be put to use again. The need for laborers in the tropical crops plantations such as indigo, cotton, tobacco and sugar compelled the Spanish monarchy to order the supply of slaves directly from Africa and were taken to Antilles and this was as a result of the deaths of the aboriginal populations that had been wiped out by the hot and wet tropics.
The need for the laborers opened the exploration of many areas, such as Africa, which had remained unknown. The laborers of the Europeans were greatly decimated by the epidemics and therefore the masters had to resort to other means from places out of hold of the epidemics and those were their motivations to conquer new land not only out of their new areas but also in their motherlands.”…that made it profitable to reach beyond the epidemic’s farthest ravages to obtain slaves from northern and especially Eastern Europe…the return of the plague in the fourteenth century stimulated the slave trade between southern Europe, Black Sea, and black Africa.” According to Cronon, there was a ready market for crops that grew in the tropics and it compelled the masters to seek laborers from black Africa, “…demand for tropical crops such as sugar was the driving economic force that drove Atlantic migration.”(127)
Crosby, Alfred. “Infectious Diseases and the Demography of the Atlantic Peoples.” Journal of World History (1991): 119-133.
Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians,and the ecology of New England. New York: Hill Wang, 2003.