Environmental history and Colonization
In their articles, Changes in the land by William Cronon and Infectious Disease and the Demography of the Atlantic Peoples by Alfred Crosby, both takes us on detailed reason for the Europeans’ driving factors for their success in colonization and conquest. Basing my arguments on their two articles, hereby follows an environmental perspective for their success.
The explanations of both Crosby and Cronon can be argued and perceived to be convincing of the success of the Europeans in their colonization and conquest but they cannot be deemed to be accurate simply because it’s “based on a new reading of the documents and data of their story.”Another reason why they may not be accurate maybe because most of Crosby’s arguments are based on those of other scholar’s such as Henry Dobyns.
Environment determined the destiny of the diversity of the landscape both to the people and crops. I deduct this from the fact that the distribution of pathogens in hot areas is high compared to the one in cold areas. Therefore, there is a micron of truth in Crosby’s argument and it cannot be disputed, “…densities in hot, wet lands of the Americas were…about the character and the geographical distribution of diseases and crops…” (Crosby 120).
Unfortunately, while Crosby does a remarkable work of taking us back in the sands of time, there are areas whereby he bases his work on his viewpoints rather than the actual facts. I give credit to his opinions, as in for example, where he says,” I doubt that there were any large areas in the New World suitable in soil fertility, climate…for dense populations that were not already thoroughly occupied in 1492.” (pg 121)
In the book, Changes in the land, as William Cronon argues, the Indians were the ones who were responsible for the landscape shaping. I give credit to the Cronon viewpoint that the Amerindians cooperated with nature so that they could boost the productivity of the land (burning the dense undergrowth to enhance good passing of both the game and the hunter, grazing land) but the European clearance of the old forest to provide land for the growing of crops and their exotic animals (viewed as man-against-nature) lead to the survivability of relative few selected plants and animals. I argue that the Amerindians had crop husbandry practices that prevented the exhaustion of the soil since they planted beans with corn.
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, I argue that the continued stay of the Europeans was dangerous for the survival of the natives.
The way Europeans burned the old forest for their own purposes, grow their crops, reduced the sole source of food to the Amerindians since not only could the game be deprived of sanctuary but also the wild fruits would cease. With limited either of this, of which were the backbone of the Amerindian’s food, the survival of the population would be limited
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)
According to my opinion the Europeans way of handling the forest cover for their own purposes such as growing exotic crops and animal husbandry, contrasted greatly with that of the Amerindians which was to enhance the re-sprouting of the trees and rendering the thick undergrowth both passable to the game, hunter and grazing lands. With the burning of the forest cover by, they tampered with their survival.
Where the natives were the source of labor in the plantations, most of who succumbed to imported diseases, the European had to seek other laborers elsewhere. At first it had been in Nicaragua and other backyard places but when them too succumbed to the diseases too, they had to seek others to far away places who were not prone to them.
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.