An introduction to ethnic studies of places: identity emerges from a sense of history and geography of places.

"I read Bernal Díaz del Castillo's eyewitness account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. . . . but I did inadvertently discover that smallpox arrived in Mesoamerica with he Europeans and swept across the land, killing myriads of Aztecs and other indigines."

Alfred W. Crosby, Germs, Seeds, and Animals. p. xi.

Mexican ruin skyline
Mexican market of an ancient peoples as imagined by Diego Rivera in this mural of the Aztec capital.

The Americas: 15 & 16th Centuries: A holocaust, "discovery," or disruption?

The nigh of the fallThe nigh of the fall

time line | concepts | themes | focal points | author | definitions | lesson



Ice Age10,000 ya Ice Age ends, sea level rises as the isolation of the America's begins

1000 CE warmest interglacial period meant that the Vikings stayed in Canada.
1200 prolonged drought in North America's Southwest, the Anasazi retreat from their cities due to a lack of sufficient water.
1300 Old Oraibi Village occupied by the Hopi in Arizona.

1405-33 Ming voyages of Chinese discovery to Australia, India, & East Africa.

1453 Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish army obstructing the Spanish & Italian trade to the Levant, Arabia, & Egypt.
1492 Unification of Spain and Columbus 1st Voyage.
1493 Settlement of Navidad, on Española (Hispaniola or Sainte Domingue) by Columbus and 1600 settlers with cattle, sugar and seeds.
1503 earliest importation of African slaves to Española to replace Taino labor.
1511-1515 Spanish begin the conquest of Cuba from the Taino.
1513 the first record of African slaves in Cuba brought from Española.
1514 the city of Havana is founded named for a local indigenous Cacique.

1517 Protestant Reformation in Germany reject Catholic, Papal and centralized authority.
1519 Hernán Cortés with a fleet departs Cuba to subjugate Mexico.
1519 Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés lands on the coast of Mexico with 600 men, 16 horses & about 20 guns
1520 losing control of Tenochtitlan, Hernán Cortés, retreats in what becomes know as "Noche Triste," the sorrowful night.
1520 documentation of 300 African slaves imported to Cuba to work the gold mines in Jaugua.
1521 Hernán Cortés recaptures Tenochtitlan from the Aztecs with the assistance of Amerindian allies, later to become the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
1522 Magellan's ships return from around the world
MAgellans voyage
Map of Magellan's voyage around the world: August 10, 1519 – September 6, 1522..

earth1542 new Laws of the Indies are passed in Spain, in an attempt to protect the Indians on the encomiendas of Spanish America.

1665 the French settle the colony of Saint Domingue, in what is now Haiti.
1697 by the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain grants France title to the possession of St. Doningue becoming eventually among the largest slave importers in the Antilles for the production of sugar cane.



heroic history vs. natural history Boundaries

Plate tectonics:
Boundaries of plates occur in the Caribbean region.
These tectonic movements create ecological conditions of isolation for land animals and plants


Neotropical biogeographical regions:

The world's biomes (large biotic regions) are very different in the Americas.

Natural history & nature (3 or 4 definitions of nature can be confusing)

Here natural refers to conditions before the peopling of the America's 30,000 to 40,000 years ago;
     Where animal migration patterns were dominant features of places,
     Where biota, was very different from Eurasian flora and fauna,
     Characterized as a biotic community, also called a biocenosis or biocoenosis

The Columbian exchange is the second or third of three great natural upheavals in the biota of the Americas.

animationice age

schema 1. Collision some 3 million years ago the Darien gap arose joining northern to southern continents
schema 2. The two recent ice ages and interglacial periods opened and closed the Americas to Asian migrants on several occasions. Waves of native peoples inhabited the Americas.
schema 3. The arrival of Columbus and the European ecological invasion

Caribbean Basin was the focus of the European intrusions and amalgamations of people, plants, and cultures.

Española as "the vestibule of the Americas."

Crosby, Columbian Exchange, 66-67.


Plate movements are called tectonicstectonics sea floor spreading.

Plate movements are called tectonics

Plate movements are called tectonicstectonics

Sea level rise altered the shorelines.

Columbian Exchange:

Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange

The biological, nutritional, demographic, intellectual, economic, & cultural alterations of the world social and political order.

The exchange

"The evidence that did not fit this model (of the universe with the earth as central) was still small enough in significance and quantity to be ignored, or subdued to conformity by sophistry. But when Columbus returned in 1493 he rendered the old model obsolete in a stroke."

Crosby, p. 15.


book citationAlfred Crosby, Germs, Seeds & Animals. [Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.] 1994.

Crosby says "A generation ago the English physicist, civil servant, and novelist C. P. Snow pointed to the deplorable division of the educated classes into 'two societies,' the followers of the liberal arts and those of the sciences."

p. ix.

Clash of two cultures: (from Charles Percy Snow)

science history
too detailed
ethically important
Interconnected Worlds
animation Rain Forests
Plate tectonics and drift Forests and human emergence

Ecological History began says Kevin Reilly began with "Thucydides' detailed account of the plague of Athens."

Germs, Seeds & Animals. p. vii.


shipa at sea

Ecological imperialism -- a term to know and describe with examples more fully.

"In the literature of the ancient Middle East are many references to pestilence. The first book of Samuel, for example tells us of the disease that afflicted the Philistines and Hebrews. . . ."


Ecological Imperialism

humans (demographic migration from Netherlands, Ireland, Castile, Palatinate)
domesticated animals for food, transport and tillage
rodents pathogens & weeds

All of the above assisted :
gunpowder, ships, soldiers and missionaries in the conquest of the Indies.


Plantations (sugar)

"In 1789 about two-thirds of France's total foreign investments were involved in Saint-Domingue, the greatest of the sugar islands (Hispaniola)"
700 vessels and 80,000 seaman where employed in the French sugar (rum) trade
1714-1773 1/5 of Britain's imports were from the sugar islands of BWI
Slave trade profits to Portugal, Netherlands, France & Britain fed industrialization!

Crosby, Germs Seeds and Animals, p. 17


The European populations increased by nearly 75 percent in 150 years with staple crops of maize, potatoes, beans, squash and yams from the Amerindians to feed livestock & peasants.

Comparative demographic estimates
Place 1650 1800 increase
France 16 29 13
Spain 7.5 11.5 5
Italy 11 19 8
England & Wales 5 9.25 4.25
Total 39.5 68.75 29.25

Crosby, Germs Seeds, & Animals, p. 151.

Substantial amounts of the vegetable crop of the world today originated in the Americas:

corn, beans, squash, cassava, tobacco, tomatoes, cocoa, peppers.

Chinese population was able to grow continuously due to crops of the Americas.

Crosby p. 19

100 million Native People's in Caribbean and America's is conservative in 1492
Europe (all) had maybe 80 million people, 7 million only in Spain.

Crosby p. 21

Central Mexican depopulation: 1520s, 25 million to 2.2 million, in 1568.

Crosby p. 22

1570s was the nadir of the Caribbean indigenous populations

"If this figure is compared to any of the currently and widely accepted estimates of the Amerindian population in 1492, even to the lowest, 33 million the conclusion that must be that the major initial effect effect of the Columbian voyages was the transformation of America into a charnal house. The degree to which we have misunderstood our own history is the distance between this undoubted truth, appalling but now solidly established. . . ."

Crosby p. 25

"knowledge of the multiplicity of forces impinging upon humanity in all centuries, most of which their liberal arts education's have not prepared them to perceive."

p. 26.


Alfred Crosby, Germs, Seeds & Animals. [Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.] 1994.


An ecological community that forms a self-regulating unit is a biocoenosis.

Charnal house – Literally a building or vault in which corpses or bones are piled, hence a place associated with violent death.


Germs, Seeds & Animals | Sweetness and Power | The Labyrinth of Solitude | The Negro | A Small Place


Crosby's Caribbean

Biology, culture and history compared using Columbus journals, 1492-1517.

Crosby's underlying assumptions from Germs Seeds and Animals.

Crosby's ecological history of European hegemony in the world.

How did Europeans, especially coastal nations, succeed in subduing the world from 1450 until 1850?

Crosby's account, list of preindustrial Famines.

Crosby's chapters for Germs, Seeds, and Animal.

Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Contrasts & Conquests.


Time line | concepts | focal points | author | definitions | lesson