7 Ekim 2013 Pazartesi

Quotation: Essays about Princeton University A World History since 1300 Lectures

Apart From World

There is very little agreement on how well Montezuma (the second one, the one everyone has actually heard of) ruled; historians have shown him as weak and indecisive, regal but unfortunate, and simply naïve in turn, based on numerous conflicting accounts. What is certain is that his encounter with the Spanish forces of Hernan Cortez were not the highlight of his reign. Montezuma fell into the knowledge of the nations on the other side of the globe alongside most of Central America; from the first sighting of the “floating mountains” to the eventual encounters with the “pale, bearded men and monsters” (as anybody can tell you is the proper description for horses and dogs), his entire empire had its world enlarged several-fold. The Aztecs were misinformed and unprepared, and many agree that this is a fairly good reason the Spanish surviving a war against a militarized empire of 25 million people. They and the rest of the American population were, as we’ve said repeatedly because we’re creative Princeton affiliates, a “world apart”, set terrifying months away from any of the Eurasian powers. Lief Erikson’s little jaunt was hardly enough to bring anyone together.

We’re missing something, though, something important. We talk over and over again about how unprepared the Aztecs or the Incans or the Iroquois were, but we ignore the fact that European mapmakers one and all were now looking at their greatest works, the painstaking drawings hanging in monasteries, shipyards and even castles, and saying, “Holycrapolios" I need more paper.”

It took centuries for the Europeans to get over the fact that there was a “New World” that was capable of functioning without them, and it shows in their early “understanding” of the Native Americans: despite the contrary descriptions from Hernan Cortes and scholars of the day, artists often portrayed the people of the land in the nude, regardless of station; despite (or because of; you never know with European schools these days) his education in law, it took Montezuma’s cringe-worthy death to reveal that the Aztec emperor held only a piece of the power; and, for the largest impact, they seemed to believe that “these grow well in Europe” meant “these will make this new place even better”. Regardless of interpretation, their efforts were often so often contradictory, portraying the New World as some kind of Garden of Eden—complete with innocent nudity and valiant natives—while insisting that they needed to improve it. Make of it what you will, but Cortés’s observation that “[the Aztec’s] fashion of living was almost the same as in Spain” didn’t stop him from taking the entire empire apart.

At the end of the day, though, no matter the effects on Europeans, it is true that the Aztecs, Incans, Tlaxcalans, Navajo, and Hispaniolans suffered the heaviest blows from the merging of the two worlds. Cortés’s artillery bombardments went uncountered, gunpowder and horses terrified Incans and Aztecs alike, and steel Spanish armor made the conquistadores seem like men of metal (fun tidbit: the Aztecs frequently saw the metal as part of the foreigners, a sentiment applied by Italians to a minor individual by the name of Charlemagne).

Everything changed when the conquistadores attacked. No, that’s not just a reference to a cartoon I like; the influx of goods, ideas, and hostilities going both ways took the entire planet by storm, going from nation to nation, across the Atlantic, through the deserts of the Middle East, the heart of Africa, and the waning glory of Persia to arrive in distant China (to be promptly copied, or at least remarked upon, by Japan) before bouncing back again with something new. The world came together. It was by trial, by fire, by sickness and by storm, but it came together.

And now, since it came up when we talked about Spanish armor in precept, I have to make the obligatory reference:
Face it, you saw it coming after the first terrible pun in the title

Reference: http://wh1300-group2.blogspot.com

THE AGE OF DISCOVERY- Was contact with the Indians in the Americas unique?

This week our group discussed two documents regarding Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. One document from the point of view of the conquerors, the other the conquered. Oddly enough, the document written by Spaniard Bartolome de Las Casas offered a more favorable view of the Indians than the Indians had for their fellow people. After reading these documents, our group wrestled with the idea of whether or not this contact and ultimate conquest of the Indians in America was unique, or if it followed a certain pattern of conquest that was taking place in the rest of the world during the age of discovery. This is what we came up with. I have accentuated a few key words that our group thought was important during our discussion.

Encountering Disease

Atlantic encounters included Cortes (of Spain) and the Aztecs and Pizarro (of Spain) and the Incas. Other encounters around that time included the Portuguese and West Africa and Da Gama (of Portugal) and the Indian Ocean. One of the most important differences between these encounters was overall experience. Experience in regards to disease and previous contact with distant lands. When the Spaniards reached the shores of Mesoamerica they brought an invisible killer with them that would ultimately lead to the downfall of the Indians: disease. Through constant trade in Afro-Eurasia, Europeans built up immunities to the harmful pathogens that caused small pox, typhus, and other debilitating diseases. Because the Indians had no previous experience or contact with the outside world, their fragile immune systems easily contracted the disease. The resulting decrease in Indian population allowed the Portuguese to easily conquer and set up colonies and plantations (with slavery) to produce goods and extract precious metals.


In contrast, port cities along the Indian Ocean had previous experience with disease and explorers who attempted to conquer the region and extract wealth from the land. Explorers such as Vasco de Gama were received very differently than the Spanish were received in Mesoamerica. Instead of receiving gifts and food (like the Spanish received when they arrived), Da Gama was asked what he had to offer. When he presented King Zamorin with few gifts and gifts he did not value, he was literally laughed out of the port.

The main idea here is that the Portugese were met with much more resistance than the Spanish were in the Americas, and, as a result, relied on mercantilism rather than conquest in order to obtain wealth. In a system of mercantilism, the Portuguese had to work with the local rulers and establish positive trade relations rather than conquering them and setting up colonies. The merchants, such as Da Gama, are privately chartered through the government and are given certain rights to trade and in return the government receives a percentage of the profits. As you can see, this is very different from the experience of the Spanish in the Americas.

One significant difference that our group identified during discussion was the brutal tactics that the Spanish used during their conquest of the Americas. Because the Indians were fragile and weakened by disease, the Spanish realized it would be much easier to slaughter them and set up new colonies by their standards, rather than work with the established culture. On many instances, the Spanish gathered thousands of people in the center of the city, blocked the exits, and slaughtered thousands of defenseless people.

This did not happen nearly as often in other areas of the world during the Age of discovery because, as I said before, explorers met formidable foes and had to establish good relations through trade in order to be prosperous.


In conclusion, we would argue that contact with the Indians in the Americas was unique. As a result of disease and their lack of experience with great power such as the Spanish, the Indians were easily conquered and colonies were created to establish sources of wealth.

Reference: http://wh1300-group3.blogspot.com
Encountering the Age of Discovery

The forum question for this week, just so that you all know what was the driving force behind our forum was: "was this pattern of Atlantic encounter similar or different to what happened around the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery?"

When the Europeans attempted to conquer the New World they met resistance, but dealt with it fairly easily when compared with their attempts in other parts of the world. Spanish and Portuguese explorers were much more successful in gaining land and precious commodities in Central and South America than they were in India and China. English and French settlers gained much more land in North America than they did in Africa, the Arab world, or Asia. So, why were these New World encounters different from what was happening in the rest of the world?

Technology: The difference maker in European Conquest of the Americas?

When the Aztecs first encountered the Spanish off the coast of Mexico they were in awe of the technology, mostly the weaponry that the Spanish had displayed. In an excerpt from The War of Conquest: The Aztec’s Own Story as Given to Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún we hear of Moctezuma’s reaction to the reports of his messengers:

“Moctezuma was shocked, terrified by what he heard. He was much puzzled by their food, but what made him almost faint away was the telling of how the great lombard gun, at the Spaniard’s command, expelled the shot which thundered as it went off” (pp. 16-17)."

This differed greatly from the opposition Europeans encountered in the Ottoman Empire, India, and Asia. After all it was from China that Europeans had discovered gunpowder technology, and it first had to travel across all of Afro-Eurasia before they got their hands on it. The Europeans developed this technology well but in they end they could only gain toeholds in the Middle East, India, and China because each time the Ottomans, Mughals, and Ming were there to beat them back. As a result, they could only control port cities and sometimes not for very long.

Disease: The Greatest Weapon of the Europeans.

It is well documented that the Spanish brought over with them a pool of microbes not seen in the Americas for quite a long time. The natives had not built up immunities and were extremely vulnerable to disease. Waves of disease including smallpox, measles, and the flu wiped out more than 90% of the native population. Far more natives succumbed to disease than to European weapons. Is it inconceivable to think that the Native Americans, if they had not been decimated by smallpox, could have built up a respectable military arsenal? As it happened, they were weakened greatly and this lead to the many native cultures ultimate demise. We do know that the Conquistadors were not able to completely overrun Tenochtitlan until after the city was ravaged by disease.

The impact of disease was not a prominent factor anywhere else the Europeans attempted to conquer during the Age of Discovery. Africa, Europe, and Asia had all been interacting and sharing microbes for thousands of years. They had, through their interconnectedness, inadvertently built up immunities to such diseases.


Europeans needed native labor, and in order to obtain it, they needed the local rulers to aid them in obtaining it. “Conquering” the culture and altering the very fabric of its society would only make it more difficult for the Europeans to extract a profit from these lands. There was a number of ways the Europeans did this, sometimes relying on brute force, but also on exploiting weaknesses in the societies they encountered in order to gain a foothold in the hierarchy. By simply removing the current social elite, and taking their positions, Europeans ensured that society kept operating, and that they reaped the rewards.

Because of this, one major factor that influenced the success of European dealings overseas was the levels of centralization in the regimes they encountered. Generally, the more centralized an area was, the less success Europeans had in pursuing their economic interests there. For example, the Ming Dynasty in China was extremely centralized and compact, allowing it to collectively resist European advances. Mexico and Africa, however, were significantly less unified, which made it possible for Europeans to exploit divides in the societies and create systems beneficial to themselves.

Prior to the European encounter of the Americas, the Aztec society was thriving in the Valley of Mexico. Because of this, it might seem that Hernan Cortes would have had difficulty dismantling such centralized institutions and implementing those more favorable to his interests. And he might have, if it had not been for a number of factors playing in his favor. For one, almost three centuries of being ravaged by diseases introduced by Columbus had begun decimating the Native population and disassembling the hierarchy already in place. In addition, the guns and horse available to the Spaniards had never been seen before by the Aztecs, which created a divide in society.
There was one major flaw in Aztec society that, above all else, allowed for the Spaniards to take Tenochtitlan. Despite all of its structure and unity, the Aztec empire had its enemies, especially from discontent tributaries and rival tribes. It was this internal unrest that the Spanish could exploit most of all to attack the centralization present in Mexico at the time. During his campaign, Cortes allied himself with the native tribes Totonac and Tlaxcaltecas against Montezuma and the Aztecs. During the Siege of Tenochtitlan, for example there were only about 1,000 Spaniards fighting about 300,000 Aztecs. The vast majority of Cortes’s force of about 150,000 consisted of natives from tribes that Cortes had allied with.


One reason that the Ming Dynasty was resistant toward European trade was that the Chinese generally believed that the Europeans had little to offer them. And generally, this was true—China was home to widely sought after luxuries such as silk and porcelain, while European goods tended to be shoddy and simply inferior. This all changed, however, with the influx of precious metal from European activities in Africa and the New World. The Chinese valued silver especially, using it as a form of currency, and began trading more readily with Europeans, mainly the Portuguese. Because of this, the dynamic of trade between the two societies shifted in favor the Europeans, but this did not change the Chinese attitude towards foreigners, regarding them with mistrust and suspicion. The Portuguese were not allowed into the mainland, and trade with them was restricted to island settlements such as Macao.

The Ming Dynasty was extremely centralized at the time especially when compared to societies in the Americas and Africa. This allowed it to resist European advances for centuries where other places failed. If the Chinese had not been so united in their collective shunning of foreigners, the Europeans may been able consolidate power in China much sooner.


The Age of Discovery was a time of vast globalization, yet it occurred in different ways in different parts of the world. In the Americas, globalization took the form of European exploitation of the natives, while in Asia and the Pacific it seemed to be a more equal, symbiotic relationship (at least at first). The three main reasons why this difference in globalization occurred were due to dissimilarities in technology between Asia and the Americas, the ravaging effects of disease on the New World, and the unequal levels of centralization in the native governments.

Reference: http://wh1300-group4.blogspot.com

European Influence and the Rest of the World: Why the Aztecs Met Demise while Asia Thrived
The Aztecs did not know about the Europeans' motives. Credit: Smithsonian
In our discussion this past week, we considered European interactions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas during the Age of Discovery. Europeans that traveled to the Far East, voyaged around the African coast, or set sail westward, towards the setting sun were motivated in their explorations by a desire for glory, wealth and the propagation of European Christendom. Although, European motivations were largely similar in the Pacific and Atlantic, the subsequent outcomes of their travels were incredibly different. We want to know what was the driving factor(s) behind these distinct outcomes.

Pacific Encounters
The development of trade with the New World.

In Asia, European maritime explorers sought to enter commercial networks and trading systems comprised of Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese merchants. As noted in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, “well before the products of the Americas entered the circuits of Afro-Eurasian trade, commerce had recovered from the destruction wrought by the Black Death. Just as political leaders had rebuilt states by mixing traditional and innovative ideas, merchant elites revived old trade patterns while establishing new networks”. The Mughal Empire in India, the Qing Dynasty in China, and the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan successfully dealt with internal insurrection, while tempering foreign intrusion—actions that the Aztec Empire was unable to replicate. Although, Europeans sought to reap wealth and spread Christianity, they were limited by the strength of these regional leaders.

Atlantic Encounters

In considering Europe’s role in colonizing the Americas and establishing the Columbian Exchange, a common thread of discussion revolved around the propagation of misperceptions. In excerpts from General History of the Things of New Spain, Amerindians consistently portrayed the Europeans as deities that evoked an innate sense of apprehension and fear—Bernardino de Sahagun notes, “[Moctezuma] tried to make plans to leave, to flee, to take himself hence, to hide himself, to seek refuge from the gods”. This misperception allowed the Europeans to enter the Amerindian society with relative ease and eventually work towards bringing about its demise from within.

Additionally, the spread of disease dramatically affected the Amerindian population. As the Amerindians note, “there came a great sickness, the pestilence, the smallpox. It started in the month of Tepeilhuitl and spread over the people with great destruction of men”. The scale of death rose incredibly high, with some estimates pointing to 90 percent of the Amerindian population dying due to imported pathogens. The ensuing mass death did more than just diminish their numbers. It wrought severe psychological and cultural crisis. These men, that the Aztecs saw as gods, brought not only advanced weapons unseen in this part of the world, but also brought an invisible weapon with them which caused consequences on a scale the Aztecs had never before seen. They felt the gods, were against them, and this feeling of powerlessness contributed to their disorganization. The diminished and disordered populaces were subsequently unable to resist European settlement.

Unlike in Asia, the Europeans encountered indigenous state structures in the Atlantic that were more prone to internal conflict. In Mexico, the Aztec Empire tenuously encompassed several regions under an Emperor that jockeyed with religious rivals martial adversaries, and an antagonistic nobility. Although the Aztec culture was new to the Spaniards, they successfully capitalized on the weak state by securing the aid of local rivals like the Tlaxcalans in defeating the Aztec Empire.

Ultimately, we concluded that the pattern of Atlantic encounter was incredibly different when compared to what happened elsewhere for an amalgam of reasons. The Europeans encountered weak empires, which ultimately allowed them to leverage their technological advantages over a disease-depleted population. Comparatively, the polities of Asia were able to successfully fend off European advances through stronger states structures and an immunity to European pathogens. Instead of opening their arms to the Europeans and making them gods (as did the Aztecs), they shut their doors to the men they saw as barbarians. Bartolome de Las Casas summarizes the point rather poignantly, “The very first day they clapped eyes on them the Spanish fell like ravening wolves upon the fold, or like tigers and savage lions who have not eaten meat for days…and the Spaniards still do nothing save tear the natives to shreds, murder them and inflict upon them untold misery, suffering and distress, tormenting, harrying and persecuting them mercilessly”.

China benefited from remaining aloof.

Jeremy Adelman et al., World Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World., ed. John Durbin (New York: Norton & Company, 2011), 456, 459-60

The War of Conquest: The Aztecs’ Own Story as Given to Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun, translated by Arthur Anderson and Charles Dibble (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1978), 6, 465

Excerpted from Bartolome de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, edited and translated by Nigel Griffin (London: Penguin Books, 1992), 9-11.

Reference: http://wh1300-group5.blogspot.com/2013/10/european-influence-and-rest-of-world.html

Interactions in the Age of Discovery

Dissecting this week’s discussion topic, our team examined several different aspects of cultural interactions between natives and explorers throughout the Age of Discovery, focusing on Cortes’s arrival in Mexico and the transitions from explorer to conquistador and the many adventures of various Portuguese and French explorers around the rest of the world. After a collaborative discussion, we found that while many of Cortes’s tactics were similar to those seen abroad with other explorers, the Spanish ultimately managed to fully enmesh themselves into the local culture despite their heightened initial brutality and continued exploitation of the people whereas other expeditions managed to focus on procuring economic benefit without destroying indigenous populations.

Iron Gods

The arrival of Cortes threw the native Aztec populations into a state of utter confusion and discord. Split between fear and awe, Bartolomeo de las Casas recalls how many of the innocent natives “came out to welcome the Spaniards with all due pomp and ceremony” hoping to please the new arrivals and obtain their approval and friendship. Others, particularly Montezuma, were wary of the iron-clad men and their monster horses but soon realized they were powerless and thus, “the only thing to do… [was] to submit to the men, to befriend them.” Unfortunately for them, Cortes’s drive for power and gold made amenable relations impossible. Awed themselves by the wealth of Tenochtitlan and the surrounding cities, the Spaniards chose to assert their dominance by slaughtering local populations from Cholulu to the capital in order to establish their position of authority and their ability to exploit the locals.

Despite the savage butchery, however, the Spaniards tied themselves to native peoples in several ways. The shortage of Spanish women on the initial expeditions soon led the lonely explorers to pursue local women resulting in the formation of a mixed mestizo class, which created an irreversible bond between the two populations. The perceived religious ignorance and curiosity of the natives also invited missionaries to spread Christianity throughout the New World. Once converted, it would be near impossible for clergy to abandon their new disciples. By planting these hereditary and religious connections, the Spanish explorers forcibly engrained themselves into the Aztec and Incan populations allowing them to continuously exploit the land and people while slowing destroying the indigenous culture.

Exploratory Relations in the Rest of World
While similar themes can be observed around the globe throughout the Age of Discovery, such as the search for wealth and strenuous diplomatic relations, other regions lacked the extensive brutality and cultural devastation through integration that shaped Cortes’s Mexico. To the southeast, Pedro Alvares Cabral was busy discovering what would become Brazil for the Portuguese. While he also found the natives had “the innocence of Adam”, their numbers were sparser and those present quickly retreated into the forests of the Amazon upon the arrival of explorers. While this frustrated the Portuguese due to the resulting lack of cheap laborers, this also forced them to set up wholly Portuguese settlements, seriously delaying any development of a mixed race. Eventually, the need for plantation workers spurred the rise of the Atlantic slave importation business and the natives were simply replaced, so while colonies were established and natives were displaced, their interactions were much less culturally significant than Cortes’s.

To the north, the French and British were also beginning to lay claim to their respective portions of the Americas. Skirmishes with the natives were still a present threat and diseases whipped out large portions of the local populations, but small colonies were attempted in order to fulfill settlers search for successful mercantilism, focused solely on trading for profit. While many of these colonies failed settlers still managed to establish trade relationships, particularly for fur, with the natives. This allowed the two populations to interact on equal footing without permanent foreign dominance for over a century.

Traveling in the opposite direction another explorer, Vasco De Gama, successfully managed to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope, which brought the Portuguese to the Swahili Coast, India, and China. When he eventually arrived in Calicut, India in 1498 however, the native populations were not nearly as “innocent” as those in the Americas. The king, Zamorin, was unimpressed with da Gama’s gifts and demanded he pay tariffs as any other trader would. While this led to several outbreaks of violence in the ports as de Gama struggled to gain a dominant political position, the strength of Zamorin kept the Portuguese constructing any established settlements in India during this time period. Restricted to only a few ports, the explorers adopted a more mercantilistic system making them hearty profits by trading spices, but keeping themselves separate from the local culture and population.

The Portuguese also met strong, established resistance from the Ming Dynasty as they began to reach ever further eastward. Mistrusted due to tales of their piracy and brutish displays of weaponry, the Chinese were hesitant to let them in. Unable to take holdings or set up colonies by force, the Portuguese established a fully mercantilistic trading post on the island of Macau by paying taxes to the Empire. However, the lack of trust and physical isolation again kept the two populations fully separated, stymieing any sort of permanent cultural integration or dominance.


The Age of Discovery not only led to wealth, wonder, and fame but also to massacre and violence in the struggle to obtain supremacy over foreign lands and people. While some empires managed to keep the Spanish, Portuguese, and French and French at bay, thus fostering a system of mercantilism which allowed explorers to trade for profit without forcibly asserting dominance over locals, less advanced regions of the world could do little to resist the violent invasions. Where the results of Cortes’s expedition significantly differed from others, however, was the creation of irrevocable cultural ties with the local people through the creation of a new mestizo population and the dissemination of the Christian religion. These factors tied the settlers to the area in ways that would guarantee continued cultural interaction and thus an ability to understand and exploit the land and people in the future.

Reference: http://wh1300-group1.blogspot.com

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