Over the coming weeks, our United States history class will be reading a chapter
called Many Cultures Meet. The following information will give you some background
on the content your student will be studying.
Some scholars believe that the first Americans crossed a land bridge from Siberia
to Alaska thousands of years ago and slowly spread out over the North American
continent. They began to cultivate crops and also diversified into different cultures.
In the Southwest, the Hohokam and Anasazi cultures developed an irrigation system
and built villages with adobe bricks. In the Mississippi River valley, the Mississippians
built large villages and towns that included pyramids built from earth. In grasslands
of the Great Plains, nomads hunted bison. The Native American peoples of the
Northeast included the Algonquins and the Iroquois. All of these cultures existed
when Europeans first came to the Americas.
During the 1400s, many changes were occurring in European society. The Middle
Ages were coming to a close, and the Renaissance was beginning. Europeans began
looking beyond their borders to the territory of the Muslim Ottoman Turks, whose
wealth and power extended from Morocco to the East Indies and from Mongolia to
West Africa. Europeans were envious of this wealth, which they believed came from
trade with India and China. Europeans decided to seek routes to China that would
bypass the Turkish Empire. Portugal took an early lead in this quest and sailed its ships
to the south along the coast of Africa and into the Atlantic. These voyages brought the
Portuguese in touch with the people of West Africa.
Ghana, Mali, and Songhai had been empires in West Africa for hundreds of years.
The Hausa, who lived in present-day Nigeria and Niger, built cities and produced
beautiful textiles. A thriving trade existed among these diverse peoples. The practice
of slavery was also a part of the West African culture, and human beings were traded
along with gold, salt, and ivory. Slavery was an important part of the region’s economy,
but unlike slavery in the Americas, it was not based on the notion of racial
superiority or inferiority. When the Portuguese arrived, they became involved in
the slave trade.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed west for China, not knowing that two
continents stood between him and his destination. Columbus reached the Caribbean
and believed that he had arrived in Asia. More voyages followed, led by Columbus
and others. European nations sponsored explorers in hopes of finding gold and other
riches. Spanish explorers, with their superior weapons and horses, brutally conquered
the native peoples of Central and South America. They killed people with their
weapons, but the greatest killers were the contagious diseases that Europeans brought
to the Americas.
Along with weapons and disease, Europeans also introduced new plants and
animals to the Americas. New plants, notably the potato and maize (corn), were
brought to Europe. This mixing of plants and animals is often called the Columbian
Exchange, and it had an enormous effect on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the weeks ahead, your student may wish to share what he or she is learning
with you. Please participate in your child’s educational experience through discussion
and involvement. Test is on Friday, August 30th.