United States (History)
United States (History), story of how the republic developed from colonial beginnings in the 16th century, when the firstEuropean explorers arrived, until modern times. As the nation developed, it expanded westward from small settlementsalong the Atlantic Coast, eventually including all the territory between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans across the middle of the North American continent, as well as two noncontiguous states and a number of territories. At the same time, thepopulation and the economy of the United States grew and changed dramatically. The population diversified as immigrantsarrived from all countries of the world. From its beginnings as a remote English colony, the United States has developed thelargest economy in the world. Throughout its history, the United States has faced struggles, both within the country—between various ethnic, religious, political, and economic groups—and with other nations. The efforts to deal with andresolve these struggles have shaped the United States of America into the late 20th century. This is one of seven major articles that together provide a comprehensive discussion of the United States of America. Formore information on the United States, please see the other six major articles: United States (Overview), United States(Geography), United States (People), United States (Culture), United States (Economy), and United States (Government).
EARLY CULTURAL INTERACTION
Early American history began in the collision of European, West African, and Native American peoples in North America.Europeans “discovered” America by accident, then created empires out of the conquest of indigenous peoples and theenslavement of Africans. Yet conquest and enslavement were accompanied by centuries of cultural interaction—interactionthat spelled disaster for Africans and Native Americans and triumph for Europeans, to be sure, but interaction thattransformed all three peoples in the process.
Native America in 1580
The lands and human societies that European explorers called a New World were in fact very old. During the Ice Ages muchof the world’s water was bound up in glaciers. Sea level dropped by hundreds of feet, creating a land bridge between Alaskaand Siberia. Asians walked across to become the first human inhabitants of the Americas. Scientists disagree on when thishappened, but most estimates say it was around 30,000 years ago. When the last glaciers receded about 10,000 years ago(thus ending this first great migration to America), ancestors of the Native Americans filled nearly all of the habitable parts of North and South America. They lived in isolation from the history—and particularly from the diseases—of what becameknown as the Old World. The Native Americans who greeted the first Europeans had become diverse peoples. They spoke between 300 and 350distinct languages, and their societies and ways of living varied tremendously. The Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Perubuilt great empires (
Aztec Empire; Inca Empire). In what is now the United States, the Mississippians (
MoundBuilders) built cities surrounded by farmland between present–day St. Louis, Missouri, (where their city of Cahokia was largerthan medieval London) and Natchez, Mississippi. The Mississippians’ “Great Sun” king ruled authoritatively and was carriedfrom place to place by servants, preceded by flute–players. The Pueblo peoples of the Southwest lived in large towns,irrigated their dry land with river water, and traded with peoples as far away as Mexico and California.In the East, the peoples who eventually encountered English settlers were varied, but they lived in similar ways. All of themgrew much of their food. Women farmed and gathered food in the woods. Men hunted, fished, and made war. None of these
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