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INTRODUCTION

TO AMERICAN
CIVILIZATION

Exploration Encounters

I. Exploration Encounters.
Modes of Appropriating the

New
World
Disputed
etymology of America: Ameraca or

Amerca, name given by cartographer Martin


Waldseemller to South America in honor of
Amerigo Vespuccis better grasp of
geographical situation (1507)
America extended to the northern continent
by Gerardus Mercator (author of Mercator
projection cylindrical map presented in
1569, used for nautical purposes)

The Discovery of America

Christopher Columbus a.k.a. Cristbal Coln,


Christoffa Corombo etc. arrives in the Bahamas on
October 12, 1492. Names the island San Salvador.
Four voyages to the New World on a double
mission: find gold & riches and Christianize the
Indians; thought he discovered a new route to
Asia (the Indies).
Inspired by Marco Polos Travels, Columbus wrote a
diary of his voyages; the original has been lost, only
an abstract by Bartolome de Las Casas has
survived (abstract includes transcripts of and
quotations from Columbus Diario).

Columbus Four Voyages (Encarta)

The Discovery of America

Three main features of Columbus Diario


Todorov):

(cf.

representation (self, nature, his men, and the


Arawak Indians);
relativization (via analogy: Columbus contrasts New
World nature with Castilian nature, land and people
are thought to confirm his preconceived ideas /
argumentation of authority beginning of
domestication process);
renaming (places, people are renamed; Columbus
sees value in possession rather than exchange
beginning of colonization process).

Cultural Difference &


Translation
Columbus observation that the Natives bartered

like idiots is put in a different light if we stress


cultural difference they were not cheated
according to their standards. The Natives may thus
no longer be regarded as victims, but partners in
mutual misunderstanding.
Supposed linguistic incompetence of the Natives.
Interpreters (most of them Indians) were expected to
turn gibberish into language.
Now we acknowledge the potential of translation to
turn imperial monologue into dialogue.

Other Explorers and Their


Views
Bernard Diaz del Castillo on Mexico (The True History of the

Conquest of New Spain, 1520s, Cortes exploits)


Natives as uncivilized, violent, instigating to white reaction
Natives not open to Christianity, the missionary role of
conquistadores
Roman Catholic friar Bartolome de Las Casas Caribbean
(1502), Mexico (1530s, 1544-1547) The Very Brief Relation of
the Devastation of the Indies (1552)
Technique: compare and contrast the precepts of Christian doctrine
of white conquistadores with Christian practice (violence, no
respect, uncivilized behavior). Christians main features:
economic interest, human inferiority grid, Hell-running symbolism
(natives infernal labor pearls, etc.) Yet, in favor of bringing
black slaves in the place of Natives.

Other Explorers and Their


Nobleman Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca Florida expedition
Views
(1527), Texas (1528) taken prisoner for 2 years then becoming a

merchant and healer, going to Mexico, unsuccessfully trying to


convince Emperor Charles II to bring an enlightened American
Indian policy (1540) exiled to Algeria (1551)
His Relations: customs and ways of Natives
Their only weapons: arrows, bows
Food: roots (usu. womens toils)
Different perception of time: by ripening of fruits, dying of fish,
position of stars
Sympathy towards whites in peril, answered by his sympathy to
them, one people usu. grasp by experiencing what starvation,
nakedness, slavery mean.

The Invention of the New

World
America was not discovered, but invented

(Edmundo OGorman).
Instruments of invention: sea voyage compilations
and portolani (sailing charts made by observation,
not academic presuppositions) before and after
Columbus.
These texts indicate a new view of the world, away
from metaphysical speculation and dogmatic
representation to a more pragmatic vision
predicated
on
observation,
action,
or
preconceived ideas i.e. the world view of voyage
sponsors, merchants, and sailors interested in ways
to exploit the world most profitably.
The concept of the New World suits this vision.

Discovery, Invention or
Discovery (hierarchy, essentialist viewpoint, Native
Encounter?

as either inferior underdog or victim, a one-way


transfer)
Invention (Columbus the strategist, imaginary
agency priming, pragmatism, self-interests usu.
representing whites conception of the New World
till recently)
Encounter (both weak and powerful Natives, both
strong and weak whites, two-way transfer,
negotiation, from other to another) [the term
promoted for the 1992 celebration of Columbus
Day]

English America

Richard Hakluyt; in compilations such as Diverse Voyages


Touching the Discovery of America (1582) and Principal
Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the
English Nation (1589-90; 1598-1600), he urges fellow
countrymen to do something about the possibilities of the
New World: We read that the Bees, when they grow to be
too many in their own hive at home, are wont to be led out
by their Captains to swarm abroad and seek themselves a
new dwelling place If the example of the Grecians and
Carthagians of the old time, and the practice of our age
may not move us, yet let us learn wisdom of these small,
weak, and unreasonable creatures.
This imperial argument brings together classical past,
urgent present, and natures eternal truths.

English America

Sir Walter Raleigh founded Virginia Colony in 1584


but failed to establish a permanent settlement.
Captain John Smith founder of first permanent
English settlement at Jamestown, Va (1607)
Emphases in The General History of Virginia:
Whites interest in food and information from natives
and dependence on them as guides
Natives interest in tools and weapons from whites
(grindstones, canons, etc.) and dependence on
them for that
First New England colonies: Plymouth Plantation (1620) Mayflower,
William Bradford; Salem / Boston (1630) Arbella, John Winthrop

Northern and Southern


Colonies

Southern colonies (Virginia etc.) enormous


farms and plantations soon using labor of
black slaves to grow tobacco, cotton etc.
Northern colonies (New England) Puritan
settlers esp., emphasis on strict Christian
beliefs, dvpmt of cultural issues, press
(Boston News Letter, 1704), Cambridge
Press (1638 Whole Book of Psalms / Bay
Psalm Book, 1640), Harvard (f. 1636)