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Europe And The New World

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Europe And The New World

Europe and the 'New World'

Tutorial Question: Why were the 'westerners' (Spanish, English, Portuguese's, French etc) able to displace the native people's of America with, seemingly, relative ease? Was this evidence of a superior 'civilisation'?

Many believe that there is a great difference between 'westerners' and the native people of the lands they conquered. The truth is, that there is not great distinction, except in the minds of white men. 'Westerners' such as the French, Spanish, English and Portuguese have always believed in their own superiority. This confidence gave them the strength to displace the natives and also the justification for doing so. The civilized world seemed to grow, and change with new directions being mastered all the time, the 'non civilized' world seemed to stand still in a era recognized by Europeans as unprogressive and primitive. The Europeans viewed the Native Americans with mixed opinion, in many ways they despised their ignorance, while at the same time being in awe of their innocence. Despite this, leading opinion was that the native people of the new world were inferior to the Europeans and would have to become domesticated if they were to survive in the 'new world.' However was this triumph over the inhabitants of the land evidence of a superior civilisation?

How does one define 'Civilisation'? For if we are to discuss what is a superior and an inferior race then understanding of the term 'civilisation' is critical. The term 'civilisation' is used everyday and is understood by everyone, yet a proper definition is more difficult to pin down. The oxford university dictionary defines civilisation as: 'a developed or advanced sate of human society.' This is helpful, yet the question of how developed or how advanced is still relevant. Others have said that a civilized society is different from an uncivilized society because of certain attributes such as writing, cities, building etc. But agreement is difficult, it is much more safer not to rely on a single definition, instead look at examples of what everyone has agreed to call civilisations such as Greek or Rome . However, the term 'civilisation' still seems to be from a western point of view, for natives are not seen as civilized because they do not fit into any definition mentioned above. The Native Americans were not advanced, they did not have buildings or cities and their lifestyle and customs had hardly resembled that of Greece or Rome. Despite this the Native Americans did have a civilisation, they did have customs, families, moral standards and because they varied from that of typical western thought they were not deemed as a civilisation, this is frankly not so.

By the end of the eighteenth century European nations had already laid claim to more than half of the world's surface, and controlled more than a third of it. The 'European assault on the world' as many historians dubbed it, had never been seen before, and furthermore this transformation was unquestionably a one way process. There were, of course mixed motives for this European expansion. Firstly, with technology increasing, society was becoming restless, they wanted to see more of what man could produce and demanded the benefits of this growth quickly. Yet most of the material wanted by Europeans didn't come from their own backyard but the East . Ship improvements made it easier to make contact and trade with the east, yet the truth was that Europeans had little to offer the far east concerning trade, so merchants and sovereignty had to look elsewhere for fortune.

Secondly, the expansion was also believed to be for missionary enterprises. Europeans believed natives to be heathen and hence sinful. Therefore their work for God, was to convert these non-believers to the Christian faith. Many conquers believe that their role was: 'to serve God and his majesty, to give light to all those who sat in darkness and to grow rich, as men desire to do. ' It has been argued that wealth was the primary reason and religion was the justification, yet it possibly came down to the individual ' some were 'in it' for the wealth, while others generally believed they were doing Gods work and helping the natives convert for their own gain.

When the Europeans did make first contact with the Native Americans the greeting seemed friendly and peaceful . In a translation of Columbus's lost text, Columbus describes the natives to be friendly, generous and handsome. He generally writes about them in affectionate terms and with respect. Yet later on in his memoirs he announces that their well built, healthy features and intelligence would make them good servants. Writings by explorer Amerigo Vespucci (of whom America is named after) does not describe the natives with such kindness. He states that their manner of living is barbarous, for they eat on the ...

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