“The American Colonies” by Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor’s “The American Colonies” Chapter Summaries

1. Taylor makes a big issue over environmentalism—why?

The environment plays a big part in the analysis of European and North American colonies and their interaction and inevitable confrontation, due to the fact that, back then, the environment dictated the lives of its inhabitants. Today’s society, with the advancement of technological and medical devices, is able to manipulate and conquer nature. We aren’t as vulnerable to disease and deadly microbes because we now know to what extent they can harm us, and additionally we have developed treatment for such biological pathogens. So, in short, five to six hundred years ago, people were largely beholden to their environment, and therefore its effects were magnified. Therein lies the need for an inordinate examination of the environment.

2. What caused the expansion of Europe—and why?

First and foremost, it is of necessity that we differentiate between the two possible types of European expansion. The first being geographic expansion, which helped fuel the second: population expansion or multiplication. Geographic expansion, otherwise known as the acquisition and exploration of physical land, was made a reality for western European countries as commercial avenues grew and as certain navigational and ship-making techniques were improved.. Until finally, with the Iberian Peninsula leading the way, Europeans looked westward for expansion. They searched for islands and hoped to find a route to the eastern countries of China, Japan, and India—however, to find a completely knew landmass was unexpected. After only a short time, Europeans began to import North American crops. This had a dramatic effect on the overall European population expansion, and despite lingering plagues the European population multiplied. Of course there are other specific factors to account for, but this outlines the most important ones to consider.

3. What were the two major religions of the age of expansion? How do they come to impact the new world?

Christians and Muslims were the two dominant religious groups during the time. On the Continent, raging tensions ensued as the Christian leaders of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, instituted a reconquista and the Muslims tightened their control and influence of many territories. However, the Christians were the ones who took up religious conquests in North America. It was largely a competition between the two religious factions, and because the Muslim world was winning, Christians sought any and all avenues through which they could create converts and establish a long lasting Christian empire. The Christians found great success in the New World in terms of converting the natives because of the condition of the natives. The truth is, the Christians caused the death that came upon the natives, but both the natives and the Europeans were ignorant of this fact. So instead of doing whatever they could to dislocate themselves from the intruding Europeans, the natives sought help from the Europeans. Mainly because they had nowhere else to turn as their shamans failed them, their medicinal plants failed them, and all their previous answers to common struggles proved to be largely ineffective. Native American Indians were shakeable in their beliefs, and therefore were a receptive audience to the new Christian ideals.