In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe is in full renaissance intellectual. Humanism (intellectual movement that places man at the centre of the world) amends the way Europeans see the world that surrounds them. Stories of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo travelling in Asia at the end of the 13th century are a great success. In addition, the certainty of the roundness of the Earth, as well as progress in navigation techniques make possible new explorations. It is in this spirit that a Genoese Navigator, Christophe Colombus, will cross the Atlantic Ocean, in 1492, hoping to reach Asia by the West. His discovery of a new world, soon named America, will pave the way for other discoveries and the conquest of new lands. It will broaden the horizons of Europeans putting them in contact with unknown civilizations.
I – A favourable context for the dream of Christophe Colombus
A – A project : West Asia
Christophe Colombus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. He is son of Weaver but around the age of 20, he chooses to navigate for Genoese trade companies, in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic to Ireland and Iceland. In 1477, he moved to Lisbon at the Portugal where he married. He is passionate about mapping and geography. It was at this time that it matures its project: join China from the West. Indeed, since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Silk Road and spice is closed to Westerners. As the Seaway that bypasses by South Africa, the Portuguese controls it. Used since the beginning of the fifteenth century under the leadership of Henri le Navigator.
Their experience of ocean currents and winds, Portuguese mariners crossing the equator in 1472, and Bartolommeo Diaz reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1487.
Quote from the diary of Christophe Colombus (it is written during his first trip and aimed at the Spanish sovereigns Isabelle of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon):
« Further to the information given on a Prince named Great Khan, (your Highness) thought send me in India […] They ordered me not to go by land, but to borrow the road to the West where we do not know if someone is never passed»
B – A project supported by the sovereigns of Spain
Context and preparing for the trip, – quote from the diary of Christophe Colombus
« In this present year 1492, after your Highnesses had put an end to the war against the Moors in the great city of Granada […] (they decided to send me to the Indies) to see how to convert these peoples to our Holy faith […] They ennoble me and decided I’d be viceroy and Governor of all the Islands from the Mainland that I will find out […] I armed three ships well suited for similar business. I left the port (Palos) well stocked with many crews and supplies.»
In 1492, Catholic monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, lead Spain. They complete the reconquest of Spain taking over the city of Granada to the Muslims. Spain is now a fully Catholic Kingdom.
The Spanish rulers see the shipment of Christophe Colombus as a mission of evangelisation: « convert these peoples to our Holy faith. It is therefore a religious objective, in line with what has just been completed in Spain.
Christophe Colombus is estimated to be well equipped for the journey « three vessels adapted for similar business ». It is the caravel, a new ship with square and triangular sails make associated to a thick shell it solid and fast.
In addition, Christophe Colombus is knighted and appointed viceroy and Governor of « all the Islands from the Mainland that I will find out. It can be seen that there is no doubt on its next success.
Christophe Colombus submitted its project for six years unsuccessfully to rulers of Spain, of the Portugal, England and France. In early 1492, the fall of Granada, which marks the end of the reconquest (Reconquista) of Spain on the Muslims, change the situation. Christophe Colombus gets the support of Queen Isabelle of Castile with his project as a mission of evangelization.
The Spanish rulers see several interests to finance the shipment of the Genoese sailor:
1. The search for new exclusive trade routes to Asia;
2. The acquisition of New Territories sources of mineral wealth (gold, silver…) and profits that do not let in Portugal;
3. Finally, the religious concerns: in fact, since the fall of Constantinople, the ottoman Empire appears as a threat that must be compensated by the evangelism new populations in Africa and Asia. La conquista extends the reconquista.
The relentlessness of Christophe Colombus has borne fruit. He both promised, there is no choice but to reach Asia by crossing the Atlantic successfully, which it no doubt.
II – The voyages of discovery (1492-1504)
A – The first voyage: the discovery
On August 3, 1492, dispatch of Admiral Columbus, consisting of 87 men and three ships, the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria leaves the Spain. The crossing lasts three weeks and on the evening of October 11, the land is in sight. October 12, Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas called immediately San El Salvador.
He thinks have reached an island near the Japan. His first contact with the natives, which he called « Indians », goes well because they are peaceful, but their language is unknown. The Admiral then explores the Bahamas, the current island of Cuba, and Santo Domingo
Back in Spain, on March 15, 1493, with some gold and a few Amerindians, he received a hero’s welcome. Columbus is convinced that he has achieved his goal and won his bet.
B – The other trips: exploration
The Admiral discovered the main islands of the Caribbean Sea: the archipelago of the Bahamas, the island of Cuba, that of Haiti or Saint Domingue, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
It has also reached South America and Central America. He thus discovered the American continent, with the exception of North America.
The second voyage (1493-1496): aims to colonize the lands discovered and to find a passage to the territories of Asia known as China or the Japan. This is why the expedition has 17 ships and 1,200 men. The settlers is much more difficult because the Spaniards have to fight constantly against the Carib Indians. More Columbus does not find the passage to China.
The third voyage (1498): Admiral takes two years to mount a new expedition. It is a failure because the colony is embroiled in a civil war between Spaniards. Madrid sent a new Governor who stop Columbus, resigns it of its functions, and returns it in Spain.
The fourth voyage (1502-1504): the Genoese Navigator managed to convince once the Spanish rulers to let him leave. It will explore the coast of Central America, from Honduras cap to the Isthmus of Panama. He returned to Spain, ill and discredited. He died May 20, 1506 without having found passage to the Japan, China or the India.
III – The consequences of the discovery of the new world
A – Columbus never realized he had discovered a new continent
He thinks have reached ‘the earthly paradise… by the divine’ and not a new continent, which would mean that it has not joined the Asia by the West, as he dreamed.
Columbus has never realized and admitted that he had discovered a new continent. It is Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian Navigator who has intuition and which gives its name to the new continent: America.
During the voyages of Columbus, Cabral Portuguese discovered Brazil in 1500. It was Magellan, during his tour of the world between 1519 and 1522, which will reach Asia by the West after having bypassed by South America and crossed the Pacific Ocean. North America is explored for England by Cabot (1498) and the French Jacques Cartier in 1534.
However, even before exploring the new world, them then – Spanish and Portuguese knowledge shared the world when the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494
When Columbus returns to Spain in 1493, with the first news of the West Indies, Ferdinand and Isabella are determined to ensure that these valuable discoveries belong to them rather than to seafaring Portugal. They secure from the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, a papal bull to the effect that all lands west of a certain line shall belong exclusively to Spain (in return for converting the heathen). All those to the east of the line shall belong on the same basis to Portugal.
The pope draws this line down through the Atlantic 100 leagues (300 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands, Portugal’s most westerly possession.
The king of Portugal, John II, protests that this trims him too tight. The line cramps the route which Portuguese sailors must take through the Atlantic before turning east round Africa.
Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, meeting in 1494 at Tordesillas in northwest Spain, resolve the dispute. They accept the principle of the line but agree to move it to a point 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. The new line has a profound significance which no one as yet appreciates. It slices through the entire eastern part of south America from the mouth of the Amazon to São Paulo.
The east coast of south America is first reached by Spanish and Portuguese navigators in the same year, 1500. The agreement at Tordesillas gives the territory to Portugal.
B – The beginning of colonization
Columbus proposes to cultivate new land in order to draw benefits. It proposes to let the colonial system on the slavery of Indians layout « these will be the best slaves’.
Christopher Columbus and his men enslaved native inhabitants of the West Indies, forced them to convert to Christianity, and subdued them with violence in an effort to seek riches.
Columbus presents them as human beings ‘fierce and cannibals’ and aimed to be reduced into slavery. Nevertheless, his perspective has changed radically, as he considers them as harmless and easy to convert. The economic interest is stronger than the religious interest.
Parallel to the expeditions of Columbus, the Spanish Crown implemented colonization of the Antilles and the island of Saint-Domingue. The main exploited products in the Caribbean are gold and pearls. However the native population decreased rapidly due to microbial shock and abuse related to force labour established by Christophe Colombus.
Thanks to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the Spain turned to Hispanic-American trade. Possessions in the West Indies are attached by a maritime link of several ships in both directions.
Europe will gradually take the Mediterranean trade in a transatlantic trade, and pave the way for the conquest of the-appears on the American continent.
Latin America and North America: 16th – 20th century
The two leading civilizations of 15th-century America, the Aztecs and the Incas, meet their sudden end at the hand of Spanish adventurers in 1521 and 1532 respectively. But the first people of the Americas to come face to face with the intruding Europeans are neolithic farmers. They live on the islands which enclose the Caribbean Sea.
Spanish and Portuguese colonists and administrators, settling in central and south America during the 16th century, are soon followed by the French, Dutch and English staking a claim to north America. A clear pattern becomes established. The two Atlantic seaboard countries of southern Europe concentrate on the southern part of the newly found continent, while their three European neighbours to the north struggle between themselves to dominate north America.
The story of the continent becomes divided into distinct parts – Latin America and north America.
Today there seems to be a neat division between the two along the northern boundary of Mexico, but this is a relatively recent and southerly dividing line. For much of the past five centuries Latin America has extended far further to the north, encompassing the southern states of what is now the USA and the entire Pacific coast as far north as Oregon.
This new division of the continent in the colonial era is accompanied by a drastic change in the make-up of America’s population.
C – New Americans: 16th – 19th century
The Spanish discovery of America begins the process which changes out of all recognition the population of the continent. Spanish and Portuguese colonists reduce the original inhabitants (now to become known as Indians) to an underclass in much of Latin America. In north America the smaller number of native Americans is almost wiped out by the English colonists and their successors in the United States.
The slave trade delivers black Africans to the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Americans in the XIXth and XXth centuries
Hardship in Europe later brings across the Atlantic large numbers of Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Jewish immigrants. One of the world’s most unmixed populations is transformed, after Columbus, into the outstanding example of ethnic diversity.
In the nineteenth century, along with the population growth, there has been a sharp rise in migration from Europe to other continents such population movements last a long time, until the first half of the twentieth century.
Three questions arise: which destinations will make migrants, why do they leave Europe and what are the consequences of migration on places of arrival of migrants?
Immigrants choose their arrival destination based affinities: presence of family members or community of people from the same geographical origin in the host country, language and culture of their relatives, political States encouraging immigration, myth of El Dorado.
The spectacular successes of the kind Andrew Carnegie – young Scotsman who made his fortune in steel in the United States – are also dreaming. The United States receives about half of the 60 million Europeans who emigrated (many Germans) and 3/4 passing through New York. With the increase of arrivals on their soil, the government decided to organize themselves better. Island Ellis Island in New York harbor, became the first office of federal immigration. President Harrison created it in 1890. Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants will have to go through this veritable breeding centre, obligatory passage to enter U.S. soil.