Chapter 1 Three Old Worlds Create a New, 1492–1600 Learning Objectives

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Chapter 1

Three Old Worlds Create a New,

Learning Objectives

After you have studied Chapter 1 in your textbook and worked through this study guide chapter, you should be able to:

1. Describe the political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics of the societies of the Americas and West Africa before their contact with the Europeans.

2. Describe the political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics of European society prior to the European voyages of exploration and discovery.

3. Indicate the social, political, economic, and technological factors that made possible the European explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and explain the goals and motives behind those explorations.

4. Discuss the lessons learned by Europeans in the Mediterranean Atlantic and the North Atlantic, and explain the relationship between those lessons and European exploration, discovery, and colonization in the Americas.

5. Examine the characteristics associated with Spanish colonization in the Americas, and discuss the consequences of the Spanish venture.

6. Examine the impact of the exchange of plants, animals, diseases, peoples, and cultures resulting from European exploration, discovery, and colonization.

7. Assess fifteenth- and sixteenth-century attempts by European traders and fishermen to exploit the natural wealth of North America.

8. Indicate the motives for and explain the failure of England’s first attempts to plant a permanent settlement in North America.

Thematic Guide

Chapter 1 gives us an understanding of the three main cultures that interacted with each other as a result of the European voyages of exploration and discovery of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The examination of the political, social, economic, and religious beliefs of Native Americans, West Africans, and Europeans helps us understand the interaction among the peoples of these cultures and the impact each had on the other. Although this interaction and its impact is a major theme in Chapter 1, the chapter also focuses on the impact of geography and environment on peoples and the societies they build.

The first two sections of the chapter (“American Societies” and “North America in 1492”) deal primarily with the emergence and development of a variety of Native American cultures. In “American Societies” we first learn about American-Indian origins, but we are quickly introduced to the theme that geography and environment have an impact on people and the societies they build. The geography and natural environment of Mesoamerica, for example, made settled agriculture possible in that area. In turn, the practice of settled agriculture created a human-made environment conducive to the emergence of more complex civilizations. The wealth of, and the political, social, and economic complexities of, the Aztec civilization encountered by the Spanish when they invaded Mexico in 1519 were, in large measure, due to the development of agriculture in Mesoamerica thousands of years earlier.

The theme that the political, social, economic, and religious ideas of a culture directly relate to how the people of that culture obtain food necessary for survival continues in section two, “North America in 1492.” The diversity of Indian cultures in North America developed when the Native Americans north of Mexico “adapted their once-similar ways of life to very different climates and terrains,…” This, therefore, explains the emergence of small hunter-gatherer bands in areas not well suited to agriculture and the emergence of larger semi-nomadic bands that combined agriculture with hunting-and-gathering in areas with a more favorable environment. A culture’s means of subsistence also serves to explain the similarities in social organization between the agricultural Pueblo society of the southwest and the agricultural societies of the East. Furthermore, the way in which each tribe obtained food affected the political structure, the gender roles, and the religious beliefs of various tribes.

Section three, “African Societies,” begins with the sentence:
“Fifteenth-century Africa, like fifteenth-century America, housed a variety of cultures adapted to different terrains and climates.”
This statement carries the theme used in the discussion of pre-Columbian Native-American societies into the section on fifteenth-century African societies. After a brief mention of the Berbers of North Africa and the Muslim city-states of the East coast, our attention focuses on the societies along the Guinea coast, the area from which most slaves destined for sale in the Americas came. Here we learn of the means of subsistence, the characteristics of slavery, the sexual division of labor, and religious beliefs and practices of West African societies in the coastal area between the Senegal and Niger Rivers.

In section four our attention turns to the European societies of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. An explanation of the similarities and differences between European society on the one hand and American and African societies on the other hand is followed by a discussion of the devastating social, political, and economic impact of the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War on European society. That discussion returns us to the recurring theme concerning the impact of environment on peoples and their societies.

The chapter’s focus then shifts to the political and technological changes in fifteenth-century Europe that paved the way for the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century voyages of exploration. But to achieve their primary goal of easy access to Asian and African goods and their secondary goal of spreading Christianity throughout the world, the early explorers had to overcome certain obstacles posed by nature. As they learned to master their environment, problems posed by the prevailing winds in the “Mediterranean Atlantic” (the Northeast Trades) led to the tactic of sailing “around the wind” and, subsequently, to discovery of the Westerlies. This knowledge eventually allowed the Spanish and Portuguese to exploit for profit the islands off the coast of Africa (the Azores, the Madeiras, the Canaries, and São Tomé). In the discussion about the use of these islands and the lessons European explorers learned there, a new theme is introduced: The desire of Europeans to extract profits from the Americas led them to exploit the plants, animals, and peoples in the societies they encountered. This new theme is further developed in the discussion of Christopher Columbus’s voyages and the first encounter between Europeans and Americans.

The exploitation theme continues into sections seven (“Spanish Exploration and Conquest”), eight (“The Columbian Exchange”), and nine (“Europeans in North America”). After a discussion of the elements that were part of the Spanish model of colonization and an explanation of the consequences of the interaction between the Spanish and the Mesoamerican peoples, we turn to a discussion of the transfer of diseases, plants, and animals between Old World and New and the impact of these transfers on the societies in question. Our attention then shifts to attempts by northern Europeans to exploit the natural resources of the North America. Because they were primarily interested in profits from the natural wealth of the sea and land rather than in territorial conquest, European traders and fishermen descended upon the east coast of North America and the waters off that coast. After a discussion of the impact of the fur trade on the Europeans and Indians, the chapter turns to the reasons for England’s first attempts to plant colonies in the Western Hemisphere. The chapter concludes with an explanation of why these colonization attempts by England, under the supervision of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh, failed.

Building Vocabulary

Listed below are important words and terms that you need to know to get the most out of Chapter 1. They are listed in the order in which they occur in the chapter. After carefully looking through the list, refer to a dictionary and jot down the definition of words that you do not know or of which you are unsure.



























Finding the Main Idea

When you begin to read material assigned to you in the textbook, it is important for you to look for (and mark) the main idea and supporting details in each paragraph or paragraph series. To see how to do so, reread “Finding Main Ideas” in the Introduction to this study guide. Then work the following three exercises and check your answers.

Exercise A

Read the paragraph on page 8 of the textbook that begins with this sentence:

“Despite their different economies and the rivalries among states, the peoples of Lower Guinea had similar social systems organized on the basis of what anthropologists have called the dual-sex principle.
1. What is the topic of this paragraph?

2. What is the main idea of the paragraph?

3. What details support the main idea?

Exercise B

Read the paragraph on page 11 of the textbook that begins with this sentence:
“The fifteenth century also brought technological change to Europe.”
1. What is the topic of this paragraph?

2. What is the main idea of the paragraph?

3. What details support the main idea?

Exercise C

Read the two successive paragraphs on page 18 of the textbook, beginning with the sentence:
“European fishermen soon learned that they could augment their profits by exchanging cloth and metal goods like pots and knives for the native trappers’ beaver pelts, which Europeans used to make fashionable hats.”
1. What is the topic of this paragraph series?

2. What is its main idea?

3. What details support the main idea?

Identification and Significance

After studying Chapter 1 of A People and a Nation, you should be able to identify fully and explain the historical significance of each item listed below.

1. Identify each item in the space provided. Give an explanation or description of the item. Answer the questions who, what, where, and when.

  1. Explain the historical significance of each item in the space provided. Establish the historical context in which the item exists. Establish the item as the result of or as the cause of other factors existing in the society under study. Answer this question: What were the political, social, economic, and/or cultural consequences of this item?

Lady of Cofitachequi






the Mayas






the Moundbuilders



the Anasazi



the City of the Sun



the Aztecs









sexual division of labor



Upper Guinea



Lower Guinea



dual-sex principle



the Sandé and Poro cults



the Black Death



the Hundred Years' War



the lateen sail, the astrolabe, and the quadrant



Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile



movable type and the printing press



Travels by Marco Polo



the Mediterranean Atlantic



the Northeast Trades and the Westerlies






the Canary Islands



Prince Henry the Navigator



São Tomé



Christopher Columbus



Amerigo Vespucci



Leif Ericsson



John Cabot



Hernán Cortés






the Spanish model of colonization



the encomienda system



Spanish missionaries



the Columbian exchange









sugar, the horse, and tobacco



John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake



Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh



A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia


Organizing Information

The clues historians gather are not important in and of themselves but in how they are used to explain the events, ideas, and personalities within a society. To use facts in this way, you need to organize them into meaningful categories. Dividing the society or topic under study into its parts, and grouping the data collected under each of the divisions, makes each part simpler and easier to understand and explain.

Consider how you can apply that approach in studying Chapter 1, which deals with interaction among several different cultures. You would organize the information about those separate cultures into meaningful categories, such as the ones used by social scientists to analyze the activities and ideas within a society.

Economic Activities and Ideas

How do people in this society produce, use, and distribute property, goods, and wealth? What skills are necessary for the production of goods? Is this society technologically advanced or is it underdeveloped? How do the economic roles of men and women differ? What ideas are used to justify the economic structure of this society?

Social Activities and Ideas

This category is the most far-reaching of the categories listed. In the questions associated with this category, you can see that social activities and ideas often relate to one of the other categories.

What is the social organization of this society? What are the relationship patterns within the society? How are those relationship patterns determined? What are the social customs pertaining to eating, manner of dress, physical appearance? What are the relationships between the sexes, among races, and among ethnic groups? What are the relationships between parents and children? What kinship patterns exist? What social divisions exist within this society? Are privileges extended to some social groups and not to others? What ideas are used to justify the social organization of this society?

Political Activities and Ideas

How is this society governed? How is the government structured? Who participates in the decision-making process? How do the political roles of men and women differ? How are societal decisions implemented and enforced? How does this society deal with disorder and crime? What ideas are used to justify the political structure of this society?

Religious Activities and Ideas

How do the people in this society relate to what they perceive to be the mysterious, the unknown, and the supernatural? What beliefs, practices, and rituals characterize the religious activities within this society? How do the religious roles of men and women differ? What ideas are used to justify the religious belief system of this society?

Artistic Activities and Ideas

How do the people in this society express their beliefs, values, and aspirations in the realm of art, music, literature, architecture, and the like?

Although the authors mention a number of different Indian tribes in Chapters 1 and 2, they concentrate on tribes of the Algonkian, Iroquois, and Muskogean language groups, located in what is now the eastern United States, and on the Pueblos, located in what is now the southwestern United States. Tribes mentioned in the textbook fit into the Algonkian, Iroquois, and Muskogean language groups as follows:

Algonkian Tribes

Iroquoian Tribes

Muskogean Tribes


Six tribes of the Iroquois



nation (Mohawks, Cayugas



Oneidas, Onondagas, and

Creeks (Lady of Cofitachequi)


Senecas; the Tuscaroras



joined in 1722)









Powhatan Confederacy


Use the chart on the following page to categorize information about these major Indian cultures. Because the artistic characteristics of these societies are not examined in the textbook, that category is not included in the chart.

Make charts of your own to categorize information about additional Indian cultures, African societies, and European society.

Characteristics of Indian Cultures

Indian Groups













Interpreting Information

Using the questions in each of the three Evidence Sets as your guide, collect evidence from Chapter 1 of your textbook that relates to the effect of Europe’s invasion of the Western Hemisphere on the health of both Europeans and Americans.

At the end of each evidence set is a Conclusion section. Answer the questions in each conclusion section by stating the significance of the pieces of evidence compiled in that evidence set.

At the end of the three evidence sets is a Thesis Question. Answer the thesis question by stating the significance of the conclusions reached at the end of the three evidence sets. Finally, boil down what you have said to create a working draft for an essay that has the kind of specificity and concreteness that will make it suitable as a response to an essay examination question.

In writing your essay, some reordering of material is needed. Begin the whole essay with the thesis statement—your one-sentence answer to the thesis question, which is also your answer to the essay question. Use each evidence set and its conclusion as the basis for a single section or long paragraph of your essay. Use the conclusion statement to begin the section. The three sections are your concrete, specific support for your answer.

Notice that in doing this exercise, you have, in fact, collected and organized material that may be used to answer several different essay questions that might appear on a test on Chapter 1. You have also prepared yourself to respond correctly to dozens of objective questions.

Evidence Set 1

What happened to fourteenth-century Europeans as a result of the linking of China and Europe by way of the Silk Road?

What was the effect of European contact with the Americans on the health and size of the population of Americans of Hispaniola, Tenochtitlán, and the coastal villages north of Cape Cod?

Hispaniola (1492–1542)

Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital (1521)

Villages along the coast north of Cape Cod (1616–1618)

What “American” disease appeared in Europe (Barcelona, Spain) for the first time in 1493? (Why would such a disease have any more or less a devastating effect on the population of Europe than smallpox and chicken pox had on American populations?)

What American product harmful to the health was introduced to Europe by the sixteenth century? (Why would any ill effects from use of this product have had any more or less a devastating effect on the population of Europe than smallpox and chicken pox had on American populations?)

Conclusion for Evidence Set 1

Which of the two civilizations, European or American, does all this evidence suggest suffered more because of the introduction of diseases and products that might undermine health as a result of the early contacts between the Old World and the New World (analogous to the effects in the fourteenth century of contacts established between non-European traders and Europeans traveling the Silk Road)?

Evidence Set 2

What does Christopher Columbus say about vegetation in his log?

What was John Cabot’s report about America as a source of food products for Europe?

Conclusion for Evidence Set 2

What do Columbus’s and Cabot’s comments suggest about Europeans’ awareness of the potential importance to Europe of American food products?

Evidence Set 3

What class of agricultural/food products was taken from America to Europe? In what ways were these products especially valuable to the health and welfare of Europeans?

What class of agricultural products was introduced to America by Europeans? Were these products especially valuable to the health of Americans?

Conclusion for Evidence Set 3

Which, if either, of the two groups, Europeans and Americans, benefited most in terms of health from the exchange of food and agricultural products in the early encounters between Europeans and Americans? (What term do historians use to describe this exchange?)

Thesis (Whole Point)

How did the impact on the health of the people of the Old World and the peoples of the New World caused by the early contacts between Europeans and Americans compare (appear similar) or contrast (differ)?


Working Draft for Response to an Essay Question

Respond to the question:

Compare or contrast the impact on the health of the peoples of the Old World and peoples of the New World caused by the early contacts between Europeans and peoples of the Americas. Be concrete and specific.

Ideas and Details

Objective 1

1. New archaeological evidence suggests that the first settlers who came to North America

a. sailed in balsa-wood rafts from Africa to North America.

b. could have island-hopped from Europe to North America more than 14,000 years ago.

c. crossed overland routes from Europe to Asia and then sailed across the Bering Strait.

d. probably sailed from a Nordic colony in Iceland.

Objective 1

2. Which of the following is true of the Maya civilization?

a. It is one of the few civilizations with no known religious beliefs.

b. Its people created the first writing system in the Americas.

c. It was composed of city-states that remained at peace with each other for over 500 years.

d. It had a highly advanced system of compulsory education for all Maya children.

Objective 1

3. Which of the following best explains the cultural differences between the Indian tribes of the Great Basin and the tribes living in what is now the northeastern United States?

a. These tribes immigrated to the Americas from widely divergent parts of the world and brought their ancient cultures with them.

b. Disagreements over political systems caused Indian groups to separate and to follow diverse cultural paths.

c. Geographic barriers in North America made interaction between these tribes impossible.

d. Each tribe adapted its lifestyle and culture to the environment and geography in which it settled.

Objective 1

4. All Indian tribes that relied primarily on hunting large animals for their food supply had a certain characteristic in common. What was that characteristic?

a. They all had an elaborate hierarchy.

b. They all had religions that were monotheistic in nature.

c. They all assigned the task of hunting to men.

d. They all practiced the dual-sex principle.

Objective 1

5. Which of the following is true of clan matrons in Iroquois society?

a. They served as priests and, therefore, as intermediaries between tribal members and the gods.

b. They chose the village chief.

c. They sometimes rose to the position of chief.

d. They served on the female village council, which ruled women’s affairs.

Objective 1

6. Which of the following is true of all Indian religions?

a. Belief in a multitude of gods

b. A prohibition against leadership positions for women

c. The central position of the sun and the moon in the most important rituals

d. Belief in animism

Objectives 1 and 2

7. Which of the following provided the major link between West Africa and Europe prior to the fifteenth century?

a. The trans-Saharan trade between Upper Guinea and the Muslim Mediterranean

b. Long-established shipping lanes between the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic

c. The Nile River, the source of which began just to the south of the Sahara desert

d. The Senegal and Gambia Rivers along the coast of Upper Guinea

Objective 1

8. Which of the following was common to all of the societies of West Africa?

a. Rice as the most important product

b. Women as the primary local traders

c. The same language

d. The belief that kinship bonds transcend tribal differences

Objectives 2 and 3

9. Which of the following is associated with England’s Henry VII and Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella?

a. Unification of their respective kingdoms

b. The acceptance of Germanic law over Roman law

c. The evolution of strong representative assemblies

d. The defeat of the Islamic Empire in North Africa

Objective 3

10. Marco Polo’s Travels, which led many Europeans to believe that they could trade directly with China via ocean-going vessels, is evidence of which of the following?

a. Movable type and the printing press made information more widely and readily accessible than ever before.

b. The city-state of Venice led the way in perfecting technologically advanced navigational instruments.

c. Most educated Europeans still believed the world was flat.

d. Catholic missionaries took the lead in calling for European expansion.

Objective 4

11. Which of the following is true concerning interaction between Portugal and the states of West Africa?

a. The Portuguese used force to establish trading posts along the West African coast.

b. The African chiefdoms became the puppets of the Portuguese.

c. The Portuguese and the West Africans found their new trade relationship mutually beneficial.

d. The West Africans allowed the Portuguese to gain control over large estates in the interior of their states.

Objective 4

12. Which of the following is true of the island of São Tomé?

a. It was on this island that the Portuguese established the first economy based primarily on slaves from Africa.

b. Its native people were able to resist European encroachment and maintain their independence.

c. Gold and silver found on this island helped the Portuguese finance most of their exploratory voyages.

d. The natives of São Tomé taught the Portuguese how successfully to cultivate sugar cane.

Objective 3

13. Christopher Columbus differed from most other mapmakers of his time in that he

a. was willing to use newly developed navigational instruments.

b. believed the earth was much smaller than others believed it to be.

c. believed that the earth was round.

d. was willing to redesign his ships based on information received from Arab sailors.

Objectives 4 and 5

14. Which of the following is a characteristic of the Spanish colonies in the New World?

a. The Spanish government allowed its colonies a great deal of autonomy.

b. Most settlers came to the colonies as members of family groups.

c. The wealth of the colonies was based, in large part, on exploitation of the Indians.

d. The colonies consisted of small agricultural units worked by independent landowners.

Objective 7

15. Queen Elizabeth supported English colonization attempts in North America because she wanted to

a. strengthen England’s alliance with Spain.

b. establish a base for English attacks against Spanish colonies.

c. have an outlet for England’s excess population.

d. acquire Indian slaves to work the landed estates of English nobles.
Essay Questions

Objective 1

1. Discuss the series of Mesoamerican civilizations that eventually gave rise to the Aztec civilization, and describe the major characteristics of Aztec culture. How did the Indian cultures that emerged in Mesoamerica differ from those that emerged in North America? What factors caused these differences?

Objective 1

2. Select several diverse North American Indian cultures to explain the impact of environment on the economic, social, political, and religious characteristics of a society.

Objectives 1 and 2

3. Discuss the similarities and differences among the gender roles in Indian cultures, West African cultures, and European culture.

Objective 3

4. Discuss the following statement: “The European explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were made possible by technological advances and by the financial might of newly powerful national rulers.”

Objective 4

5. Discuss the valuable lessons learned by European seafarers in the “Mediterranean Atlantic,” and explain how these lessons prepared the way for Columbus’s voyage of 1492.

Objective 5

6. Examine the Spanish model of colonization and explain the political, social, and economic impact of this model on Spain’s New World colonies.

Objective 6

7. Compare and contrast the impact on the health of the people of the Old World and peoples of the New World caused by the early contacts between Europeans and peoples of the Americas. (See the Evaluating and Using Information exercise in this chapter.)

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