We use the skill of periodization all the time. When we talk about the 1960s as being an era of rebellion or the 1980s as an era of conformity, we organize a set of dates into a block of time (a period) when certain common themes or trends existed. When you ask someone about her experiences in the 1980s, you are asking her to periodize an era of her life. You want her to tell you what the 1980s were like.
For historians, a time period is a technical term for the arrangement of past events and processes into discrete – or specifically defined – blocks of time that are often characterized thematically. Time periods begin and end with turning points – key moments that mark a change in the course of events. Some turning points are visible (such as a discover, a death, a speech, or an event), and some turning points are conceptual (such as the announcement of a new theory, the beginning or end of a movement, or the pronouncement of a policy.)
For example, historians characterize Cortes’s conquest of the Aztec empire between 1519 and 1521 as a turning point between two periods of Native American history. Below is an example of what that claim might look like as it relates to Native American society.
Claim: “The first eighty years of Native American history after Hernan Cortes’s conquest [turning point] were a time period of great social upheaval [periodization] especially in Central America.”
A historian could support this claim with evidence statements that are drawn from historical documents. This evidence may reflect your understanding of historical thinking skill that has already been looked at, such as recognizing patterns of continuity and change over time.
Here is an example of an evidence statement that is related to the claim above.
Evidence Statement: “For example, during Cortes’s conquest, peoples within the Aztec empire fought with Spanish troops and weapons to overthrow their Aztec overlords (Doc 1.5) and destabilized the social order that had existed before the conquest. The Spanish also brought diseases that decimated native populations (Doc 1.7), the encomienda system that forced them to work for the Spanish (Docs 1.7 and 1.8), and a new religion that undermined their traditional religious hierarchy (Docs 1.6 and 1.8)”
Using the Sentences above as a model, write two more evidence statements of your own to support the following claim
The first eighty years of Native American history after Hernan Cortes’s conquest were a time period of great social upheaval, especially in Central America.
Document 1.10 – Afonso I (Mvemba A Nzinga), Letter to John III, King of Portugal 1526
Afonso I (Mvemba a Nzinga) (1460-1542) the West African king of Kongo, converted to Christianity, westernized his name, and adopted a European-style coat of arms after opening trade with the Portuguese. In this letter, Afonso writes to the king of Portugal, John III, on the growth of the slave trade in Kongo.
. . .Sir, in our Kingdom there is an other great inconvenience which is of little service to God, and this is that many of our people, keenly desirous as they are of the wares and things of your Kingdoms, which are brought here by your people, and in order to satisfy their voracious appetite, seize many of our people, freed and exempt men, and very often it happens that they kidnap even noblemen and the sons of noblemen, and our relatives, and take them to be sold to the white men who are in our Kingdoms’ and for this purpose they have concealed them; and others are brought during the night so that they might not be recognized.
As soon as they are taken by the white men they are immediately ironed and branded with fire, and when they are carried to be embarked, if they are caught by our guards’ men the whites allege that they have bought them but they cannot say from whom, so that it is our duty to do justice and to restore to the freemen their freedom, but it cannot be done if your subjects feel offended, as they claim to be.
As to avoid such great evil we passed a law so that any white man living in our Kingdoms and wanting to purchase goods in any way should first inform three of our noblemen and officials of our court whom we rely upon this matter. . . But if the white men do not comply with it they will lose the aforementioned goods. And if we do them this favor and concession it is for the part Your Highness has in it, since we know that it is in your service too that these goods are taken from our Kingdom, otherwise we should not consent to this . . .
Basil Davidson, The African Past: Chronicles from Antiquity to Modern Times (Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1964) 192-193
PRACTICE HISTORICAL THINIKING
Identify: According to this letter, King Afonso was upset that some of his people were selling certain subjects of his kingdom into slavery. Which of his subjects did he want to protect from the European slave trade?
Analyze: Why might Europeans be less concerned with these subjects than Afonso was?
Evaluate: Compare Afonso’s perception of Africans to Pope Paul III’s perception of Native Americans (Doc 1.6). What are the similarities and differences?
Document 1.11 – Jacques Cartier, Voyage to the St. Lawrence – 1534
French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) was the first European to traverse the region of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which he named the “Land of the Canadas.” In his memoir, he described the following interaction with native peoples in modern Quebec.
. . . And we navigated with weather at will until the second day of October . . during which time and on the way we found many folks of the country . . [who] brought us fish and other victuals, dancing and showing great joy at our coming. And to attract and hold them in amity [friendship] with us, the said captain gave them for recompense some knives, paternosters [rosaries] and other trivial goods, with which they were much content. And we having arrived at the said Hochelaga [an Iroquois village] more than a thousand persons presented themselves before us, me, women, and children alike . . [who] gave us as good reception as ever a father did to a child, showing marvelous joy; for the min in one band danced, the women on their side and the children on the other . . . [who] brought us stores of fish and their bread made of coarse millet, which they cast into our said boats in a way that it seemed as if it tumbled from the air. Seeing this, or said captain landed with a number of his men, and as soon as he was landed the gathered all around him, and about all the others, giving them an unrestrained welcome.
And the women brought their children into their arms to make them touch the said captain and others, making a rejoicing which lasted more than half an hour. Ad our captain, witnessing their liberality and good will, caused all the women to be seated and ranged in order, and gave them certain paternosters of tin and other trifling things, and to a part of the men knives. Then he retired on bard the said boats to sup and pass the night, while these people remained on the shore of the said river nearest river the said boats all night, making fires and dancing, crying all the time “Aguyaze!” which is their expression of mirth and joy . . .
. . .[We} marked farther on, and about half-league from there we began to find the land cultivated, and fair, large fields full of grain of their country, which is like Brazil millet, as big or bigger than peas on which they live just as we do on wheat; and in the midst of these fields is located and seated the town of Hochelaga, near to and adjoining a mountain, which is cultivated round about it a highly fertile, from the summit of which one sees a very great distance. We named the said mountainMount Royal . . .
Jacques Cartier, A Memoir of Jacques Cartier, Sieur de Limoilou, His Voyages to the St. Lawrence; a Bibliography and a Facsimile of the Manuscript of 1534, with Annotations, Etc. Ed. And trans. James Phinney Baxter (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1906), 161-162
PRACTICE HISTORICAL THINKING
Identify: Identify the details of this encounter that were significant to Carter.
Analyze: Cartier’s memoir was published soon after his exploration of the St. Lawrence River. What impressions did Cartier hope to make on his audience regarding natives and resources in the Western Hemisphere?
Evaluate: Reread the excerpts in this chapter from Christopher Columbus’s journal (doc ¼) and Cartier’s memoir (Doc 1.11). To what extend do these documents present the relationship between natives and Europeans in similar ways?
Document 1.12John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia – 1624
Captain John Smith (1580-1631) was commissioned by the British Crown to oversee “all things abroad.” Here he reflects on an encounter with native peoples in the Virginia Colony, Great Britain’s earliest successful settlement in North America. This excerpt is from Smith’s book The Generall Historie of Virginia.
The new president and Martin, being little beloved, of weak judgment in dangers, and less industry in peace, committed the managing of all things abroad to Captain Smith: who by his on example, good words, and fair promises, set to mow, others to bind thatch, some to build houses, others to thatch them, himself always bearing the greatest task for his own share, so that in short time, he provided most of them lodgings, neglecting any for himself. . . [Smith] shipped himself in the shallop to search the country for trade. The want [lack] of a sufficient power (knowing the multitude of savages), apparel for his men, and other necessaries, were infinite impediments, yet no discouragement. Being but six or seven in company he went down the river to Kecoughtan, where at fist they [the natives] scorned, him, as a famished man, and would derrison offer him a handful of corn, a piece of bread, for their swords and muskets, and such like proportions also for their apparel. But seeing by trade and courtesy there was nothing to be had, he . . let fly his muskets, ran his boat on shore, whereat they all fled into the woods. So marching toward their houses, they might see great heaps of corn: much ado he had to restrain his hungry soldiers from present taking of it, expecting as it happened that the savages would assault them, as not long after they did with a most hideous noise. Sixty or seventy of them, some black, some red, some white, some party-colored, came in a square order, singing and dancing out of the woods, with their okee (which is an idol made of skins, stuffed with moss, all painted and hung with chains and copper) borne before them: and in this manner being well armed, with clubs, targets, bows and arrows, they charged the English, that so kindly received them with their muskets loaded with pistol shot, that down fell their God, and divers lay sprawling on the ground; the rest fled again to the woods, and ere long sent one of their . . . [own] to offer peace, and redeem their okee. Smith told them, if only be their friend, but restore them their okee, and give them beads, copper, and hatchets besides: which on both sides was to their contents performed: and then they brought him venison, turkeys, wild fowl, bread, and what they had, singing and dancing in sign of
friendship till they departed. . .
John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 2006), 93-94, originally printed in 1629m transcribed into modern English by Jason Stacy.
PRACTICE HISTORICAL THINKING
Identify: What economic activities does Smith describe? What impediments did Smith list that interfered with his attempts to trade?
Analyze: Is Smith’s account more favorable or unfavorable to the native peoples? Explain. In what ways are Smith’s descriptions of native peoples similar to those of both Spanish and French colonizers? (Docs. 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 1.9, 1.11)?
Evaluate: In what ways might this document be a useful primary source for historians? In what ways might this document pose challenges for historians?