How was the idea of “wildness” expressed in the visual culture of North America, 1585 to 1750? What role did race play in this phenomenon? Gender? The landscape?

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seaofknowledge | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492. Europeans arrived in large numbers in North America in the 1500s. Before European arrival, the American landscape was different. The Indians were mostly nomadic but also engaged in farming and hunting. When Europeans arrived in this land, they found it to be mostly uninhabited because Indian tribes were spread out over what is now the US and Canada. Visually, North America was mostly an untouched landscaped, altered only in minor ways by the natives.

The arrival of a new race on the continent, the Europeans, had a huge impact. The biggest impact was the mass deaths of Indian populations caused by illness (brought by Europeans), slave labor and fighting between the Europeans and Indians. Europeans were far more technologically advanced; they had weapons, boats, horses and quickly and dramatically overtook the native populations. They also started making changes to the landscape, building colonies, farming and mining for valuable materials.

To the Europeans, North America was entirely wild in comparison to Europe where people had settled centuries ago. It was both a struggle and a happiness to the settlers. Although they had to adapt to the new landscape and environment, they used the natural resources freely.

With regard to race, it was a sad development that the Native American tribes were treated most terribly by the Europeans, forced to flee from their homes, oppressed and killed. With regard to gender, there are different ways of looking at gender in this period of history of the Americas. Firstly, it was Queen Isabella of Spain who sent Christopher Columbus on his journey that resulted in the discovery of the Americas. While a woman was responsible for this discovery, the arrival of the Europeans had devastating effects on native women who were captured, used as slaves and killed.

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