European Exploration of America

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How did interactions with Native Americans affect the Europeans?

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Interactions with Native Americans affected the Europeans by exposing Europeans to new ways of life that were crucial to their survival. For instance, The Wampanoag people helped settlers in Southeastern Massachusetts survive by teaching them how to properly cook local meats and vegetables. In addition, the cures for many of the deadly diseases Europeans brought were eventually found by native people.

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Europeans generally benefitted from their interactions with Native Americans. As well as being able to help themselves to large swathes of land and wealth that didn't really belong to them, they were able to develop farming techniques that enabled them to make American soil yield a plentiful supply of crops.

When Europeans first arrived in the New World, they struggled to grow crops out of what was to them unfamiliar soil. But thanks largely to the agricultural methods of Native American tribes, the newcomers were eventually able to work the soil to their advantage.

The insatiable hunger for land of the Europeans inevitably led to bitter conflict with Native Americans. This had the effect of consolidating the racist, negative stereotype that Europeans tended to have towards the Indigenous people. Before they set out for the New World, Europeans' understanding of Indigenous culture was virtually nil, confined as it was to scraps of legend and hearsay.

However, what little they knew—or thought they knew—of Native Americans painted a picture of Indigenous people as uncultivated, heathen savages, in some respects less than human. And after relations between Europeans and Native Americans began to deteriorate, Europeans became more stubborn in their prejudices than ever before.

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Interactions with Native Americans exposed Europeans to ways of life that were radically different from their own for the first time. The Europeans’ surprise at these differences is what made many of them label the native peoples as savages who must be civilized with European culture and religion.

Ironically, while many Europeans took fault with how the native peoples lived, knowledge from them helped them survive long enough to effectively colonize. For example, the Wampanoag people who lived in what is today Southeastern Massachusetts taught Europeans how to properly cook types of meats and vegetables that the European were not used to. They also taught them how to repel insects from their crops so that they had enough food for the winters.

Also, it is interesting to note that while the Europeans brought deadly diseases that destroyed a large percentage of the native population, a lot of the cures that Europeans eventually found and used for these diseases came from native people's medicinal expertise. For example, it was native people who showed Europeans what could cure malaria and scurvy. The Europeans benefitted from these discoveries, but it was tragically too late for many native people, whose immune systems were not adapted to the onslaught of so many new diseases.

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The Europeans were impacted in several ways by their interactions with the Native Americans. In some cases, the impact was a positive one. Some of the British settlers would not have survived when they first arrived if they didn’t develop friendly relationships with the Native Americans. The Native Americans showed some of these settlers where to live, what and how to farm, and how to survive the cold winters. The French developed very positive relationships with many of the Native American tribes. The French developed a lucrative fur trade, married Native American women, converted them to Christianity, and made it clear they didn’t want to take away their lands. As a result, many Native American tribes also viewed their relationship with the French in a very positive manner.

In some instances, the relationship was a negative one for some of the European settlers. There were instances were the Europeans fought with the Native Americans, as neither side trusted the other. This led to a climate of suspicion and hatred that made it hard for both sides to coexist peacefully in the same area. Many Native American tribes feared the British, whom they believed were only interested in taking away their lands. This led to many deadly conflicts that impacted both the Europeans and the Native Americans.

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Europeans were affected by their interactions with Native peoples in a variety of ways. One obvious one is that many Europeans died in wars with various Indian peoples. This was true along the North American colonial frontier in particular, as Native peoples, recognizing that long-term European settlement was becoming undesirable, launched wars to try to destroy these settlements. Europeans also adopted some Indian ways of life, especially the cultivation of corn, and they became involved in the diplomatic and trade relationships between Indian peoples that had existed before their arrival. 

Maybe the most enduring effect of European-Native interaction was the so-called "Columbian Exchange" that saw many important New World plants, in particular, make their way to Europe. Perhaps the most important of these plants was the white potato, which was native to South America. It became a staple crop in many places throughout Europe. Sweet potatoes were also a product of this exchange, as were certain types of beans and tomatoes. 

Another way the Europeans were affected by their interactions with Native peoples is that, especially early on, they were forced to interact with people who were not accounted for in Christian theology as revealed in the Bible. Also, Indian religious and cultural practices were far different than those of Europeans. Western thinkers tended to account for these differences by either idealizing or demonizing Indians. On the one hand, for some philosophers they were "noble savages" whose apparent lack of greed and innocence were to be admired. On the other hand, many leaders saw them as primitive heathens who were to be driven from their lands and held up as examples of Western cultural and even racial superiority.

In short, interactions between Europeans and Natives affected Europeans in complex and often contradictory ways. The same was true of Native peoples, though the sum effect of contact was devastating for them.

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