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Introduction: The Creation of a new Caribbean society, 1492–1650

  • Horst Pietschmann
Chapter

Abstract

In the context of a history of the Caribbean, 12 October 1492, the day on which Christopher Columbus landed on one of the islands in the region, was one of the most decisive, if not the most decisive point in a long-term historical perspective. This date marked the end of the biological isolation of the American continent, the consequences of which were vividly revealed by A. Crosby.1 On this date, the pandemics of the Old World spread to the New World, unleashing a demographic catastrophe among the native inhabitants of the Americas and causing the Europeans to alter the composition of the region’s inhabitants in so permanent a manner as to initially turn the Caribbean into a universal melting pot for humanity. Indo-Americans, Europeans, black Africans and Asians ended up, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes forcibly, in the region. They brought with them diverse biological, cultural and historical legacies, establishing contacts with each other and gradually interbreeding. There has hardly been a process, in a period capable of reconstruction by historians from literary sources, which has unfolded in such a decisive manner and which is associated with such dramatic changes as the one which continued to unfold in the Caribbean after the above date. This volume will analyse the historical background of Indo-Americans, black Africans and Asians elsewhere, but how should we assess the Caribbean’s European legacy during the early stages of this ‘cultural clash? Why did the Spaniards come in the first place?

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Notes

  1. 35.
    Theodore K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire; Merchant and Gentry Investment in the Expansion of England, 1575–1640 (Harvard, 1967), pp. 55–89; Nuala Zehedieh, ‘Trade, Plunder, and Economic Development in Early English America, 1655–1689’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, vol. XXXIV/2 (May, 1986), pp. 205–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 45.
    Robert Carlyle Batie ‘Why Sugar? Economic Cycles and the Changing of Staples on the English and French Antilles, 1624–1654’, in Journal of Caribbean History, vol. 8 (1976), pp. 1–41Google Scholar
  3. Jacques Petit Jean Roget, La societe d’habitation a la Martinique, 1635–1685 (Lille/Paris, 1980), vol. II, pp. 1153–4Google Scholar
  4. William A. Green, ‘Supply versus Demand in the Barbadian Revolution’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XVIII/3 (Winter 1988), pp. 403–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2003

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  • Horst Pietschmann

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