Saylor.org's Early Globalizations: East Meets West (1200s-1600s)/Early Latin and South America

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Beginning in the fifteenth century, the empires of Portugal and Spain founded large colonies in Latin America. As a result of these conquests, disease and warfare destroyed or transformed many of the native peoples who lived there. Gradually, a new syncretic civilization emerged in the Americas and became an integral part of the world market. Societies comprised of Africans, Spanish, Portuguese, and native peoples developed a sophisticated market economy driven by gold and silver mining as well as plantation agriculture. We will see how the colonial systems implemented by the Spanish and Portuguese in the New World had roots in the political and religious institutions of Europe.

In this unit, we will begin by examining the founding of Spain’s first New World colony—New Spain—in an area now known as Mexico. We will study how the Spanish defeated the Aztec empire and subsequently erected a colonial government and economy. We will then turn to Portugal’s main colonial enterprise in the Americas—Brazil. We will study Brazil’s indigenous population and the effects of Portuguese colonization, as well as the evolution of Brazil’s economy from plantation agriculture to mining.

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