|What happens when different cultures first meet?|
Europe’s Age of Exploration led to encounters between peoples whose ways of life were unfathomable to each other. Some of these meetings were mutually beneficial, offering opportunities to learn about and trade with the members of unique cultures. In other cases—especially when arrogance and greed came into play—the outcomes were violent, destructive, and irreversible.
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about Exploration and Colonization
Primary sources like these below help historians piece together a before-and-after picture of the ways in which exploration and colonization changed the world and its people.
•Written forms – Rustichello’s The Travels of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus’s ship logs, John Smith’s books, and other written accounts by explorers, settlers, and leaders provide a window into the ways that decisions concerning exploration and colonization were made. They also offer perspectives—and misconceptions—that peoples of the world developed about one another.
•Physical artifacts – Nautical tools such as compasses and astrolabes show the technological advances that had taken place until this time. Artifacts from pre-Colombian cultures such as the Taíno, Aztec, and Inca, offer clues into their belief systems and lifestyles, as do the ruins of early settlements such as Jamestown, Virginia, and L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (where the Vikings temporarily settled).
•Images – Maps and nautical charts show us how geographical knowledge and theories changed over time. Depictions of explorers, cross-cultural encounters, and battles show these people and events from their artists’ perspectives.
Engraving from a book written by Captain John Smith (1624): Captain Smith taketh the King of Pamaunkee 1603 by Thomas Vaughn
Jamestown Exposition Seal, 1607-1907
An event that took place in the hard winter of 1608 has been depicted as an engraving by Thomas Vaughn of John Smith and the Pamaunkee King. After chastising Opechancanough, leader of the Pamunkey tribe, for not sharing the fruit of their harvest with the starving colonists, Captain John Smith of Jamestown colony supposedly challenged Opechancanough to single-handed combat.
Monument in Jamestown, Virginia
According to Smith’s account, Opechancanough was intimidated, and agreed to the colonists’ demands. (In this engraving, Smith is physically threatening the chief.) Native Americans, most likely perceived the event differently. In this activity, students will attempt to weigh their perspectives.
John Smith’s Accounts of Jamestown: Can They Be Taken at Face Value?
Captain John Smith is largely remembered as an early leader of Jamestown—the one who helped save the colony by threatening that “Those who don’t work, don’t eat!” But historians also owe him a debt of gratitude for publishing books about early life in this English settlement. Among these are The Generall Historie [sic] of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624) and (from which the image is taken) and The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith (1630) . Though much can be learned from these texts about life in the early days of the colony, historians are also quick to warn readers to note the source. Smith, they point out, was admittedly boastful when it came to descriptions of his own deeds. Many especially question the account in The Generall Historie that described how Pocahontas saved his life when her father, Chief Powhatan, captured and threatened to execute Smith.
Create a Peace Treaty that Native Americans and Colonists Can Both Honor
1. Distribute to each student a copy of the primary source document. (This image also appears on page. 4 of your Primary Sources Handbook.) After offering students a basic description of what is taking place in the engraving, have students discuss the perspective of the person who created the image. To do this, start by going over, as a class, the answers to the “Go to the Source” worksheet on page 5 of your Primary Sources Handbook.From there, encourage students to discuss their opinions related to these questions:
2. Organize students into teams of two and tell students that one member of each team is to take on the role of John Smith and the other the role of Powhatan, the chief of the Powhatan confederacy of Algonquian tribes when the English first settled in Jamestown in 1607. When students have decided who will play each role, distribute a copy of Powhatan’s discourse of peace and war to the student taking on Powhatan’s role. Offer a copy of Captain Smith’s reply to the student who is to assume the role of John Smith. Be sure students understand that both pages are taken from a book that John Smith wrote.
3. After reading their section of John Smith’s account of the meeting between the two men, have each student imagine that he or she in their assigned role is preparing to meet with the other in order to create a peace treaty that both sides could accept. As they consider what the treaty might say, have students consider their answers to these questions:
4. When students are ready, challenge partners to work together to create their peace treaty. Then have them share their results with the class. When all teams have had an opportunity to make their presentations, use the same questions given above to hold a class discussion about the process and what happened.
Additional Primary Sources
Chapter 3: The Growth of Trade
Chapter 4: Two Worlds Meet
Chapter 5: Europeans in North America
Image credits: a. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-57620; b. S. Solum/PhotoLink/Getty Images