chapter  2
30 Pages

The Latin American colonial experience

ByLinda Newson

The separation of the Old and New Worlds ended in 1492 with Columbus' landfall in the Bahamas. It also heralded the emergence of a world economy that would eventually be truly global. Columbus encountered a continent that had been settled for maybe 30,000 years and probably contained at least 50 million people. During the pre-Columbian period native cultures had diversified such that on the eve of European expansion Latin America was occupied by a mosaic of societies ranging from simple hunting, fishing and gathering bands to highly developed agricultural states. The colonial period that followed saw the incorporation of these societies not only into the Spanish and Portuguese empires, contributing to Latin America's distinctive character, but also into the wider world economy. These processes brought of cultural uniformity to Latin American societies, but regional variations persisted which reflected not only the priorities and policies of the colonial powers, but also the continent's diverse environments and its pre-Columbian heritage. As such, it is impossible to understand developments during the colonial period without a knowledge of both the character of native societies on the eve of European expansion and an understanding of the cultural environment in Europe that led to the conquest of the New World.