The sections below consider broad trends in Native American history from the late 15th century to the late 20th century. More-recent events are considered in the final part of this article, Developments in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Scholarly estimates of the pre-Columbian population of Northern America have differed by millions of individuals: the lowest credible approximations propose that some , people lived north of the Rio Grande in , and the highest posit some 18,, In anthropologist James Mooney undertook the first thorough investigation of the problem.
He estimated the precontact population density of each culture area based on historical accounts and carrying capacity , an estimate of the number of people who could be supported by a given form of subsistence. Mooney concluded that approximately 1,, individuals lived in Northern America at the time of Columbian landfall. In A. In ethnohistorian Henry Dobyns estimated that there were between 9,, and 12,, people north of the Rio Grande before contact; in he revised that number upward to 18,, people.
Dobyns was among the first scholars to seriously consider the effects of epidemic diseases on indigenous demographic change.
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He noted that, during the reliably recorded epidemics of the 19th century, introduced diseases such as smallpox had combined with various secondary effects i. He then used this and other information to calculate from early census data backward to probable founding populations. Some of his critics fault Dobyns for the disjunctions between physical evidence and his results, as when the number of houses archaeologists find at a site suggests a smaller population than do his models of demographic recovery.
Others, including the historian David Henige, criticize some of the assumptions Dobyns made in his analyses.
For instance, many early fur traders noted the approximate number of warriors fielded by a tribe but neglected to mention the size of the general population. This group notes that severe epidemics of European diseases may have begun in North America in the late 10th or early 11th century, when the Norse briefly settled a region they called Vinland.
Yet another group of demographers protest that an emphasis on population loss obscures the resilience shown by indigenous peoples in the face of conquest. Most common, however, is a middle position that acknowledges that demographic models of 15th-century Native America must be treated with caution, while also accepting that the direct and indirect effects of the European conquest included extraordinary levels of indigenous mortality not only from introduced diseases but also from battles, slave raids, and—for those displaced by these events—starvation and exposure.
This perspective acknowledges both the resiliency of Native American peoples and cultures and the suffering they bore. Determining the number of ethnic and political groups in pre-Columbian Northern America is also problematic, not least because definitions of what constitutes an ethnic group or a polity vary with the questions one seeks to answer. Ethnicity is most frequently equated with some aspect of language , while social or political organization can occur on a number of scales simultaneously.
Thus, a given set of people might be defined as an ethnic group through their use of a common dialect or language even as they are recognized as members of nested polities such as a clan , a village, and a confederation. Other factors, including geographic boundaries, a subsistence base that emphasized either foraging or farming, the presence or absence of a social or religious hierarchy , and the inclinations of colonial bureaucrats , among others, also affected ethnic and political classification; see Sidebar: The Difference Between a Tribe and a Band.
The cross-cutting relationships between ethnicity and political organization are complex today and were equally so in the past. Headnotes to the documents, reproductions of early paintings and portraits, a chronology, questions for consideration, a bibliography, and an index are also included. Review This Product No reviews yet - be the first to create one! Need help? Partners MySchool Discovery.
History of the United States (1776–1789)
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Creating an American Culture, 1775-1800: A Brief History with Documents / Edition 1
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