The opening of a new world by Columbus and Magellan introduced modern European ideas to primitive American societies. The arrival of these new ideas and new cultures forced the American way of life to progress. When the Spanish explorers arrived in the New World, they absorbed and expanded upon the culture of the Old World by accepting their customs and people, while introducing a new way of life. Rather than running the Indians off of the land, as settlers from France and England had done, Spain accepted them and provided for them.
Many people believe that the Spanish explorers were destructive and that they ruined the Indians and their society when they arrived in the Americas. In truth, the motives behind the exploration were not that complex. The Spanish were not concerned with destruction or world dominance; they were concerned with serving God and getting rich. What they wanted ideally was to explore new lands, and rather than destroying what they found there, they decided to influence the people and help them.
The Spanish provided for the Indians. Their rulers were concerned with governing well, and to do so they experimented with different American cities. They tried different forms of government in different places to wee what was effective and what was not. One Mexican Bishop, Vasco de Quiroga, established a cooperative city in Michoacan that had communal property and something that was similar to modern day social-welfare. The Spanish also set up a court system where the Indians could air their grievances. Many schools were opened, including 23 universities, that graduated everyone from black people, to white people, to Indians. Hospitals were also set up to provide health care and medical services to the Indians.
One of the most important contributions by the Spanish was made indirectly. They strengthened the Indians by giving them immunity to diseases. When the Spanish brought their germs and viruses to the New World, many of the native people died. In the course of natural selection, the most susceptible people died, and the ones who did not die developed an immunity. They passed this immunity on to their children until the once deadly diseases became as minor as common childhood illnesses.
The Spanish brought with them to the Americas many animals that the Indians had never seen before, such as chickens, pigs, and horses. The introduction of domestic livestock added new foods to the native diet and improved their farming techniques. It also improved their methods of warfare by providing them with horses to ride. All of these things gradually changed their way of life.
Perhaps the most important Spanish contribution was the introduction of a commercial economy through the slave trade. This became the basis of economy in the New World. Slavery provided free labor and eliminated labor-shortage problems. In addition, slaves helped trade since they were often used for farming crops of tobacco and indigo, as well as mining metals such as gold and silver.
Many of these Spanish contributions are now frowned upon, especially the slave trade and the genocide resulting from the spread of disease. What these contributions really did for the Indians was to provide them with government, education, medical aid, immunity to diseases, and a strong economy–essentially all the things the modern day New World is based on. The opening of the Americas by Columbus and Magellan provided a way for the Old World to progress and become a strong, wealthy, and educated New World.
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