This study of disease among the native peoples of the New World before and after 1492 challenges many widely held notions about encounters between European and native peoples. Whereas many late twentieth century scholars blamed the catastrophic decline of postconquest native populations on the introduction of previously unknown infections from the Old World, Alchon argues that the experiences of native peoples in the New World closely resembled those of other human populations. Exposure to lethal new infections resulted in rates of morbidity and mortality among native Americans comparable to tose found among Old World populations.
Why then did native American populations decline by 75 to 90 percent in the century following contact with Europeans? Why did these populations fail to recover, in contrast to those of Africa, Asia, and Europe? Alchon points to the practices of European colonialism. Warfare and slavery increased mortality, and forced migrations undermined social, political, and economic institutions.
This timely study effectively overturns the notion of New World exceptionalism. By showing that native Americans were not uniquely affected by European diseases, Alchon also undercuts the stereotypical notion of the Americas as a new Eden, free of disease and violence until the intrusion of germ-laden, rapacious Europeans.
About the Author
Suzanne Austin Alchon is Associate Professor of history at the University of Delaware.
Table of ContentsContents
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1. Old World Epidemiology to 1500
The Universal Nature of Human Responses to Disease
The Origins and History of Human Disease in the Old World
The Significance of the Old World Disease Experience
Chapter 2. Amerindians and Disease Before 1492
Dating the Arrival of Humans in the New World
Health and Disease Before 1492
Patterns of Mortality among Hunter-Gatherers
Patterns of Mortality among Sedentary Agriculturalists
Chapter 3. Colonialism, Disease, and the Spanish Conquest of the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, and the Central Andes
The Introduction of Old World Diseases to the Americas The Smallpox Epidemic of 1518 Mexico
The Old World and the New
Chapter 4. Colonialism and Disease in Brazil and North America
Florida and the Southeast
The Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico
The Northeastern United States and Canada
California and the Pacific Northwest
The Great Plains
Brazil and North America in Comparative Perspective
Chapter 5. New World Epidemics and European Colonialism Native American and European Responses to Epidemic Disease
The Impact of European Colonialism
Motives and Methods: Military Conquest
Indigenous Labor and Migration
Appendix. The Demographic Debate