Two different stories of colonization

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Hello all

The Suzanne vega song that I used to open lecture today is actually more complicated than I suggested in class.  A link to the lyrics is here: http://www.suzannevega.com/music/lyrics/SongDetails.aspx?songid=0e4bbeaa-55a0-4aa4-8faa-c762f87aceb0


She starts the song by talking about how she would be bereft without this person in her life--her world would be flat.  But then very quickly it's clear that this relationship is unrequited.  She talks about how those who "lust for gold" will never have you.  That is, there isn't really any contact or any meeting in this love story. So not only is the song a mark of how Columbus periodizes many peoples' histories, but it's also a mark of the ambivalence and complexity of that story of Spanish exploration.

Thanks to all of you who came up to me with questions after lecture.  One student asked the very appropriate question of why Guyana isn't discussed more in history textbooks.  That's a great question because in fact the people who lived there in the 15th century--the Arawaks and Caribs--were part of the story of Columbus' voyage.  The land was sighted by Columbus and, at first, Spain planned to conquer it.  Many of the Arawaks who lived there died from disease but Carib people put up effective resistance and it wasn't until the Dutch arrived in the 17th century that Guyana was effectively integrated into a European empire. So, I suspect one reason it doesn't get discussed is that it doesn't fit the narrative people have of easy conquest--Guyana was not easily conquered.  

I should add that Guyana remained an important place for posing questions about imperialism and the inevitability of racial separation.  Indigenous and African people escaping slavery established important settlements in Guyana in the 18th century and, by the 19th century, elites who established large plantations had to import indentured servants from Europe (especially from Germany, Malta, and Ireland) and India for workers.  Much of the population living there now has descended from these people. One of their most important political leaders was descended from Indian plantation workers; his wife, an American-born Jewish woman of European descent, also became president.  Even now Guyana remains a place that really challenges the meanings of European domination and the inevitability of racial separation.

I look forward to more questions and discussions about colonization and imperialism on Wednesday.  Good luck with the primary source assignment.

Tracey

8 Comments

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This page contains a single entry by Tracey Deutsch published on September 14, 2009 9:54 PM.

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