Unsettling the Continent, 1492–1776
It was an age of empires. The great European powers competed for wealth, territory, and global influence. That competition brought hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Africans to the North American continent, where Native peoples had lived for millennia.
What happened next was a profound unsettling of long-established societies. The continent’s population actually declined in this period, as Old World diseases swept through Native populations that lacked immunity. Beyond that profound tragedy there would be new conflicts, new forms of freedom, new forms of slavery, and new ways of living together.
Our world today grows out of that unsettling history.
West African cultures prized cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean as items of status and value. They became an accepted form of currency in the African slave trade. An estimated 344,000 people would be captured and transported directly to mainland North America in that trade by 1776.
Unsettling the Continent, 1492–1750
Native Peoples, Europeans, and Africans met on the North American continent. Contact brought economic and cultural exchange, but also wars and epidemic diseases that devastated many Native societies. Colonization brought growing numbers of Europeans and enslaved Africans. This short, impressionistic animation depicts the movement of different peoples into and within the continent between 1492 and 1750.