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The Physical Geography of South America$
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Thomas Veblen, Kenneth Young, and Antony Orme

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195313413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195313413.001.0001

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The Legacy of European Colonialism

The Legacy of European Colonialism

(p.279) 17 The Legacy of European Colonialism
The Physical Geography of South America

Gregory Knapp

Oxford University Press

South America was first “encountered” by Europeans during Columbus’ third voyage in 1498. This marked the end of the pre-Columbian period of the continent, and the beginning of the colonial period that lasted until the end of the wars of independence in the early nineteenth century. Total liberation of the continent from Spain was finally achieved at the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. Brazilian independence from Portugal was achieved more peacefully in 1822, when Dom Pedro became constitutional emperor. The Guianas remained colonies far longer; indeed Guyane (French Guiana) is still an overseas department of France, while Suriname (Dutch Guiana) became independent in 1975, and Guyana (originally a Dutch colony, later British) became independent in 1966. It could be suggested that dependency remained after the end of formal colonial rule, owing to the continued influence of global economic powers on the continent. However, for the purposes of this chapter, the colonial period can be considered as lasting for 326 years from 1498 to 1824. If recent research has tended to enhance our appreciation of the impact of pre-Columbian peoples on the South American environment, it has also corrected some stereotypes concerning European colonial impacts. Europeans were not the first to substantially impact the South American environment. The colonial period was generally marked by depopulation and agricultural disintensification, with the result that many environments were more “pristine” at the end of the eighteenth century than at the end of the fifteenth century. Migrations, cultural hybridities, and new local, regional, and global economic linkages led to changes in demands on agriculture and resource extraction. New technologies, crops, and social structures also had an impact. These impacts were not always as negative as sometimes portrayed, and local populations often had a substantial say in the outcome. Many of the most noticeable impacts resulting from the encounter with Europeans did not become widespread until after independence (McAlister, 1984; Bethell, 1987; Hoberman, 1996; Hoberman et al., 1996; Mörner, 1985; Newson, 1995; Robinson, 1990; Butzer and Butzer, 1995).

Keywords:   Africa, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Dom Pedro, Lima, Pampas, Quito, Santiago, Trujillo

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