When one studies American history, one cannot help but be drawn to the westward expansion of European civilization. The westward extension was facilitated by the triumph of freedom in the west and, in particular, by the rise of the European peoples to economic and cultural superiority. European culture, in the years just before the European settlers arrived, spread far beyond the boundaries of the Americas. In this brief article, we will briefly look at some of the most important dimensions of European culture as it emerges from the New World.
Western history is intimately linked to Europe. It traces its origins to the Mediterranean and then to Europe. It was deeply influenced by ancient Greece, Rome and, later, by Medieval Christendom that arose out of the Middle Ages to provide an array of intellectual and political challenges for Europe. As the European peoples spread out across the world, so did their religious beliefs, cultural practices and ideas. Some of the major changes can be seen in the way Europeans dressed, fought and created art.
Europeans reached the Americas via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery was a profound impact on world culture. It set the stage for the rise of European chivalry and, in particular, for the institution of slavery in the New World. Slavery existed almost entire over the entire continent of North America. By the time the British Empire arrived, there were already thousands of slaves being used to cultivate the sugar fields of the south.
Europeans reached the Pacific Ocean via several different means. They voyaged across the northern Pacific Ocean by land and by ship. The latter method, however, was much more dangerous, as the ice line advanced and became much thicker. By the middle part of the 19th century, ice had become an important issue for all trans-boundary journeys and explorers wanted to keep their ships as ice-free as possible. Finally, the railroad began to develop in the west. Railroad workers often brought food and supplies to the West and, by the beginning of the 20th century, even allowed individuals to commute between the east and west by train.
The buffalo hunt marked the beginning of the great American railroad construction era. The transcontinental railroad, which spanned the states of Texas and California, benefited both the east and the west by providing an easier and faster means of travel. When the Dust Bowl hit the West coast, however, farmers quickly lost their means of earning a living and, without transportable means of transporting their products to market, they were forced to turn to crops for survival. The “NAFIS” movement sought to solve this problem by establishing federal government control over the transcontinental railroad. The movement never became very popular, however, due to the west’s anti-capitalistic and anti-intercontinental tendencies.
When the American economy began to falter during the Great Depression, an “Americanization” movement swept across the country. This movement, which was centered in the industrial heartlands of the North, strove to turn the U.S. into a more modern and technologically advanced western civilization. Unfortunately, this movement did not succeed in many of its goals. The “Gilded Age” offered nothing to the industrial heartlands of the north, and urbanization quickly overtook the countryside. Nevertheless, with the rise of urbanization came the new need for education and a renewed interest in, and knowledge of, the old west. Thus, with the advent of the 20th century came the beginning of what is known as “the westernization of the western history”.