Movement Throughout Human History and Its Effects

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Throughout history, there has continually been movement - of peoples and cultures, diseases, and technology. The movement of each type has affected the environment in different ways. The effect of the changing patterns of human movement on the environment is leading to further environmental degradation.

The history of human movement has been one of a shift from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary one with the agricultural revolution. With the agricultural revolution, people gradually abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, so they were no longer moving around, following the migration patterns of the animals that humans hunted and the seasonal pattern of plants as they became suitable for consumption (In-class discussion 01.27.03). The industrial revolution brought about a shift from a more pastoral lifestyle to a more urban one, as people moved from the country to the city, but at the same time, trade enabled movement between cities. As people moved, they have also brought with them new ideas and cultures. For example, when the conquistadors came to the Americas, they came in search of gold, but some also came as missionaries, to spread the word of God and convert all of the heathen indigenous peoples to Christianity (Cipolla). Christianity first had to spread throughout Europe and North Africa and it started along the coastal areas, and then spread inland. Spread of Christianity - BYU Instructional Media Center From Europe, Christianity came to the Americas. Spanish Catholic missionaries came to what is now present-day Mexico, Central America, and South America, as evidenced by the spread of the Spanish language. The French came to the New World as trappers and traders. They did much of their trapping in present-day Canada and the Great Lakes Region, then shipped their furs down the Mississippi River to present day Louisiana (World History Class, 1999-2000). The English and other Europeans came to the New World for both economic and religious reasons. They settled along the eastern seaboard and established colonies.

The movement of disease started with movement of diseases from animals to humans, and then those diseases became exclusively human-borne diseases. The movement of diseases followed closely the movement of humans. The propagation of the different diseases depended on new hosts without immunity, so if an infected person came into contact with a group of people who have not been exposed to that particular disease, the disease was able to spread among those people (Diamond). As the newly infected people traveled around, new infections occurred. In this case, the movement of both human hosts of the bacteria or viruses served as a form of population control. As long as the population of an area did not exceed its carrying capacity and did not grow faster than the environment could recover, then humans could interact with the environment in a sustainable manner. Disease spread from Europe to the Americas when the Europeans came first as explorers, then as conquerors. The Europeans brought with them smallpox, syphilis, and other diseases (Diamond). These diseases decimated the populations of the indigenous peoples, making it easier for the conquistadors to conquer them (In-class discussion 03.07.03). A reason why the Europeans brought disease to the native populations of the Americas, instead of them giving diseases to the Europeans could be that there was not as much movement between that three main cultures of the Americas, whereas Europeans moved freely between Asia, the Middle East, and within Europe (In-class discussion 03.07.03). This movement of peoples enabled diseases to spread, as one community became immune to a disease, someone from another location would either bring a new one into the community, or someone from the infected community would travel and bring it to another community. In this way, disease was spread throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The same type of movement did not exist in the Americas. The three major civilizations were the Native Americans living in the Mississippi River Basin, the Aztec Empire located in present-day Mexico, and the Incan Civilization in the Andes Mountains. Geography may have hindered the development of trade between the three civilizations, and thus impeded the movement of peoples and peoples carrying diseases between the societies (Diamond, In-class discussion 03.07.03). Another theory explaining why disease did not develop in the Americas to the same extent as it did in Europe was that most pathogens moved from animals to humans, and that the amount of human-animal contact in Europe was much greater than the human-animal contact in the Americas because of the types of animals domesticated differed in each area (Diamond).

The movement of technology also followed the movement of peoples. Horses came from invaders out of the steppes. The Europeans discovered gunpowder when they traveled to China. The Chinese originally used gunpowder for ceremonial reasons, but when the Europeans came over, they realized its applications for warfare (Diamond, In-class discussion 03.07.03). Technology moved from those that had it to those that did not have it and needed it. For example, when the steam engine was developed, it was developed in England to fulfill a need. The technology of the steam engine did not come to America for a long time, because there was no real need for it (In-class discussion 03.21.03). Technology was seen as a solution for the different problems that humans encountered as they became more developed and advanced. The development of agricultural technology most likely came about as a result of difficulty in gathering sufficient quantities of foodstuffs. As people migrated, they brought this agricultural technology with them; thus the movement of many technologies mirrors the movement of peoples.

Movement is so important to the rise and fall of societies and linked to patterns of environmental degradation. For this reason, it is important to know and understand why such movement occurs.

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last updated 03/26/03