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CSET Review of Colonial Disease and Population Loss

The European and Asian lifestyle included a long history of sharing close quarters with domesticated animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and various domesticated fowl, which had resulted in epidemic diseases unknown in the Americas. Thus the large-scale contact with Europeans after 1492 introduced novel germs to the indigenous people of the Americas. Epidemics of smallpox (1518, 1521, 1525, 1558, 1589), typhus (1546), influenza (1558), diphtheria (1614) and measles (1618) swept ahead of initial European contact, killing between 10 million and 112 million people, about 95% to 98% of the indigenous population. This population loss and the cultural chaos and political collapses it caused greatly facilitated both colonization of the land and the conquest of the native civilizations.  This may be valuable to know as part of your CSET review.

For the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) you may also wish to know that estimates of the population of the Americas at the time Columbus arrived have varied tremendously. This population debate has often had ideological underpinnings. Some have argued that contemporary estimates of a high pre-Columbian indigenous population are rooted in a bias against aspects of Western civilization and/or Christianity. Robert Royal writes that "estimates of pre-Columbian population figures have become heavily politicized with scholars who are particularly critical of Europe often favoring wildly higher figures." Since civilizations rose and fell in the Americas before Columbus arrived, the indigenous population in 1492 was not necessarily at a high point, and may have already been in decline. Indigenous populations in most areas of the Americas reached a low point by the early twentieth century, and in a number of cases started to climb again.

As a CSET test-taker, you may also wish to know that the number of deaths caused by European-indigenous warfare has proven difficult to determine. In his book The Wild Frontier: Atrocities during the American-Indian War from Jamestown Colony to Wounded Knee, amateur historian William M. Osborn sought to tally every recorded atrocity in the area that would eventually become the continental United States, from first contact (1511) to the closing of the frontier (1890), and determined that 9,156 people died from atrocities perpetrated by Native Americans, and 7,193 people died from those perpetrated by Europeans. Osborn defines an atrocity as the murder, torture, or mutilation of civilians, the wounded, and prisoners. Michno estimates 21,586 dead, wounded, and captured civilians and soldiers for the period of 18501890 alone.

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The above CSET-related article on Colonial Disease and Population Loss is predominantly excerpted from Wikipedia and used under permission of the GNU license agreement.  It is provided as a free CSET study resource for those seeking additional review on Colonial Disease and Population Loss.  Please note, however, that it is not written specifically for CSET prep purposes, and does not cover all material needed to pass the test.

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