Native American Residents and European Explorers: How Did Cultural Exchange Occur?

By: Tom Malone

How did cultural exchange occur between Native American residents and European conquerors upon first contact?

This is the question I want my students to tackle. By utilizing documents and artifacts from both sides of the cultural exchange, students will be able to develop a multi-perspective viewpoint on European/Native American contact as opposed to the Eurocentric viewpoint that most students in the U.S. experience.

For this academic adventure, students will look at European exploration documents (Columbus’ journal entries, European artists’ depictions of initial contact, financial records, etc.) and Native American resident documents (Aztec interpretations, oral history that has since been written, paintings depicting a Native American perspective, etc.). Students will explore an equal number of European and Native American documents. These documents will not be nation-specific, but will look at contact across the North American and South American Atlantic Coast.

The exercise will allow students to develop a more complete view of this segment of history by developing perspectives from various lenses. Students can explore narratives from both sides, find textual and visual evidence to show these statements, and interpret these observations in order to develop their worldview more completely.

Through group discussions and written analysis, students will be able to share their experiences with these documents and artifacts.

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