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The Depopulation of Hispanic America after the Conquest

Listed author(s):
  • Massimo Livi-Bacci
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    During the century following Columbus's landfall, the population of America experienced a precipitous decline. A widely accepted explanation is the diffusion of Eurasian pathogens among the nonimmune Indians with the attendant catastrophic mortality. Contemporary observers-conquerors, administrators, missionaries, and chroniclers-while mentioning disease among factors in the decline, were convinced that the demographic collapse was due to a plurality of factors, such as serfdom and the confiscation of labor, excessive work, economic and social dislocation, wars and conflicts, and impediments to reproduction. Reconsideration of historical evidence supports the notion that new pathologies cannot satisfactorily explain the varying demographic impacts of Conquest. The Tainos of the Antilles were on the verge of extinction before the first smallpox epidemics struck the islands in 1518; the Guaranís of Paraguay were flourishing in spite of recurrent epidemics; in Peru civil wars were the major cause of decline during the first two decades of Spanish rule. A reappraisal of the Indian catastrophe must consider-together with the impact of the new viruses-the modes and circumstances of European domination. Copyright 2006 The Population Council, Inc..

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    Article provided by The Population Council, Inc. in its journal Population and Development Review.

    Volume (Year): 32 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 2 ()
    Pages: 199-232

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    Handle: RePEc:bla:popdev:v:32:y:2006:i:2:p:199-232
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