The famous explorer Christopher Columbus made the European discovery of the Island of Hispaniola in 1492. Columbus, who was Italian, sailed for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and he claimed the lands he discovered in the Western Hemisphere for Spain. The Spanish government soon sent colonists to occupy the land, seize the gold and silver and other riches from the people they found living in this new world. Soon, Spanish conquerers invaded the lands which are now Mexico, Central and South America. They killed many of the native peoples and enslaved others to work in the mines. The colonists sent great ships filled with gold and silver back to Spain. In order to maintain their claim and control of the new territory, Spain sent colonists who attempted to farm the land.
What became of the native people?
In addition to reading the history of the European colonial empires, you may wish to learn about what's happening today, in the European countries and throughout the world.
While you're reading about Hispaniola in the 1500s, listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation - BBC World News -
For music, may we recommend:
On the BBC site, select "Listen to Radio 2", then choose "Alex Lester Show"
Read the premier source of the world news:
Where is the Island of Hispaniola?
Hispaniola is an island in the Caribbean Sea, the sea which lies south of the present state of Florida. Hispaniola is the large island to the east of the island of Cuba. The island of Hispaniola is now divided into the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Can you find Hispaniola on the map?
Can you find the nation of Spain, the country from which Columbus sailed?
What ocean did Columbus cross?
(ON THE SITE, CLICK "SATELLITE", LOCATE HISPANIOLA BELOW FLORIDA, TO THE RIGHT OF CUBA, NEXT TO PUERTO RICO, MARKED "PR" ON THE SATELLITE VIEW)
We know about the Spanish colony on Hispaniola from reading the excellent journal of Bartolome de Las Casas. Las Casas was an eye-witness to the devastation of the plague. His journal is one of the valuable surviving records of the Spanish colonial period in the New World. Without this contribution to history and literature, we would know far less about the colonization of the Western Hemisphere by Europeans. Journals are among the most valuable of all forms of literature.
Have you read any journals?
The journal of Lewis and Clark describes the American exploration of the west. A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe, is an historical fiction that describes another famous catastrophe, the plague which struck London in 1664-1665.
Have you written a journal?
Perhaps your journal could become a valuable document for future generations.
Of course, Las Casas wrote his journal in his native language, Spanish. Only with the help of linguists who are able to read and translate languages are we ourselves able to read and understand the valuable contents of journals and other documents written in other languages. Because the explorers and colonists who seized Central and South American spoke Spanish, most of the people in those regions speak Spanish today. The people of Brazil speak Portuguese, the language of another European colonial power.
How many languages do you speak? Will you be learning other languages? Would learning other languages be helpful to you?
The Spanish colonists attempted to grow sugar cane, plantain, and other crops they transplanted from Spain and other Spanish colonies. At first the colony on Hispaniola prospered. Then, in 1518-1519, a plague struck and devasted the farms and communities on Hispaniola.
What is horticulture?
What is plantain? Was this crop related to the cause of the plague?
Can you guess what the plague was? Why did it happen?
The study of plant life is called botany. There are many branches to each major field of study. Botany is itself a branch of a larger field, biology, which is the study of all living things.
In this case, botany helps us understand the physical attributes of the plantain plants and gives us clues as to why plantain plants might have contributed to the outbreak of a type of "plague". What type of plague could it be, and how did the importation of plantain plants contribute to it?
The plague was a fantastic infestation of fireants! The fireants invaded the fields and homes of the Spanish colonists. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the plantain they imported from other Spanish colonies had aphids, tiny insects, attached to the roots. Aphids draw sap from the roots of the plantain plants, and the fireants eat secretions from the aphids. This "importation" of aphids caused a huge population explosion of fireants, which then had a great deal more food to eat. The fireants became very aggressive to protect their aphid colonies - they attacked the Spaniards when the farmers attempted to harvest the plantain.
What are aphids?
What happens when non-native species of plants, animals or insects are introduced into new environments?
Entomology is the study of insects. Only an expert in the study of entomogy could have figured out how the importation of plantain plants also brought in aphids, which in turn caused the population explosion of fireants. Entomology is one of the many branches of zoology.
What is zoology?
Who is the expert entomologist who solved the 500-year-old mystery of the plague that attacked the Spanish Colony of Hispaniola?
Does this episode in history raise philosophical questions? Were the fireants protecting their own "colonies" of non-native species, just like the Spaniards were?
Should we reconsider the European colonization of the Western Hemisphere, in light of the history of the devastation of the native peoples and the introduction of slavery and other less attractive aspects of history?
What we refer to as "technology" is often the application of many different sciences to achieve a new invention. We have inherited the knowledge of these sciences from the men and women who studied the physical world before we added our own discoveries to the accumulated total of human knowledge.
What sciences did Columbus use to advance his discoveries? Of course he used astronomy, navigation tools, maps, and advances in shipbuilding to help him pursue his goals.
What sciences do we use in our studies? We're using new technologies right now - computers, the internet and software and all of the applications of physics which give us the technologies based on electronics, to learn about the fireant plague on Hispaniola in 1518.
Can you solve the mystery of the theory of Consilience?
What does this theory say, and how is it applicable to our study of the fireant plague?
Professor E.O. Wilson has developed a theory, called Consilience, which holds that all knowledge is related and interrelated. Dr. Wilson makes a strong case for the idea that every field of study is connected to every other field. All of the history of our scientific study has tended to separate each area of knowledge into distinct fields, when in reality all knowledge is interrelated.
Therefore, when we study history (Spanish colonization) we must understand the impact of the natural world - fireants. To understand the sudden plague of fireants, we must understand entomology (insects) and their relationship to each other - ants and aphids - and the relationship of aphids to plants (botany). By seeing the relationships, we see why the introduction of plantain with the aphids on the roots caused the fireant population explosion.
Dr. Wilson's theory of consilience is one of the one interesting concepts I have ever studied.
In an educational context, we might refer to Dr. Wilson's theory of consilience as a form of "teaching across curricula" - that is, using multiple subjects or disciplines to teach and learn all aspects of the material.
The next page of this website contains a detailed unit plan, including lesson plans and objectives, for further exploration of the colonization of the Western Hemisphere, the effects of colonialization on native peoples, the histories of the European colonizing powers, and scientific examination of the environment of the colonial world. Click in the column to the right to learn more. . .
Who is the person who solved the mystery of the plague of fireants that attacked the Spanish Colony of Hispaniola, and the link to the importation of plantain plants which introduced aphids, thereby causing the population explosion of fireants?
Edward O. Wilson
We sometimes forget that all of our wonderful scientific knowledge flows from the studies of dedicated and intelligent researchers who study the natural world and all of the other subjects of interest to us. One such researcher is E.O. Wilson, the man who solved the mystery of the fireant plague of Hispaniola. Dr. Wilson is a research professor and museum curator at Harvard University, and an internationally - known environmentalist. He has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice - for his book The Ants (1990, with Bert Holldobler) and for On Human Nature (1978). Professor Wilson's book Consilience is one of the best books I have ever read. The theory of consilience is described in the column to the left. In the spring of 2005, my husband and I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Wilson and hearing him address a group of students and faculty at the University of Michigan - Flint. In his discussion, E.O. Wilson described his study of the fireant plague of Hispaniola, which was published in the journal Nature January 6, 2005. After reading several of his books and hearing Professor Wilson speak, I can understand why his is considered one of the world's brilliant and most influential scientists.
You may wish to click on a link on the biography page to listen to a radio interview with E.O. Wilson.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE INDEX TO THE JOURNAL NATURE. E.O.WILSON IS CITED 111 TIMES. (SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE NEEDED TO READ ENTIRE ARTICLES.)