Mapping Europe's Influence on Geographic North America

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  • 00:00 Language
  • 1:43 Family Structure
  • 2:50 Religion
  • 3:48 Architecture
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson discusses Europe's influence on North America. It specifically highlights this influence in the areas of language, family structure, religion, and architecture.

Language

If you live in North America, you are daily influenced by Europe. Even if you've never been there, even if you don't know a word of German, French, or Spanish, you still have some very European stuff floating around in your life. Just like I never met my great-grandmother, but I'm told I act and look a whole bunch like her, we North Americans have some serious European traits.

To support this claim, let's take a look at how Europe has affected North America, specifically in the areas of language, family structure, religion, and architecture. As we do this, let's keep in mind that we're discussing modernized North America.

Let's kick things off with language. As an American, my primary language is English. However, my rather distant ancestors, many of whom were Cherokee, definitely didn't speak English. In fact, not until England's settlement at Jamestown did English really come onto the scene. For this reason, every time I utter an English word, I am proving Europe's effect on North America.

Along the same lines, the native people of Canada also had English thrust upon them by Europe. However, not just English, French also got into the game. The famous city of Quebec (or K' beck, as it's often pronounced) was founded by the French in the early 17th century. Since then, words like bonjour and au revoir have dominated the scene.

Moving into Mexico and Central America, we see where Spain took charge. As Spaniards like Cortés came and conquered the native populations, the ancient languages died. Rising to take their place were words like hola and adiós.

Family Structure

Moving away from language, we come to family structure. If we could jump in a time machine and travel back about 700 years, we'd find that most of the native populations of North America lived in tribal settings. They didn't live in neat little nuclear families, or parents and their children as an independent social unit, like we do today.

Adding to this, many of North America's ancient people groups practiced polygamy, or having more than one spouse. For instance, the Sioux of America's Great Plains were a polygamous people. So were the aristocrats of Mexico's ancient Aztec society. However, once Europe stepped onto the scene, this too faded away. In fact, several North American countries deem polygamy illegal. Yes, some fringe groups still practice it, but it's definitely not the norm.

In short, rather than sticking with what North American families looked like before guys like Columbus and the Puritans came on the scene, most of us have adopted Europe's Anglo-Saxon Protestant view that a marriage should only contain two spouses, and families are independent units that live on their own.

Religion

The traditionally-prominent religions of North America also have their roots in Europe. For instance, unlike the native inhabitants of very early America, most of us are not polytheistic, meaning we don't worship more than one god. Instead, we've adopted the European tradition of monotheism, or worshiping one god. Whether Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, or Muslim, most North American faiths ascribe allegiance to one god.

Adding to this, the European country that first settled the individual parts of the country also has lots to do with which religion is predominantly practiced there. For example, Catholicism has a very large following in Canada. This is a direct result of it being colonized by very, very Catholic France. Along the same lines, Mexico, colonized by Catholic Spain, claims Catholicism as its predominant faith. Gone are the faiths of its ancient ancestors; in their places are the religions of Europe.

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