Part 1 of 5: The “Eur-Am” Connection
Although the average American is now more likely to be taught the story of Leif Ericsson than that of Christopher Columbus, most everyone still knows that Columbus sailed on his fateful voyage in 1492. Despite the debate over whether this constitutes the Discovery of America, no one can deny that the history of America is bisected by this event.
It was only during the subsequent period of Spanish, French, Dutch, and English exploration and colonization known as the “Age of Discovery” that European traders and merchants, priests and farmers, began the taming of North America, previously barren of any significant civilization.
The “Pre-Columbian Era” was over. The Modern World had begun. American history was truly underway.
This connection between America and Europe is well recognized, but how many Americans are as familiar with other equally important ties between the two hubs of Western civilization?
For instance, how many adults can even date the signing of the Magna Carta—one of the pivotal events in the development of English politics that precedes and underlies the emergence of the American way of government? How many understand the roots of religious freedom in the United States in the violent struggles of the Reformation?
These are but two of the vital links to European history that condition our lives here and now.
America’s connection to Europe is real, and deserving of attention.
When America’s Founders announced their rebellion with the resounding cry “No taxation without representation!” it was the English tradition of limited or constitutional monarchy they were relying on. It was the heritage of the Magna Carta (of 1215), and related developments in Common Law and Parliamentary government, which underpinned much of their thinking and made the American Revolution possible.
The institutions of the new nation were also shaped by lessons learned from European political history. It was the Founding Fathers’ understanding of both the dangers of religious tyranny and benefits of toleration—afforded by a range of examples from the Old World, which animated the creation of unique laws safeguarding religious and intellectual freedom.
America’s very identity is derived from a European context. Even when Americans have rebelled against their “mother continent,” it was thanks to ideas made possible by a European parentage.
To understand this persistent historical bond, one must understand the irreplaceable chapters of man’s development in Europe, and one must trace the parallel development of America and its parent Civilization. In other words, one must investigate the “Eur-Am Connection.”
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…for Part 2 of “Why Study European History?” and find out more about Powell History’s upcoming 20-lecture teleseminar and iHistory series on the story of Europe.