the Americas

The Americas (in Spanish: América) are, depending on your perspective, a continent or the collective name of two continents (North and South America) located in the Western Hemisphere. For those who consider them two continents, they are separated at the isthmus of Panama, in Panama. The archipelago of the Caribbean is also considered part of the Americas.

It’s estimated that humans first settled the Americas about 20,000 years ago. The initial group were likely seafarers from northeastern Asia who wound their way around and along the Pacific coast; later, settlers crossed into the Americas over the Bering land bridge. By about 16,000 years ago, humans had settled throughout North America, and by 14,000 years ago they had reached the southernmost tip of South America.

Numerous cultures and civilisations have existed throughout the Americas ever since. Some of the best known include the Mayans and the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, and the Inca Empire centred in the Andes.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, and shortly afterwards began an era of intense colonisation, where the Americas were carved up and invaded by a range of European powers (the Spanish, Portuguese, French, British and Dutch). The indigenous Amerindian populations were devastated not only by literal violence, but also by introduced diseases (particularly smallpox), and became subjugated and oppressed by the colonial powers in spite of at times inspiring resistance.

Over a period of hundreds of years, many hundreds of thousands of enslaved African people were forcibly brought to the Americas through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The fight to end slavery took different forms in different countries, from a heroic revolt in Haiti to the American Civil War to the British phase-out of slavery (with compensation paid to slave owners 🤮). There continues to be a huge African diaspora across the Americas today, particularly in Caribbean nations and countries like the USA and Brazil.

The modern history of the Americas also involves high levels of immigration to many countries there after independence. As a result, there are many people throughout the Americas who trace their ancestors back to Italy, Ger­ma­ny, Eastern Europe, Japan, China, the Middle East, India… (and many other countries/regions of course!). The cultural influence of these diverse groups of people can be seen in many ways throughout the Americas, like in linguistic borrowings, cuisines and drinking culture (e.g. beer-brewing).

As you would expect the Americas are geographically diverse, with at least three major mountain ranges (the Andes, the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains), rainforests (e.g. the Amazon), deserts (e.g. the Atacama or the Mojave), tropical beaches, glaciers, tundra, woods, grasslands, etc.