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1607 Cycle Two

The World of 1607 - Cycle Two
"Their sitting at meate," Theodor de Bry engraving.

“Their sitting at meate,” Theodor de Bry engraving.
Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Collection.

Virginia, 1607

The people living in eastern Virginia in 1607, collectively called Powhatans, had a culture that was low-tech but ingenious.  Powhatan society was a chiefdom, with districts ruled by chiefs who answered to a higher chief: Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas.  There were less than 20,000 people in the Virginia coastal plain. Nevertheless, that small population used every bit of their territory, for the Powhatans were serious foragers as well as farmers. Eastern Virginia is a combination of waterways and fingers of land, with the lower Chesapeake Bay running through it from north to south. The Powhatans used the waterways as highways for travel by canoe. Towns and farmlands fronted the rivers, behind which lay “public” forest, accessible to everyone.

London and Jamestown in 1607

In 1607 London had an estimated population of 200,000, making it the largest and most important city in Britain. In the words of a European traveler who visited the city, London was the “centre of trade for everything the world has to offer … it bears daily such a store of riches of the East and the West that it now vies for second place among the trade centres of the Christian world.”  In one sense, London gave birth to Jamestown, since the Virginia Company was largely composed of London shareholders with money to burn in a risky venture: the founding of the new colony. From its founding in 1606 until its dissolution in 1624, the Virginia Company of London ran Virginia.

China Under the Emperor Wanli

In 1607 China was a very wealthy and powerful nation ruled by the Ming dynasty Emperor Wanli, who reigned from 1573 to 1620. At over 150 million, the population of China exceeded that of Europe. Chinese goods, especially porcelains and silks, were hugely popular in overseas markets, but they remained scarce in Europe until European ships began traveling to China in the 16th century.  Europeans found that the key to the China trade was silver. For a time, perhaps as much as half the silver mined by the Spanish in the New World found its way to China.   America affected China in other ways as well.  Chinese agriculture was transformed by the introduction of American crops like maize, a plant that would grow in marginal land where traditional Chinese staples would not.

The Century of Genius

John Smith's Map of Virginia, 1612.  Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

John Smith’s Map of Virginia, 1612.
Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

The Jamestown era marked the overlap of two remarkable periods of human accomplishment. On one side of 1607 is the Renaissance, with geniuses like Copernicus, Erasmus, Luther, Machiavelli, and Gutenberg.  The other side of 1607 saw the birth of the new science and its bitter rivalry with religion in the struggle for truth.  Galileo, born in the year of Michelangelo¹s death (1564), and the other exponents of the new science retained a direct link with the aesthetic element that had dominated the preceding age. The assembly of geniuses who present a collective portrait of the spirit of the age in 1607 provide convincing testimony that the culture of that day largely reflected the same structural laws as our own, confirming the view of the 1600s as the “first modern century.”

Cultural Encounters: Artistic Hybridization and the Catholic Missions in Asia and Latin America

In the early 17th century, Europeans penetrated deeply into the non-European world, and Catholic missionaries advanced even further into this world than Europe’s soldiers, settlers and merchants. Throughout Asia and the Americas, artworks made by non-Europeans responded to these missionary incursions, resulting in paintings, sculptures, textiles, and ceramics that are often deeply hybrid in nature.  These paintings, textiles, and other artworks from the early period of contact teach us that art can serve as an international language and a way of bridging cultures‹as the missionaries hoped the works would. But art can do the opposite, showing that different meanings can coexist within a single image.
Concepts of Time, Space, and Motion in Science, Philosophy, and Art

The consciousness of ages in the history of culture is determined by the prevalent intuitions of time, space and motion.  West European thought inherited from classical antiquity the connection of these ideas with the life of the cosmos and the distinction between the eternal and the transient.  The 17th century was the beginning of the Modern Age.  There was a transition from “the world of things to the world of processes.”  The experience of time became one of the most fundamental feelings of the age.  The Modern Age marked the birth of science in the present sense: the concept of science resting on laws and experiment. The evolution of West European artistic culture from antiquity to the modern day follows the vector of increasing mastery of these values, moving from the clear predominance of spatial forms of creativity to the leading role of space-time and temporal forms of art.
Rights and Nationhood: The Beginnings

From the American Revolution to the early 20th century, the establishment of Jamestown was identified as the origin of the American struggle for liberty and, therefore, the foundation of nationhood. However, many later historians have challenged this view.  Elizabethan and Jacobean Englishmen defined their freedom in terms of duties more than rights.  Only later did the idea of individual rights come to dominate the meaning of liberty.  Jamestown also played a role in the development of the concept of natural rights.  The Virginia Company helped precipitate the extensive Jacobean discussion of the natural-law rights of the native peoples of the Chesapeake. This discussion ultimately had implications not just for Indians but for all people