Main article: History of North America
North America was first settled by humans about 15 thousand years ago. The dominant theory is that humans first arrived by the Bering Land Bridge, from Siberia to Alaska and later all the way down to present-day Chile and Argentina. While North American civilizations were not as large and complex as those found in Afro-Eurasia, the Olmecs appeared circa 300 AD in present-day central Mexico. The Maya city-states experienced a flourishing of culture, making important discoveries in astronomy and mathematics that the Old World would only make hundreds of years later. The Mayan civilization collapsed around 900 AD because of climate change or crop failure. When Spaniards first arrived at the turn of the 16th century, the Aztec Empire was at its peak under Montezuma II. Hernán Cortés led an army of Spaniards and Tlaxcalans to defeat the Aztecs in 1519. Spain subsequently gained large areas of land from present-day Oregon to Tierra del Fuego. While Spain dominated the colonial race in the 16th and 17th centuries, Britain's Thirteen Colonies developed into an economic powerhouse with a thriving middle class. French colonies in Louisiana and Quebec were taken by Great Britain following the French and Indian War, leaving North America dominated by two colonial powers.
Increased turmoil in the British colonies resulted in the American War of Independence in 1775. Poor British leadership and innovative Patriot fighting tactics led to a separatist victory, and the United States of America became an independent nation in 1783. In the 1790s, slaves in Haiti succeeded in creating an independent nation. Turmoil in the Spanish colonies culminated in an armed struggle for independence. Mexico became independent in 1821, as did eventually the Central American states. The Mexican-American War, sparked by the US annexation of Texas , resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, with United States gaining control of large areas past the Rockies, including what is now California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
By the time Abraham Lincoln had been elected President of the United States, the dichotomy between the agricultural South and industrial North had reached a boiling point Southern states declared independence as the Confederate States of America, and the United States Civil War dragged on for five years, becoming the deadliest conflict in US history. Initial Confederate gains were eroded and the industrial power of the North overpowered the South. Following the Civil War in the United States, slavery was abolished in all US states with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Rise of the United StatesEdit
Canada gained Dominion status in the British Empire in 1867, and westward expansion into the Canadian Praries continued through the 20th century. Vancouver became an important trading city for products shipped into and out of the Canadian heartland, as well as a major stop for fishermen and international shipping. The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in a United States victory and its establishment as a global power. The turn of the 20th century saw the rise of American industry, especially steel and oil. Waves of Italian, German and Eastern European immigrants created poverty in major urban areas, particularly New York and Chicago. Xenophobia in Canada and the United States helped slow the arrival of immigrants.
World War I began in 1914, and fresh troops and resources from North America were a critical factor in turning the tide against the Central Powers. Following the First World War, the United States turned to a brief period of isolationism. The intense economic prosperity of the 1920s helped make the US Prohibition more palatable, though the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was repealed by the 23rd after a decade of rising crime and gangsterism. The Great Depression was the result of irresponsible 1920s fiscal policies worldwide, and coupled with the Dust Bowl was the greatest economic distater in global history. Economic revival came with World War II, when the US and Canadian economies were mobilized to provide for the war effort. 7 December 1941 saw the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor and US entry into the war. Allied victory was at the cost of enormous destruction in Europe, while North American industry was untouched.
In the years following 1945, the United States and Canada experienced sustained economic growth, achieving the world's highest standards of living. The Cold War created an immense drive for scientific and technological innovation, putting America at the forefront of cutting-edge development. Mexico and Central America also experienced growth that was limited, due to earlier turmoil and instability and a reliance on raw materials export. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States remained as the world's sole superpower. The 1990s had the US dominate culturally and economically, leading global economic revolutions with financial deregulation and the Internet. The 2000s saw the rise of Mexico as an economic power, large-scale Latin-American immigration into the United States, and a rise in standards of living in Latin American countries. Deregulation in the United States resulted in the "Great Recession of 2007-2012, which led to a rethink of economic policy.
North America has a highly varied geography, dominated by large areas of mountains, plains, deserts, taiga, tundra, and temperate forest. It is bounded in the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the north by the Arctic Ocean.
MountainsEditAmong the most prominent features is the North American Cordillera. At its northern tip, it includes Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, which is the highest point in North America at over 6,100 meters (20,300 feet). The mountains continue into Canada, where they are known as the Canadian Rockies. Around the US-Canadian border, the mountain chain begins to widen and splits into different ranges. This includes the Cascade Range in the northwestern United States, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and the Sierra Nevada in California and Nevada. The area between these major ranges is known as the Basin and Range, and occupies almost a sixth of the United States. Most of the basins drain into the Colorado River or evaporate in endorheic basins.
In Mexico, the North American Cordillera divides into the Sierra Madre, which consists of the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental. The Sierra Madre Occidental is somewhat larger and contains Mexico's highest peak,The Appalachian Mountains are located in the eastern United States. They are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, estimated at 200-300 million years old. Their highest peak is Mount Mitchell, in North Carolina, which has an elevation of over 6,500 feet (1,900 meters). This is also the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. They stretch from northern Georgia to Maine.
North America contains some of the largest river systems in the world. The Mississippi River flows through the heartlands of the United States and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the site of several Civil War battles and is currently a major trade route. The Missouri and Ohio Rivers, which branch off of it, connect much of the eastern United States. The Missouri-Mississippi river system is the longest river in North America and the third longest in the world.
The Rio Grande, known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico, runs along much of the United States-Mexico border in Texas. It is often used by illegal immigrants to enter the United States. The Yukon River system in northern Canada and Alaska is often used by gold miners and the timber industry. The Columbia River in Washington state is a major hydroelectric generator. The Colorado River in the American Southwest is famous for having carved out the Grand Canyon over many millions of years.
Biomes and climateEdit
The biomes and climates of North America vary widely, from arid deserts to arctic tundra. Most of Alaska and northern Canada is dominated by tundra, with permafrost frozen year-round. Farther south of this are extensive pine forests of the taiga biome, giving Canada the world's second largest lumber reserves (after Russia). The mountains of the American West are either a taiga or alpine climate, depending on elevation. Farther south along the mountain ranges, a semi-arid and arid climate takes over. The Mojave and Sonora deserts display typical basin and range topography, with an arid climate that is still wetter than most of the world's deserts.
The Pacific coast has a Mediterranean climate, getting colder and wetter as one progresses north. The Olympic peninsula in Washington state is home to some of the world's only temperate rain forests. Farther south in Mexico, the climate transitions to a tropical climate dominated by jungle.
The interior of the United States and Canada contain the Great Plains, which is one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. This vast steppe continues for thousands of miles, from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Texas and Oklahoma. Vast underwater aquifers help sustain the "breadbasket of the United States", which features mostly corn and wheat production.
Farther to the east of the United States are temperate deciduous forests. The environment there is very similar to that of Western Europe and European settlers found it easiest to adapt to conditions there. While tree cover was reportedly continuous from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River prior to colonization and large settlement, today the United States Northeast is one of the most built up areas of the country. An axis of urban growth from Washington, DC to Boston includes cities such as Philadelphia and New York and contains more than 50 million people. Farther south, the climate is warmer and characterized as subtropical. To the north, including the Canadian maritime provinces, the climate is colder and transitions into a taiga.
North America contains the countries of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. Additionally, the nations of France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have territories in North America.