The recorded history of the Dominican Republic began when the Genoa-born navigator Christopher Columbus, working for the Spanish Crown, happened upon a large island in the region of the western Atlantic Ocean that later came to be known as the Caribbean. It was inhabited by the Taíno, an Arawakan people, who variously called their island Ayiti, Bohio, or Quisqueya (Kiskeya). Columbus promptly claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, naming it La Isla Espanola ("the Spanish Island"), later Latinized to Hispaniola. What would become the Dominican Republic was the Spanish Captaincy General of Santo Domingo until 1821, except for a time as a French colony from 1795 to 1809. It was then part of a unified Hispaniola with Haiti from 1822 until 1844. In 1844, Dominican independence was proclaimed and the republic, which was often known as Santo Domingo until the early 20th century, maintained its independence except for a short Spanish occupation from 1861 to 1865 and occupation by the United States from 1916 to 1924.
The culture of the Dominican Republic is a diverse mixture of different influences from around the world. The Dominican people and their customs have origins consisting predominately in a European cultural basis, with both African and native Taíno influences. The Dominican Republic was the site of the first European settlement in the Western Hemisphere, namely Santo Domingo founded in 1493. As a result of over five centuries of Spanish presence in the island, the core of Dominican culture is derived from the culture of Spain. The European inheritances include ancestry, language, traditions, law, the predominant religion and the colonial architectural styles. Soon after the arrival of Europeans, African people were imported to the island to serve as slave labor. The fusion of European, native Taino, and African traditions and customs contributed to the development of present-day Dominican culture.