Posted by: bestoffair | March 24, 2010

Picture on the blog theme, 1491

I’m really enjoying the picture at the top of the theme that I chose for the blog.  This picture is what I imagine (with NO basis whatsoever) that Andean farms looked like in or before Inka times.  Why am I thinking about Inka times?  I am reading a book about it!

I enjoy reading two things – popular fiction, whether it is geared toward a female audience or a general one, and nonfiction, most especially these days about pre-Columbian American civilization.  The other book I loved along the same vein was A Voyage Long and Strange.  Oh, the current book I’m referring to is 1491.  Hearts and loves it.

I volunteer (or did volunteer until the great ACL tear) at the Science and History Museum.  We have a dinosaur exhibit – actually a prehistory exhibit – that goes all the way up to the Ice Age and prehistoric man.  This is my favorite section to work.  It is interesting to see how many things I “learned” in school that have either been disproven by new research or were never based in any sort of reality to begin with!  And kids are still being taught this shit!*

Not to get all epistemological (why does that have to sound like “episiotomy?”) but how do we know what we “know” now is right and what we “knew” before was wrong?  Evidence, I guess, and that is why I just adore 1491.  In very few cases does Mann state with certainty, “This is what happened.”  He does often say, “This is what could have happened.”  And the could-haves have some great logical emotional truth (or truthiness) to them.

While it would be nice to know what life was like in pre-columbian America, Mann’s great contribution is that he suggests different ways of interpreting the same material, or, in many cases, brings up other information that has been ignored or suppressed for whatever reason by historians.  (I just read a discussion on <a href=”http://www.historiann.com/”>Historiann</a&gt; grumping about this same thing – about how American historians would have lots more material to work with if they would learn Spanish or learn French to look at records other than the same tired mid-Atlantic ones.  You know, because Boston is where America (the European one) started.)  In other words, it makes more sense to me to suggest that the people here were not lazy and not ignorant, and that they had produced societies of reasonable complexity which were decimated by disease even before Europeans got to them than to say that an entire continent’s worth of people were all worthless and dumb.  It makes no sense to me that people – PEOPLE – would not have evolved past the most rudimentary hunter-gatherer societies in 12,000 years.  (Incidentally, white – or other color, but mostly white – assholes who complain about Native American communities asserting their rights that these “Injuns have only been here 10,000 years anyway.”  Yes.  I heard someone say this once with not a trace of irony.)

Being taught about American history in this way, and truly the clash of civilizations being reduced to a milquetoast version of what must have happened, has never sat well with me.  Thank you, Mann, for giving me an explanation that truly makes sense to me.

* Will expound on said shit later.  This is a book review, fools.

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