Thursday, March 30, 2006

From behind 1.93

European invaders of America had a weapon in disease. The demographic collapse that took place within decades of 1492 was proportionally the greatest human death toll in history - removing about nine-tenths of the New World's people, or close to one-fifth of all mankind - yet this huge fact has still to penetrate general knowledge and standard reference works. As the historian Francis Jennings wrote in 1975: "Europeans did not find a wilderness here...they made one."
What did the New World really look like on the eve of its invasion from Europe? This question has been addressed before - notably by Gordon Brotherston in his 1992 study Book of the Fourth World, which dwelt on pre-Columbian writing, mathematics and cosmology to portray the hemisphere as a teeming, interactive place, another Asia, linked by trade and cultural flow [...]
[In Mann's book] America ceases to be an Eden, an Eldorado, a blank slate on which to inscribe the desires of plunderers, religious cranks, utopians and abstruse cultural theorists. Instead it becomes a fully realized world from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, containing every kind of human society: hunter-gatherers, farmers and urban civilizations with cities rivalling those of contemporary Europe and Asia.
R. Wright, "Smoke at sea", TLS Feb 3 2006, 8.


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