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August 17, 2007

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Breana Pennington

I found this article very thought provoking in regards to the various questions that were posed, and the connections that were made linking past decisions to present actions. Until this article I had never thought of vast areas of the Americas as having been altered for specific purposes by the indians. Although Mann touched briefly on the affects this would have on current enviornmentalist legislation, I would have liked him to have gone more in depth on this topic. Furthermore, there was an in-depth discussion of how diseases wiped out the Indian populations, yet Mann barely mentioned the horrible affects of the wars that went on between the whites and indians. Mann talks of Harnando de Soto going to Indian villages and taking what he wanted as if the Indians stood by and allowed this to happen without any struggle. When factoring not only disease but also warfare into the Indian population death toll it is much more likely that a high population of Indians existed at the time of the European discovery of the Americas.

Richard Schimbor

I also found the exclusion of an account of violence between conquistadores, settlers etc. and natives perplexing. By focusing on the biological causes of the depletion of the Indian populations, the author seems to ignore some of the atrocities performed by Columbus and others. Also, the argument that Ameroindian cultures were more populous and even more advanced technologically in many ways than Europeans is a complete departure from what is commonly accepted and taught as fact in schools. That being said, there are alot of statistical issuies with the way in which the total 1491 population was calculated, which was addressed within the paper. The section regarding the buffalo is also particularly interesting. The Indian population dominated the buffalo population until the Indians were killed off by plague, at which point the buffalo popualtion flourished, only to be brought to the brink of extinction by European settlers a few hundred years later. The ecological effect of humans is obvious in this scenario and it serves as a reminder that history does repeat itself.

David M. Aviles

Mann presents an intriguing insight into the possibilities of even greater histories behind the American aboriginals or the Native Americans. It never occurred to me the importance of how many inhabitants there may have been pre-Columbus. Mann delves into the intricacies of landscaping never before believed to be done by "Indian savages" who neither had the wheel nor metals. The size of their population was put into question based on development comparisons across continents. If they had such a large population, why hadn't they developed as much as other countries? Regardless, some evidence shows that they were well advanced and that some Europeans would have rather lived with them than their own people. That in itself is saying something despite the fact the raped, murdered, conquered and inadvertently spread numerous diseases killing an estimated 95% of the population. In the conclusion, Mann says that if our modern world is to replicate what was supposedly done by the natives, we would have to create the world's largest garden. I think I would have rather lived with the natives.

Ian Ebert

Whenever I thought about what the New World looked like before Columbus set sail, I always pictured in my head miles and miles of untouched plains, where Indians were constantly on the move to find food. Mann’s article certainly challenges my idea of what the new world was like before the settlers arrived. What I found most interesting in this article was that originally it was believed that the population of the new world prior to settlers arriving was somewhere around 5 million people. According to Mann this estimate is way off as he points out that the number is actually closer to 30-100 million people. Mann points out in the article that although those who inhabited the new world were far less technologically advanced compared to civilizations in Europe and Asia, the Native Americans were far more advanced in some agriculture aspects, and not just hunter-gatherers as they were thought to be before. I think David asked a great question in the post above, “If they had such a large population, why hadn't they developed as much as other countries?” My only answer would be that perhaps there was less competition in the new world over land and resources, which lead to less innovation because civilizations were not trying to conquer one another.

PeeDee

This essay leads me to question the very concept of progress. If Indian society was so large, and so well developed culturally and agriculturally, the opening up of contact with Europe was truly a world disaster ie. we are all poorer as a result. Because their environment didn't happen to engender immunity to porcine diseases they were simply wiped out. If a meteor landing on earth carried a nano-spoor that proceeded to convert all biological systems here to gray goo, we would suffer the same fate. So it goes.

Grace Park

I found this article quite interesting, because this article questions what we learned in our 4th grade history classes. I was taught that Indians were these very nature-oriented, kind people who were dominated by the "white people" who came to America. This article actually shows that the Indians were not so "nature-oriented" and actually did a lot more damage to the environment with all the burning to keep the land the way they wanted it to be. What I found most interesting was that when they asked the scientists, etc. who they would rather be in 1491, an Indian or European, they chose Indian. It was actually shocking because it goes directly against what we learned in our history classes. I believed it was the white people who came in an conquered, more than the Indians being much more forceful and better-off. This article seems to feel as though the Europeans were not as smart and efficient as the Indians. This article did seem bias against the Europeans; however, it was thought-provoking because it goes against what we previously believed about that time period.

Dwight Upshaw

This article is interesting because it does pose questions about the population before columbus set sail and what that meant for the ecological landscape before the colonization. I did find it striking how the focus was more on biological factors rather than violence, but I believe that this point is left out because Mann wants it to seem minute compared to the factors of disease, such as smallpox and influenza. I found it very interesting that Mann pointed out that Hernando de Soto's march through the east would have had a much smaller impact, if it were not for the pigs. Pigs carry viruses and were most likely the carrier of the plague that happened to kill most of the amerindian population. Before reading this article I had never thought as to why it would be important to study the society before Columbus because it has been pretty much forgotten. i also find it strange that I have never heard of the great debate over the population pre-columbian.

Dwight Upshaw

I found this article very interesting because of the questions it posed about the world pre-columbus and how the population of the Americas was farr different than what many have thought. I had never learned about the debate going on about the difference in population pre-columbus and found it interesting to see the differences in opinion. I found the story about De Soto to be particularly interesting because Mann pointed out that the worst part about De Soto's march throught the east was the fact that he brought pigs along. Pigs could have carried the plague throughout the new world killing off the vast majority of the population. I felt that this point was brought up to show the great effects of what could be seen more now as biological warfare rather than the violence that was seen between the amerindians and the europeans. If it weren't for the development of small pox and other diseases better known of as the plague, the demographics could have changed greatly.

Sarah Lim

The point about how the Indians developed many varieties of maize to withstand certain conditions and how this food was a staple for many countries was interesting because while the Indians gave others something beneficial, the Indians received disease and death from them. Those from the Mayflower depended on this corn to get through the seasons and it is almost ironic that while what the Indians developed allowed these people to survive, they only brought disease and death to the Indians.
Also the point about the pigs was interesting too. I did not realize that a few pigs could wreak so much destruction on a group of people.

Lauren Tombari  SID 17827555

Like many people in this discussion, Charles Mann’s “1491” struck me as a fascinating view on the various development trends among the continents, especially after reading the other articles. Dobyns’ estimate of a 1491 New World population of 112 million people is unlike anything I have ever heard before. I wonder if this number can be supported or disproven by comparing it to population per area in Australia, where “discoveries” and thus records and documents are more recent and perhaps more accurate? For instance, in Tasmania, Jared Diamond said that there were 4000 people in 1642 and we know the size of Tasmania, so could this be applied to figuring out the population of the Americas? What physical evidence is there to support the number of 112 million? Wouldn’t there be some evidence of the many towns Desoto saw? Would there be ~100 million graves from the 95% death rate?

To respond to some other people’s posts, I think that David Aviles really hit the central question that, given the large population, why wasn’t the rate of development greater than that of Eurasia? This seems to contradict Diamond’s assertion that having more people means more innovation. If much of the land was really the Indians’ own private orchard, providing them food without having to farm every year, why couldn’t some people specialize and develop more advanced technologies like metallurgy? While Mann says that Indians had to do everything on their own (while Europeans had contact with each other), does this imply that the Indians were “smarter”, even though the other articles assert that there is no racial IQ difference? Or does this imply that domestic animals and uniform agricultural climates are more important in determining development rates than population size?
Regarding the lack of specifics on Spanish brutality, I think that this can be explained by the title “1491”, meaning that the article is focusing on what it was like before European conquests. While there are many post 1491 references, these are merely to emphasize either how different Indian civilization was as a result of contact with Europeans or how many people had died.
In response to Grace Park’s comment that the Indians were “better off,” I would like to question this blanket statement. For example, I certainly don’t think I would be better off under Inca rulers, whose “totalitarian rule would have intrigued Stalin”, so that the survivors “might actually have been better off under Spanish rule” (Mann). The Indians also had their own diseases, just not plagues. I think that one of the points that Mann is trying to make is that Native American civilizations, like European civilizations, had both pros and cons, and you can’t have a simplistic view about them. Remember that the historians didn’t like having to choose between being an Indian and being a European. The New World is usually more egalitarian and more agriculturally advanced, especially considering the difficulties of agriculture on the “North-South axis”, while the Old World is more technologically advanced.

John Janda

I found this article to be quite interesting although a bit biased. One of the more interesting parts of this article involves the influence the Indians had on their land. I had always been under the impression that North America had remained relatively undisturbed until the arrival of Europeans. Indians, however, clearly had a tremendous impact on creating the environment that they lived in. I also found the calculations for the death rate to be quite interesting. It is very difficult to calculate potential effects of diseases and I am surprised that the death rate from diseases could be so high. I would have like to have seen further explanations about how such rates were determined.

John Janda

I found this article to be quite interesting although a bit biased. One of the more interesting parts of this article involves the influence the Indians had on their land. I had always been under the impression that North America had remained relatively undisturbed until the arrival of Europeans. Indians, however, clearly had a tremendous impact on creating the environment that they lived in. I also found the calculations for the death rate to be quite interesting. It is very difficult to calculate potential effects of diseases and I am surprised that the death rate from diseases could be so high. I would have like to have seen further explanations about how such rates were determined.

John Janda

I found this article to be quite interesting although a bit biased. One of the more interesting parts of this article involves the influence the Indians had on their land. I had always been under the impression that North America had remained relatively undisturbed until the arrival of Europeans. Indians, however, clearly had a tremendous impact on creating the environment that they lived in. I also found the calculations for the death rate to be quite interesting. It is very difficult to calculate potential effects of diseases and I am surprised that the death rate from diseases could be so high. I would have like to have seen further explanations about how such rates were determined.

John Janda

I found this article to be quite interesting although a bit biased. One of the more interesting parts of this article involves the influence the Indians had on their land. I had always been under the impression that North America had remained relatively undisturbed until the arrival of Europeans. Indians, however, clearly had a tremendous impact on creating the environment that they lived in. I also found the calculations for the death rate to be quite interesting. It is very difficult to calculate potential effects of diseases and I am surprised that the death rate from diseases could be so high. I would have like to have seen further explanations about how such rates were determined.

Kristin Rose

I find it intriguing that even though many of the formative works in the debate over the pre-colonial population of the Americas were published in the 1960s, it seems as though the traditional view that the Indians had a limited impact on their natural surroundings is still prevalent. Even 40 years after this debate began, it appears to me that most modern inhabitants of the Americas are unaware of the possibility that Amerindians had such large populations (pre-1492), as Mann speculates. However, unless additional, more conclusive, evidence is uncovered to answer this question on the nature of the Americas pre-1492, I think that this debate will remain unresolved.

Aseem Padukone

Perhaps the most thought provoking point in this entire piece was that made by Elizabeth Fenn when she mentions the importance of not how many people died, but rather, who lived. No matter how great the loss of human life, the fact remains that a whole culture and way of life disappeared along with these lives. We have a one dimensional way of viewing Native Americans, yet there is a whole different side to their existence which most of us do not understand, particularly how they managed to live so prosperously (relative to what we thought about them before).

In response to Richard's post, I don't think this reading undercuts the significance of the conquerers. I felt that the author made de Soto look like a complete fool when they talk about his embarassing expedition, and while he doesn't focus too much on the explorers themselves, that's the entire point of the piece. He intends on supplementing the conventional wisdom regarding explorers and their path of destruction through the Americas.

David Thomason

In response to some of the points about why Mann focuses on the biological factors as opposed to the violence, I don't this is done to belittle the atrocities committed by the Europeans by any means. I think Mann is just trying to make a point about how the devastation to the population led to a different America for Europeans than the one that existed in 1491. If the Americas really did have a population greater than Europe, as some suggest in the article, then the relatively small band of Europeans that came would have barely made a dent in the population by using violence alone. Disease having swept in to the areas ahead of the exploring Europeans depopulated areas and allowed animals and plants to thrive that were previously being manipulated for use by Indians. Before that, Indians cleared land and retooled whole ecosystems to suit their needs. I think maybe the point to take away from the article is that America was sustaining a strong society well before Europeans arrived that was able to use the natural resources to their advantage just like colonials eventually would. Disease was what caused the Amerindian population to drop and as a result, their manipulation of the environment was obscured.

Patrice Galatis

Prior to reading this article I, like a number of fellow students, was unaware of the degree to which the Indians had cultivated the land before Columbus’s arrival. Moreover, that the agricultural industry was so developed as to create environmental damage. Perhaps it is a symptom of white imperialism to assume that no race prior could have been as independent or self-serving as to cause the damage of the kind we are so familiar with today?

Like Kristin, I too was touched by the comments made by Elizabeth Fenn, who challenges the very foundations for the debate over the Indian population size pre-1941. She turns the discussion away from the political focus where the ‘low counters’ aim to down-play the moral discomfort associated with taking over an occupied land, and the ‘high counters’ to amplify it. Whilst Fenn recognizes that the importance lays in the fact that an entire culture was erased, I would have liked to see her acknowledge also that regardless of numbers, individuals suffered. Is the wrongness somehow minimized because 1, 2 or 10 million less than estimated suffered the trauma?

Huinan Zhang

Mann's article brought out an idea that I have never heard of before. He believe the New World was not as undeveloped as we thought. He believe there were cities existed and the population was about 30 to 100 million, which is a very astonishing number. After reading this article, I start to wonder how will the world look like right now if the New World did not suffer from the desease that European brought there. In that case, the strongest countries might not be the United States of European countries; instead, we might found leading countries in the world located in Central America.

Stephanie Pai

This article reminds me of a book I read in an American History class. The book was called "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. If I recall, in the first chapter, the author retells the history of the United States before and up to Columbus's discovery of the New World. It's somewhat ironic how some Americans celebrate Columbus Day, especially since Columbus basically exploited hundred of Indians when he arrived to the New World. After reading this article, I was most fascinated by the population number before 1491. It's hard to believe that the Western Hemisphere had somewhere between 90-112 million people before 1491. Now knowing the number, it's somewhat of a tragedy that diseases brought over from Europe killed half or more of these millions. Like Huinan Zhang, I also wonder what the New World would be like if Europeans hadn't brought over deadly diseases and hadn't murdered hundreds of Indians for selfish reasons.

Roxanne Chiu

I found this article to be very fascinating in the sense that it proposed the Native American populations to be denser than written in the standard high textbooks. Pigs, maize, and terra preta were sections that stood out to me.

Recalling my previous courses in American history, I do not remember reading pigs to be a factor that caused the plagues. I was under the impression that it was wholly the Europeans’ lack of cleanliness that brought down the Indians’ population number. The article reminded me that animals are a stronger and faster bacterial force. This is evident not only in the Old World, but also applicable in our current state. I.e. the SARs outbreak, the Bird Flu, Ebola virus. Since history has a tendency to repeat itself, and we surely do not want another epidemic to spur, shouldn’t we make stronger policies on regulating livestock and animals?

The effects of maize are bittersweet. It had fed the hungry and accelerated societies; then created a current global concern – the exponential African population. Playing the devil’s advocate: should we halt the exportation of corn to Africa, in order to bring the population to a more manageable control? Or China, for the sake of discussion?

Is the terra preta’s ability to regenerate fertile soil true? If so, there would be massive debates and lobbying done to, lack of better word, deforest the Amazon. If the indigenous people had cultivated the landscape, and that the Amazon, as we see now, was actually a backyard or garden that just overgrew, why do we feel prohibited to groom it? I believe we should snip for the betterment of mankind.

Lastly, I want to share my favorite question from the article, “If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants leaving?”

Jun-An Chen

This article is interesting because it suggests the idea that the Indians were more technologically advanced than previously thought. One point i find intriguing is that Mayflower immigrants dug up graves and scavenged the abandoned Indian villages. Furthermore, smallpox not only affected the Natives but also the Continental Army; an interesting fact that i never thought of. It seems as if the conquests of the Americas depended on the mere luck of diseases. If epidemics had never struck, the immense number of Indians could have easily fought off the better-armed fewer numbered Europeans. Nevertheless, it is a pity that the Native American agricultural industry was never passed on or taught to the European settlers. Cooperation could lead to a different unthinkable result.

Alice Lin:19078943

This article is interesting because it makes me wonder how the world will be like if Columbus did not arrive in the New World and the Native Indians did not suffer from the disease that Europeans brought there. Maybe Central America would instead be the concentration of the superpowers today and white imperialism would not have existed.

Anna Romanowska

This article made me think more about the pre-Columbus population of the Americas. Usually I think of the Navites more in terms of their culture. Here the autor tries to fiend the true population size. It seems to be way bigger than what we learn in schools. His analysis of the way natives were cultivating the land, burning forests, and maintaining the fish population are very interesting. From the article I gained the impression that the maing threat to the natives were not the the Spaniards but their diseases... and I don't think that this is necessarily true. They had not way to defend themselves of oppose the forced labor.

Carson Le

The idea that the pre-colonial America's were home to advanced civilizations, possibly more advanced than those of Europe in some respects, is definitely an interesting topic. The ability for a society to manage an entire landscape the way Mann's article suggests is quite amazing, and makes me wonder what we could accomplish with modern tools and science if we were to seriously look into it. Also, things like the Nazca lines of Peru seem to make more sense after reading about other structures made by Indian societies that were once thought to be completely natural. I wonder how much more is out there for us to find.

Michelle Chung

This is a very interesting article which I have acquired a great deal of new information about the Indians. I was astonished by the fact that the disease, which was brought by the Europeans, killed almost 90 percent of the Indians at that time. It leads me to think that "what if the Europeans had never contacted the Indians? How would it change the American history from the way it is now?" How one sick Spaniard swept the whole Incan empire is also amazing and shocking. Also, I never knew that the Indians found such great techniques as inoculating the bad soil, like on terra preta.

Michelle Chung

This is a very interesting article which I have acquired a great deal of new information about the Indians. I was astonished by the fact that the disease, which was brought by the Europeans, killed almost 90 percent of the Indians at that time. It leads me to think that "what if the Europeans had never contacted the Indians? How would it change the American history from the way it is now?" How one sick Spaniard swept the whole Incan empire is also amazing and shocking. Also, I never knew that the Indians found such great techniques as inoculating the bad soil, like on terra preta.

Monica Shih

I wrote a comment on august 28th, but for some reason it's not showing up, so I'm going to post again.

I find it very interesting, because the ideas it presented about the size of the Native American population and of the their daily lives greatly contrasted with everything I've learned since elementary school. American History courses always taught us that Native Americans were nomadic hunters that traveled in small tribes. Like Grace, I believed in the "pristine myth" and imagined the America before 1492 to be almost untouched by human hands. It's amazing to me that the Native Americans had the means to manipulate thousands of acres of lands using selective burning. This implies that they had very advanced ecological and meteorological skill since fire is a very unpredictable element, and since they must have been able to predict the patterns of growth and development. I don't think we'll ever know exactly what happened, since a lot has happened to the landscape of America in the past 500 years, but it would be very interesting to see what America in 1491 looked like.

jaim klein

Not convinced. The Spaniards, from the moment Cristobal Colon put a foot in the Indies, totally outcompeted the natives. La Hispaniola is a large island, was peopled with many small villages of maize cultivating indians, and the Spaniards soon killed them off. No strong resistance at all. They founded cities in many places, including Panama City in an horrible climate, that soon became prosperous. Many cities were abandoned, like Leon in NIcaragua and Guatemala la antigua, but not because of the aboriginal's resistance. Only Buenos Aires had to be founded twice. The big cities, the great empires, the gold and the silver, was mostly propaganda to attract more colonists. Argentina is even named after non-existent silver mines. Eldorado never existed. You are now inventing an imaginary continent peopled by wise agriculturalists, an utopia that you feel had to exist. The Spanish explorers who arrived first and saw the continent "intact" had no illusions and they were less than stupid, and never talked about depopulated cities nor wondered what happened to the Indians. We have many Relatos from the people who arrived, people who were hardened realists and put their lifes and fortunes in attacking native empires. Moctezuma and his Aztecs never terrorized Hernan Cortes, he went boldly and attacked, but yes, he lived in fear from his Spanish colleges, even burned his ships so would not be seized by another party of conquistadores. Pizarro had no idea of any epidemy and had no fear of attacking the Inca with 140 mixed gang of soldiers. His main worry was the faction led by Almagro, his co-leader. He attacked without taking into account any disease, and won, and the idea that he won because of an epidemy is just a lie to maintain the illusion that the Indians lost so miserably and were wiped out not because of European superiority but some Force Majeur. The Portuguese and Dutch who settled Brazil before any epidemy saw no ruins nor cities, and they were not stupid nor blind, and they met only small tribes of savages that were very well adapted to jungle life. The Indians were not adapted to agricultural work, so they were forced to bring in African farmers to grow the sugarcane, which the Africans did successfully. The wise ecology managing Amazonian indians are an invention, those who were there at that time, never saw them for the simple reason that they never existed. Why the English failed to found settlements before Jamestown? Because Indian resistance? Why they did not resist the Spanish? I am no historian, but I can well imagine that the English of those early times had yet no experience in foreign ventures, they were just starting to expand, while the Spanish were by then the most advanced country of Europe with centuries long experience in foreign wars of conquest. If there was any Atlantis in America, they saw little or no sign of it.

Tanya Chang

I found this article to be very interesting. It definitely gave me a new perspective on the history of Native Americans. There is so much more to their history than, like Mann mentioned, I learned in school. It is interesting to see what textbooks have left out. For example, the large amount of diseases the Indians were exposed to before the Europeans arrived, some even spread by pigs. I was also surprised to learn that the Native Americans were the ones who first introduced many of the agricultural goods cultivated all over the world today. It is to my disappointment that society does not give the Native Americans enough credit for their history in the Americas.

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