I don't know how much time you have for this, and I'm not a teacher, so take this with a grain of salt. But one way that comes to mind (the mind of a non-teacher, anyway) might be to take the map of the Americas in 1491 that is the frontispiece of my book and use it as a basis for discussion. The image that so many kids have been taught is of a Europe with boundaries and countries and a Western hemisphere that is blank. You could do a sort of tour d'horizon of the Americas, then ask students to look at individual areas. In addition, I wrote a kind of synopsis of the book in the Atlantic Monthly a couple years ago -- there's a copy of it available for downloading on my Website (www.charlesmann.org) . A number of teachers have told me that they used that article and that the kids liked it. Good luck!
How do you respond to the critism to your book such the allegations of the book being politically correct or looking at Native Americans through rose colored glasses? Some of the reviews here are quite scathing and some purport, at least, to be from experts in the field.
It's hard to respond to accusations of political correctness. It's like being called a racist -- all you can do is flap your gums and say "well, I'm not one." As for experts in the field, you can, if you want, look at remarks about the book from certified experts at my website -- www.charlesmann.org -- or the discussion of my book by Wm. H. McNeill, a truly great historian, in the 1 Dec 2005 New York Review of Books.
Some of the negative reviews here have left me scratching my head. One guy gave me a single star and complained, "For example he says that the gentle Pilgrims are responsible for the ultimate slaughter of Indians. Nonsense! The Pilgrims were invited to settle the land by the Indian chief." But on p. 32 of my book I describe how Massasoit, the sachem (leader) of the local Indian groups, the Wampanoag alliance, visited the Pilgrim settlement to do just that -- "permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time," as I put it. Then I explain **why** Massasoit invited the Pilgrims to stay: he wanted to have them as allies in the Wampanoag's struggle against a neighboring group, the Narragansett. Then I write (p. 35): "The alliance Massasoit negotiated was successful from the Wampanoag perspective, for it helped to hold off the Narragansett. But it was disastrous from the point of view of Native American society as a whole, for the alliance ensured the survival of Plymouth colony, which spearheaded the great wave of British immigration to New England." There seems to me, at least, to be quite some difference between this person's description of my book and what is actually on the page. I could go on in a similar vein for other things in his review.
Similarly, there's a fellow from Ithaca, NY, who also accuses me of being politically correct. Another reviewer has already complained about his misuse of my citation of the notorious Ward Churchill. The Ithaca man writes: "Even after a century of contact with debilitating European diseases, the Indians the Pilgrims met were well-formed and healthy while the Europeans were pock-marked and stunted-somehow it doesn't make sense, except that Europeans in this book are invariably destined to come out on the short end in more ways than one." He is referring to the fact that I mention that most Europeans had suffered through smallpox and other epidemic diseases and so were pockmarked. Similarly, many Europeans didn't take baths, and so their skin was in bad shape. This is completely uncontroversial--read, say, Braudel's Structures of Everyday Life, for a description of the physical shape of 16th century Europeans. We know from many French, English, and Spanish accounts that the Indians of the Northeast took frequent baths. We also know that they had almost no epidemic disease and had quite good diets and good sanitation (they also weren't living in large cities, which were really problematic from a health perspective in those days). In consequence, as many Europeans noted, the Indians they encountered were, in comparison to them, strikingly tall and healthy physical specimens. I quote Verrazzano the explorer and Pilgrims Thomas Morton, William Wood and Daniel Gookin to this effect (pp. 44-46); the illustrations in book also show how the painter John White depicted the Indians he saw in 1585 as being like the classical ideal of strength and health. The reviewer seems to think that this is impossible, because the northeast Indians of the 16th century had undergone "a century of contact with debilitating European diseases." But as my book documents (pp. 54-56) the first epidemic to hit the area was spread by shipwrecked French sailors in ~1617, about three years before the Pilgrims landed. (The Pilgrims noticed skeletons and abandoned Indian villages--it's in Gov. Bradford's journal, among other places.) The epidemic, according to a recent study by an archaeologist and a pathologist, was probably of viral hepatitis, which doesn't leave disfiguring scars. So they wouldn't have been pockmarked, etc.
So, after all this, I guess my response is: I think the critics, at least on this Amazon page, are wrong. Hope this answers your question.
I have few criticisms to pass on to you, but I wanted to tell you (in case you check back in here) that I just finished the book and have been telling everyone I know to read it. I think you have admirably presented all sides of some of the more controversial material, and you've synthesized the specialist research and literature in a very readable fashion. I am a teacher, and I sometimes use the metaphor of a tube kaleidescope with my students, telling them to not get stuck in looking at a set of data only one way, but to turn the dial on the kaleidescope to see a completely different set of possiblities. That is the effect your book had on me, and I thank you for writing it. My only possible complaint is that it's not a few hundred pages longer to go into more detail on the U.S. Southwest Indian cultures, the Pacific Northwest, and the puzzle of original immigrations to the hemisphere. But perhaps that's for another book.
Thank you. I realize that what you're written is controversial but the intensity of some of the reviews - particularly the negative ones - surprised me. I'd expect to see them written for books by the like of Sean Hannity or Michael Moore, not a historian writing about the American Indian. Frankly, I've been leary of purchasing the book because of them. You have alleviated my fears with your answer and I will now buy a copy.
I went to Mr. Mann's website and the link for the Atlantic Monthly article was not working. Fortunately, however, I was able to find a working link to the pdf copy of the draft of the article, and one to a draft of the Introduction of 1491 at http://www.charlesmann.org/articles, or by entering http://www.charlesmann.org/articles/1491-Atlantic.pdf and http://www.charlesmann.org/articles/Introduction-to-1491.pdf (not accessible either at the link on the 1491 page on Mann's site).
Thanks, too to Mothking for the note a couple posts above (I now see that I have to respond to them in order). My book covers a subject about which a surprising number of people feel passionately, so in a way you'd expect some of them to be passionately negative. That's OK -- nobody said people have to like everything they read. An example, I think, is the argument raised by one of my critics that I didn't pay enough attention to the putative African origin of the Olmec. I mentioned it very briefly, which angered him. I left it out because a) to keep the book at a manageable length I had to leave lots of things out; and b) the back and forth is very complicated, and would involve so much more discussion of things like mitochondrial DNA and the history of the ocean currents that I felt it was kind of unfair to drag the reader through it. But, as you can see, he disagreed, and was very annoyed about it.
Thanks for Mr Dilley for his note. If he or anyone else has spotted errors in my book -- inevitable in a project of this size, especially given the imperfections of the author :) -- I have an email address for that. It's "1491-book" and the domain is comcast.net. If I get them, I can make corrections for the paperback. Thanks in advance, CCM
I have not read your book, but it seems quite logical to me and I look forward to it. The idea that there were impressive civilizations in the Americas before Colombus has always seemed obvious. I visited Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and what is called the American Stonehedge near Boston. In your research, did you come across information on other contacts between the civilizations in the Old World and the Americas that predated Columbus? There were the Vikings; but what about the Chineese, Greeks, African sailors, Irish monks, Carthage, Phoencians and traders out of Libia. It would seem that along with the impressive civilizations in the Americas, there was the possibility of contacts across the oceans. Remember we are talking about thousands of years, and some sailing cultures that were capable of making long ocean voyages. The Chineese reached Africa and there are Greek ship wrecks off Brazil. There may be another even more politically incorrect book in these early contacts.
There are many tantalizing hints but not much good solid evidence of such contacts. Certainly early transoceanic voyages were possible--Thor Heyerdahl proved as much with his Kon-Tiki and Ra expeditions. Myself, I would guess that some travelers did make the journey. The question would be how much difference they made. The one clearly documented example--the Viking colony at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland--had lots of contact over as much as ten years with a variety of indigenous peoples but made almost no difference to their societies. Almost the only trace of their presence these Europeans left behind was their presence in Algonkian tales as the inhabitants of the legendary "Kingdom of Saguenay." So it seems reasonable to wonder whether the contact, if it occurred (as I would guess that it did), would have ended up being important to history.
Mr. Mann - I am enjoying the book - have about 100 pgs. to go.
One correction - in the illustration on pg. 257 (Moundbuilders) you indicate Serpent Mound in Ohio as an Adena site. There are both Adena and Fort Ancient earthworks on the site, but recent excavations (1991) show that the Serpent itself was constructed about 1000 AD -putting it squarely in the Early Fort Ancient period.
Didn't the Toltecs produce statues of people that clearly had African and European features and dress hundreds of years before the arrival of Columbus? This would imply that there was at least some form of contact, probably limited trade, already occurring.
You may be thinking of the Olmec, who are known for their very large sculptures of heads that have some "African" features--broad lips, that kind of thing. Some scholars in the 1970s argued that these sculptures (and a few other things) proved that Africans had made it over to the Americas and that their cultural descendents were the Olmec. Few archaeologists believe this today, partly because there is no evidence from genetics (e.g., mitochondrial DNA studies) that long-ago Africans settled in the Americas, and partly because there are quite a few Native Americans in that region who still today have the kind of facial features in those sculptures. For what it's worth, it seems quite likely to me--and I think many archaeologists--that such contacts existed. The question would be whether they had any impact, or if--like the Vikings in Greenland--they didn't have any long-lasting effect. CCM
I read your book after reading your op-ed in USA today. Thank you for such an interesting read. I really appreciate the fact that you make complex arguments accessible to a person who is studying in a wholly unrelated field (currently in law school) and has no prior knowledge of the subject. One of my pet peeves is when "acedemics" purposely write above their audiences' heads (usually a technique used to conceal a weak, inane, obvious, or logically shakey argument).
I have heard that other acedemics often shun their colleagues (or at least stick their noses up to them) who take this approach. David McCullough comes to mind, sometimes degraded by others in the field because he writes "popular history."
My question is, since 1491 could be considered "popular history" as well, have you had any similar response from those in your field?
Thank you for the kind words. Gertrude Stein called academic jargon "protective language," because she thought its chief purpose was to protect the status of the speaker. I think that's a little strong, but there's something there.
As to your other point, I'm not an academic, so I can't say I have any risk of being shunned by colleagues. And in the event academics have basically said very nice things to me, at least so far. There's been a small amount of academic harrumphing at my slovenly journalistic ways, but really folks have treated me fairly. The little bit of actually nasty criticism that has been directed my way has come from a small group of historians who aren't attacking me so much as the idea that native societies, especially the ones with no writing, could have made contributions to colonial society. I think they're wrong, but don't see anything wrong with them taking a few potshots.
I really enjoyed _The Second Creation_ when I read it a few years ago. Fascinating stuff. I've just ordered your new book, intrigued by its subject matter, as soon as I realized it was by the same author. I also have your _Atlantic_ article somewhere, but I never did get around to reading it, I'll try to dig it up...
By the way the link to the article on your site is down.
I consider myself unusually sensitive to the bearest whiff of political correctness and I'm pleased to tell you that I found your book happily free of the affliction. In my review (5 stars no less) I commented at the refreshing lack of political correctness.
I will admit to approaching "1491" with an expectation that it would be loaded, as unfortunately so many histories are these days, with "white man bad, indigene angelic" nonsense. What a relief, what a delight to see that your approach is wonderfully objerctive.
Thank you for this excellent history of the pre-Columbian Americas.
The book is a fascinating read. Thank you for the contribution.
I was somewhat confused by the passages on pp. 43-44 and hoped you could clarify... pp. 43 states that Indian peoples were "already so comfortable dealing with Europeans" in 1501 that a group of them willingly boarded the ship of, and were captured by, Corte-Real.
The following paragraph describes a 1523 meeting between Verazzano and the Narragansett as "perhaps even the first" occasion they had met Europeans... "but the Narragansett were not intimidated".
Should this be interpreted to mean that there is evidence that the (present day) Maine peoples had extensive contact with Europeans by the early 1500s but those of Rhode Island had not? I was confused by this juxtaposition of two quite different conclusions about exposure to Europeans at this time.
Another question... the account of Tisquanit includes details that certainly were never mentioned in my grade school curricula... could you recommend materials for further reading about his life.
I see that I was being confusing -- my apologies. Most historians believe that European fishing vessels were working at the Grand Banks as early as 1480, and more than likely made it to Nova Scotia and Maine soon thereafter (the center of the fishing grounds are about 300 mi. due east of present-day Halifax, and there was good fishing almost all the way there). In Nova Scotia and Maine they would have done some trading with the local Mi'Kmaq (Micmac). It is much less likely that fishermen went a thousand miles southwest to Rhode Island, where the fishing was not nearly as rich and which was really out of their way. By 1523 the Narrangansett had almost certainly heard of the pale, hairy visitors, and probably had traded with their northern neighbors for some of their goods, but may not yet have actually encountered them in the flesh.
As for the story of Tisquantum (aka Squanto), look at the sources cited in the book. The best single accounts I know of are by the fine historian Neal Salisbury, whose book "Manitou and Providence" is a classic, and who wrote an article that I cite which was a biography of Tisquantum.