Friday, August 31, 2007

Charles C. Mann (yes!)

Charles C. Mann’s article, “The Coming Death Shortage”, offered thought provoking ideas on the implications of the longevity boom. I was excited to see 21st Century using an article by Mann because he has a nice way of combining science, history, and pop culture while challenging generally accepted views and offering whole new interpretations. I use Mann’s website, , to start my A.P. U.S. history course. Students listen to an audio version of Mann’s reasons for writing the book, “1491”, which argues that the Americas in 1491 were profoundly different than previously imagined by historians. Students read the online article which offers a great introduction to the study of historiography (changing interpretations of history) and poses several complex problems for students to ponder. Mann argues that Indians in the Americas existed in greater numbers than previously thought, and they imposed their will on the landscape. He suggests that Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind. The argument challenges the traditional interpretation of the Americas as a pristine Eden, inhabited by people who existed in a largely “unhistoried” state (Holmberg’s Mistake). He challenges environmentalists by saying they have chosen to make Amazonia the emblem of a vanishing wilderness, but it may actually be a cultural artifact; in other words, created by Indians, not a pristine wilderness. Mann’s comments stimulate great classroom conversation and force students to confront the role of revisionism in historiography and assess its value. Students are also given a chance to read more of Mann’s work, “Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed” from Science, Vol. 307, Jan. 7, 2005 at