Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Beginning of Modern America

photo courtesy the author.

I'm reading Charles C. Mann's book 1491 (thanks to Sanjay Jain, who sent it to me after a very interesting discussion about an up-coming program at Laumeier).

This book is opening up my worldview about the dense, complex web of cultures that existed in the Americas before, during and after first contact. I'm just now reading about Atawallpa, the last Inka leader, whose empire was larger than that of China, the Ottomans and Russia at the time.

While Mann's ideas differ slightly from those of Jared Diamond, I am still shocked that I only heard of Atawallpa two years ago!

The first chapter of the book talked about the People of the Dawnland, Native Nations living on the Eastern seaboard who fought off snooping Europeans for decades, if not centuries. One false move, however, spelled the demise of the Dawnland peoples--due primarily to smallpox and other diseases, but finished off by guns and steel.

The image above is from Cook's baking store in West Allis, Wisconsin. The current story about the first Thanksgiving is not what we were taught in school--sadly, however, the axe seems the constant theme of the white invasion of the United States. No matter that Native Americans helped the Puritans survive, violence fueled by religious discrimination was never far behind a momentary detente.

What I love about the arts is that artists are constantly pushing at the boundaries of knowledge through their asking questions--and this type of tome--1491--fuels some of the most compelling artistic research in today's global cultural dialogue.

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