September 21, 2011
WOOSTER, Ohio — American history books paint a vastly different — and often wildly inaccurate — picture of the New World, according to award-winning author Charles C. Mann, who addressed the opening session of the Wooster Forum Tuesday night (Sept. 20) at The College of Wooster.
Many of the textbooks are simply not accurate, said Mann, author of the highly acclaimed book, 1491: New Revelations of the America’s Before Columbus. Most history books indicate that Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait into Alaska some 12,000 years ago, but Mann says that human occupation actually took place much earlier — as far back as 20,000-35,000 years ago. “When Columbus arrived, most people lived in or near cities as part of settled societies, not out in the wilderness as described in many history books,” he said. He went on to say that Native Americans had a far greater environmental impact than previously thought.
Mann’s illustrated presentation showed images of sophisticated settlements in North, South, and Central America long before Columbus set sail. “The Americas were a diverse and thriving place,” he said.
Mann also talked about the enormous impact of the great explorer, including the introduction of numerous animal and plant species, as well as a range of diseases that did not exist in the Americas before Columbus’s arrival. The diseases were catastrophic, according to Mann, because they wiped out a significant percentage of the population and served as a catalyst for dramatic ecological change. When large numbers of people perished, explained Mann, a reforestation of many populated areas took place. “The ecosystem went wild because so many died as a result of disease,” he said.
A hearty audience of students, faculty, staff, and townspeople greeted Mann, whose presentation was lively, witty, informative, and entertaining. Melissa Schultz, assistant professor of chemistry and environmental studies, said “I thought it was a great start to the fall forum series. (Mann’s) talk was informative and embedded with the right amount of humor to keep the audience engaged. One hopes that textbooks can be rewritten soon to reflect the research that he has showcased in his writings — that indigenous peoples were far more ‘sophisticated’ than originally believed.”
Colleen O'Neil, a junior English major from Chalk Hill, Pa., added, "I thought Mann's lecture effectively dispelled common myths about Native Americans, but it's a little unnerving to realize that the picture(s) of Indians and the pre-Columbian wilderness in our ninth-grade history books are so completely inaccurate."
The next Wooster Forum event will be Tuesday, Oct. 4, when Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American author, addresses race, gender, and family values in relation to Haitian culture. Additional information about the Wooster Forum is available online, by phone (330-263-2132), and via e-mail.
1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. (330) 263-2000
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