Monday, 23 September 2013

Clashing worlds

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. 

Interesting. Prof encourages to dismiss our preconceptions of native americans as 'peace loving savages; waiting for the west to settle and civilise'. Um. Not a preconception. Something I am noticing is that this America lecturer - who obviously usually teaches a primarily American student body - has his own cultural assumptions that don't fit those of us coming from other places. Each lecture has referenced Christopher Columbus. A small historical character for me - I'm much more likely to hang eras on English monarchs. This, then, is the very beginning of the reign of Henry VIII. 

This lecture, though, is all about the discovery of the 'new world' and the people who were already living there. So let's learn something about that then:

Columbus' ship log shows many navigational mistakes. He couldn't use the new technologies of sextants etc, and was rubbish at the maths needed for navigation by stars. But he must have been a confident talker, because Isabel & Ferdinand believed his promises - that if they funded his trip to the Orient then this would bring them the wealth to conquer (or liberate)  Jerusalem. 

1521 Cortes conquers Tenochtitlan (Aztec city, Mexico). How? Unintentional germ warware - Prof says 40% of the city of 200,000 people was dead before Cortes walked into the city, and encourages us to imagine the stench. But what I don't understand is why the conquistadores didn't themselves fall ill from the diseases that had developed in the 'world apart' of the Americas. Surely the Aztecs had their own germs to which the Spanish would have had no immunity?

Whether intentional or not, contact with the Europeans was devastating for the native American peoples: estimation that from 1500-1600 the native population declined from about 120m people to 20m people.  Small pox, measles, typhus. Horrifying! (And people still choose to avoid vaccination???). 

I had a hard time staying on topic listening to this lecture. Without the background knowledge of what happened when in the various connections between European sailors and various people in the Americas, I struggled. An overview and timeline would have really helped.

Side effect of listening to this lecture: I finally understand what Pratchett's Eric was all about...

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