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LMTTM: Columbus

I realize this is one of those info-dense books where my impulse is to share everything notable but that would result in largely re-creating the book. Also I messed up my initial acronym and tag. Also it's rather enraging-depressing in a dense burst; maybe I should go back to reading about naked architecture, I don't respond to that as emotionally.


Chapter 2: Columbus and the 'discovery' of America. Not much here really new to me, or hopefully many of my readers, but a big gap with textbook history. Lots of myths about Columbus, lots of silence about his brutality in enslaving and wiping out the Arawaks of Haiti.

Myths: like the Turks cutting off trade, or some books that invoke a Protestant Reformation 25 years in the future, almost anything about Columbus's early life (he seems something of a cipher, and we don't even have portraits of him), people believing the world was flat, Columbus never realizing he'd discovered a new continent (funny how he added one to his coat of arms; there's even speculation that "going to China" was a cover story for seeking out a land he already suspected was there, from Icelandic or West African reports.)

Textbooks mentioned precursors like Henry the Navigator, but not Phoenicians who'd sailed to England, the Azores, and Canaries, and around Africa. This despite Henry knowing of their feats and wanting to replicate them. They also don't mention the African pilots who taught Henry's captains how to navigate down the coast of Africa.

He gives a list of possible other contacts with the Americas -- Columbus and the Viking as high evidence, various anomalies suggesting Asian or African contact as medium or low evidence. He notes that textbooks project certainty, whether or not it's justified; rarely if ever do they list ambiguous evidence and conflicting theories, or even give a wide date range for the true discovery of the Americas, like 12-30,000 years ago. Just alleged facts, not thought.

Apparently there are rap songs that mention the Phoenicians sailing around Africa.

Why do we even mention Hernando de Soto 'discovering' the Mississippi river? Nothing came of it apart from introducing diseases to the Southeast, and older books don't mention that. But he was a white guy, and we have to catalog what white people did, right?

Those last two points go together: for white children, standard history may be dull, but it's about 'them', their ancestors. For children of color it's much more off-putting, and we cut them off from real history they could take pride in. Earlier in the book he says minorities do relatively worse in history than in math and English.

I don't know if Loewens intends this impression, but [Daniel] Boostin and Kelley's _A History of the United States_ seems to come up a lot as an egregious offender in terms of rolling over non-white history and dignity.

Columbus is not a hero in Mexico, despite Mexico being much more Spanish than the US; it's also much more Indian, of course.

American gold and silver fueled a 400% inflation, which changed the nature of wealth in Europe, and also destroyed the trans-Saharan gold trade out of the Gold Coast; America thus both fueled a demand for slaves and destroyed one of Africa's big exports. Corn helped produce more Africans, while potatoes helped produce more Europeans for later emigration, and American crops may have helped England, Germany, and Russia become more populous and prominent, shifting power away from the Mediterranean. The discovery of America created more of an idea of 'Europe', rather than just a bunch of nations, and of 'white' men, as opposed to red ones. ...all not in the textbooks.

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Damien Sullivan
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