March 19, 2009

Excerpts from American Indian Contributions

In the coming months I hope to post excerpts from American Indian Contributions. I'll try not to waste time on the discoveries and inventions you already know (or should know). For instance, agriculture, medicine, astronomy, writing, pyramids, canoes, ball games, hammocks, toboggans, sunglasses, etc., etc.

No, I'll try to focus on the discoveries and inventions you probably don't know about. In other words, the discoveries and inventions *I* didn't know about until I read American Indian Contributions. I hope this series will be as educational and eye-opening for you as it is for me.

A couple of ground rules from the book's preface:

1) It doesn't matter if a non-Native culture discovered or invented something first. American Indian Contributions shows that Natives had the knowledge and skills to produce thousands of amazing achievements. Whether they did something first or not doesn't change the fact of the achievement. As long as Natives achieved something independently, without outside help, they get credit for it.

Besides, most of the non-Native "firsts" came about because of flukes of biology or geography. Jared Diamond explained why in his groundbreaking Guns, Germs, and Steel (another book you should read). Non-Native cultures weren't superior, they were lucky.

2) It doesn't matter if a discovery or invention came to us from a non-Native culture rather than a Native culture. Again, how "important" or influential an achievement was doesn't change the fact of the achievement. The ability to disseminate an achievement, like the ability to disseminate a disease, is separate from the achievement itself.

Typically, discoveries or inventions have come to us (i.e., modern-day Americans) from the Fertile Crescent through Greece or Rome to Western Europe and across the Atlantic. And...so? Europeans had the advantages mentioned above, and they imposed these advantages on the rest of the world through their imperialist conquests. If they hadn't invaded the Americas, we'd be crediting Natives rather than non-Natives for many of these achievements.

With these caveats in mind, enjoy!

Below:  The ball court at Chichén Itzá.

3 comments:

Stephen said...

"Europeans had the advantages mentioned above, and they imposed these advantages on the rest of the world through their imperialist conquests."

Including colonized and oppressed Europeans? (Waiter this generalization isn't very good). Also let's not forget the conquests of the Ottoman empire for example plus the word imperialism is kind of a cliche.


Also let's not forget what the the Celtic and Norse cultures achieved. The Norse (stereotyped unfairly as evil barbarians) went from being a people who stratched a miserable existence from icey rock to a powerful people with a rich culture who explored, raided and traded with a great deal of the world (the Varangians for example). And the Gaelic and Brythonic cultures was obviously superior to European monarchy and Islamic culture and the Ottoman empire.

Rob said...

Europeans (in general) had the advantages mentioned above, and they imposed these advantages on the rest of the world through their imperialist conquests. The "in general" part is implied, which is why I can put it in parenthesis without changing the meaning. Anyone with a grade-school level of English understands this construction, so it's not necessary to write "in general" every time.

In your drive to defend your Scots-Irish ancestors, we could go down the list of Chinese, Mongol, Russian, Arabic, and (black) African empires. None of them crossed the oceans in an attempt to colonize the whole world. The European powers (Spain, England, Holland, etc.) were unique in that regard.

For more on the subject, see Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Stephen said...

Oh for god's sakes; for the millionth time this has nothing to do with Ulster-Scots. Most of my post above has to do with the Norse (you can't call them Vikings because the word Viking is actually a verb).

"In your drive to defend your Scots-Irish ancestors, we could go down the list of Chinese, Mongol, Russian, Arabic, and (black) African empires. None of them crossed the oceans in an attempt to colonize the whole world. The European powers (Spain, England, Holland, etc.) were unique in that regard."

Very true; my point is that the Ottoman empire for example was not exactly anything to scoff at.