All posts tagged: aspect of the lesson

Charles C. Mann Q&A: What Do You Know About 1491?

Charles C. Mann Q&A: What Do You Know About 1491?

In elementary school, I learned a rhyme about Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492. High school expanded that understanding to a still-simple narrative: Very few people lived in the undeveloped Americas, and the invading Europeans brought a disease that wiped out the few who did. Then, in college, I read the science journalist Charles C. Mann’s March 2002 Atlantic cover story, “1491,” which lays out a systematic challenge to every aspect of the lesson that I, and so many other kids, were taught in school. Could the pre-16th-century population of the Americas have rivaled that of Europe? Had waves of lethal diseases wiped out far more people than was previously known? What if the people who lived in the Western Hemisphere were, as Mann writes, “so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind?” Mann and I spoke ahead of today’s holiday. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Shan Wang: Take us back to when the …