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Charles Mann Essay

Charles Mann was the one who re-opened the history of America of pre-Columbian times for the common people. His book “1491” was a great contribution into the development of historical works and recent research of historians.

He devoted rather a big part of his book to the explanation of the theory he decided to refute. He called it “Holmberg’s mistake” under the name of anthropologist and historian Allan Holmberg. He was known for the fact, he lived among the Sirono tribes in the 1940s and come to the idea that they were “among the most culturally backward peoples in the world. Living in constant want and hunger, he said, they had no clothes, no domestic animal, no music instruments, (not even rattles and drums), no art or design (except necklaces of animal teeth) and almost no religion (the Sirono “conception of the cosmos” was “almost completely uncrystallized”). Incredibly they could not count beyond three or make fire” (Mann, 2005). In fact Mann di not want to lessen the value of Holmberg’s research work. He made detailed observations, but in the end came to the wrong conclusions. Holmberg insisted on the fact that before the Columbus “both the people and the land had no real history” (Mann, 2005). He didn’t take into consideration the fact that Sirono were almost totally devastated with influenza and smallpox in 1920s and trey were just “persecuted survivors”.

Mann described his own experience with the history of pre-Columbian times in the article devoted to his book: “When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to Americas across the Bering Straight about 12 000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had a little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained it remained mostly wilderness”. (Mann, 2002).  During the introductory part  the author describes his own research comparing it mostly with Holmberg’s research. In fact it seems that both of them are principally different, but they have a lot of in common and Mann had lots of data he proceeded from. Now after reading his articles and books it is essential that many of anthropologists’ investigations have come to principally wrong conclusions and the reason of it is not lying in the lack of information. It seems that some scientists just did not  take into the account some factors that turned to be decisive. And Holmberg was not the only historian who was mistaken in his theories.  The author insists on the fact that all the historians for the past 5 centuries had one common mistaken thought that the Indians had no history before the Columbus.

He looks from different points of view and made some kind of revolution in anthropology. Investigations in the field of culture and life of the contemporaries of first pilgrims showed that: “The Indians met by the Pilgrims bathed regularly and noted that the Pilgrims did not; the Indians also let their kids play, while the Pilgrims put 7-year-olds to work. Not to quarrel with any of these statements, but in his eagerness to correct the idea that the Europeans were superior in all things, the author gives them credit in almost none” (Ramsey, 2005)

In his work Mann did not use certain work of a certain author as the basis for his research, but tries to combine and analyze the facts that could influence the historical process: “In 1539, Hernando de Soto began a four-year trek through the American South, going from present-day Florida to Tennessee to Texas. He reported a land thick with Indians who farmed corn. In the 1600s, much of the same area was visited by the French explorer La Salle, who reported vast herds of bison but almost no people. The land had been ethnically cleansed — by smallpox” (Ramsey, 2005).

Investigators and critics of Mann’s work found out that he devoted great attention to the demonstrative data. He interviewed several medical researches to prove some of his hypothesis according to the vanishing of the whole civilizations and found out that his so called “epidemiologic” research had base: “Mann naturally centers his investigation on findings in anthropology and archaeology, but one also wishes for a bigger interpretive boost from economics, sociology and, especially, epidemiology. Could such a mass extermination over two continents have really happened? The author interviews several medical researchers and finds that it could. But again the evidence feels a tad slim: Even the Black Death, a century earlier, killed only about a third, not 95 percent, of the European population. And we hear almost nothing from oral histories of the extant indigenous peoples – the Guajiro of Colombia and Venezuela, the Yanomami in the Amazon, the Inca’s descendants in Bolivia and Peru, the Maya of Mexico and Guatemala, or the North American Indians, and so wonder whether they could shed light upon these questions” (D’Ambrosio, 2005).

I think that Charles Mann had opened a new window to the development of historical science. He made deep investigations and proved that many researches of the past has made wrong conclusions because they did not take into account some factors that were very important. The contribution of the researches is undoubtedly very important and the material and information will be used for further investigations.  But Mann with his break-through not only in history but as well in anthropology and archeology gave the new way for the historians to structure, analyze and summarize the information left by the ancestors.

It goes without saying that contemporary scientific progress could provide more authentic results and give and ability to make ultra-modern and scientifically based research of ancient material that has been kept for hundreds of years. It will help our contemporaries to learn more about life and culture of the Natives, who lived hundreds of years ago.


Mann C. (2005) 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Published N.Y.2005.

Mann C. (2002) 1491, Atlantic Monthly, March 2002,(1-15)

Ramsey B. (2005)”1491″: Discovering what Americas were like before Columbus, The Seattle Times, 12th of August 2005

D’Ambrosio M. (2005) The myth of an empty frontier. Explorers’ diseases wiped out native populations long before settlers arrived, San Francisco Chronicle, 14th of August 2005

Talor A. (2005) Cultivated World, The Washington Post, 7th of August 2005

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