Western scholars have written histories of the world since at least the twelfth century. As children of their own societies, these early historians naturally emphasized the culture they knew best, the culture their readership most wanted to hear about. But over time they added the stories of other places in the world: chapters about China, India, Persia, Japan, and other places. Researchers tipped their hats to non-Western accomplishments in the sciences and arts. Sometimes the effort was grudging or minimal, but the vacant reaches in the human tale slowly contracted.
One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed. Now, though, it is returning to view. It seems incumbent on us to take a look.
—Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
I’ve only read the first chapter of this book and already I am amazed. Of course I knew about the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca, but apparently they are only the tip of the iceberg. The jungles, plains, and mountains of Central and South America are only just beginning to give up their secrets. Massive urban complexes have recently been discovered in unlikely places, and there are surely more to come. Perhaps we should call this the Age of Rediscovery.
[Techie note: I’m trying a new quotation style. The default style is too difficult to read, don’t you think?]