Heralding A New Creation: The Spanish Empire In South America

James Billington resides as the Chief Librarian of the Library of Congress, throughout his tenure in Washington where he advises both international and domestic policy wonks, he continues to reveal that the most published people on the planet are:  Jesus, Shakespeare and Lincoln.  It just not possible to keep up with the amount of material published on either subject.  The same for Columbus and the discovery of the New World.

For those most interested in pursuing writers who have the finest touch regarding the social, political and theological impact that became of Columbus, Billington tells of three scholars that manage such fine erudition their masterpieces must be in each home.

Samuel Eliot Morison “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” 1942.

Felipe Fernandez Armesto “1492”.

And finally, the triliogy of Charles C. Mann, especially his most recent “1493:  Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.”

Mann remains the only easily read scholar who writes for mortals, and not other archane specialists who scorn contemporary readers.  Mann remains committed to examining the best that has become of archeology, geology, history, diplomacy, and military history.  Most of the time he pilots to the very locations he’s studying.   Prior to his latest, he wrote “1491:  Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” which remains the standard for anyone interesting in understanding the impact of Columbus’ discovery.  His interest is simple to understand:  a synoptic approach beginning with 1491 through 1493, examing the social, cultural and political impact of his voyages.

Mann’s book is to examine the port cities and host countries that were impacted by Columbus, especially one generation after his discovery.  His discovery really did recreate Pangaea, for the cities of Havana, Seville, Cartagena, Manila and Mexico were once again connected, the substances each port trafficked in is examined:  sugar, gold, silver, spices, slaves, rum and women.   Mann even investigates microbes, diseases and changed ecology that came with such discovery.   Wheat, horses, cattle, guns and coffee made there way to the new world from the old; tobacco, sugar cane and corn were the big staple crops that arrived in the old world along with malaria, plague, yellow fever and most venereal diseases made their way to the new world.

Mann discovers that most of the inhabitants that arrived into South America immediately after Columbus were African slaves.  The must stunning cultural shock was for natives to acknowledge the ‘African’.   Mann writes that most Spanish explorers were shocked to discover that many fugitive African slaves had beaten them across that Central American isthmus.

Mann’s footnotes alone are worth the cost of the book:  did you know that North American earthworms were imported from the old world.  The final continental glaciers killed off North America’s indigenous worms.)  Not to mention that today’s China grows more white potatoes than any other country in the world, a crop originated from the old world.

Mann also traces how Columbus’ discovery brought Japan into the western orbit.

Let me explain.

The discovery of Peruvian silver by the Spanish opened up the Japanese market after the arrival of the Spanish in Manila.

Charles Mann is a rare historian who helps his reader understand the broader context from which Columbus’ discovery should be appreciated.


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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