FEATURED LESSON

THE AMERICAS: A FREE, OPEN TEXTBOOK IN PROGRESS

“Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind. In the sixteenth century, more books were burned than ever before or since. How many Homers vanished? How many Hesiods? What great works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and music vanished or never were created? Languages, prayers, dreams, habits, and hopes—all gone. And not just once, but over and over again. In our antibiotic era, how can we imagine what it means to have entire ways of life hiss away like steam? How can one assay the total impact of the unprecedented calamity that gave rise to the world we live in? It seems important to try.” – Charles C. Mann, author of 1491.

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  • The Aztec: Life Under the Fifth Sun in Old Mexico: A basic overview of the Aztec-Mexica, one of the final great civilizations to arise in the western hemisphere before the paradigm shifting Columbian Exchange, including the dramatic ways in which they harnessed and changed the environment around them to grow their capital city into one of the largest in the world.
  • The Inca: Andean Civilization in the Realm of the Four Parts (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The tremendous success of the Inca was attained by harnessing and adapting the incredible achievements of the earlier peoples of the Andes, one of only six places in the world where civilization developed independently.  
  • Unrecognized Potential: Terra Preta, Ancient Orchards, and Life in the Amazon: Until relatively recently, was widely believed that the Amazon Rainforest was incapable of sustaining large scale human development.  New findings have challenged this view, and evidence of ancient agriculture suggests that humans once developed this fragile region in ways so subtle that – in the form of carefully managed soils and prehistoric orchards – they have been hiding in plain sight all this time, challenging the basic tenants of “agriculture” as western eyes tend to recognize it.

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  • Bartolomé de Las Casas and the Atrocities of the Spanish Conquistadors (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): What would you do if you found yourself surrounded by a violent, unjust system?  In the early Spanish conquest of the Americas, Bartolomé de Las Casas spoke out.
  • Potosi and the Globalization of an Empire (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):  Globalization is nothing new – the indigenous peoples slaving away in the Potosi mines 500 years ago could tell you all about it, while Europeans cracked the whip in order to buy Asian-made goods at affordable prices. Add in the fact that the mines were supplied with food and coca by African slaves laboring away in the low lands, and you have a template for the modern integrated global economy – exploitation, unequal rewards, and all.
  • Conquest or Westward Expansion? – Native Americans and the Stories We Tell: While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, estimates range from a low of 2.1 million people to a high of 18 million.  Words shape the way we think about the world around us.  Stories shape the way we think about ourselves.  We cannot undo the past, but should we make an effort to ensure that the stories we tell are not simply the ones that make us feel better about ourselves?
  • A Basic History of Nicaragua: A basic overview of Nicaraguan history and culture through the end of the modern period, with a focus on the post-colonial period.
  • William Walker, the Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny: William Walker was an American  who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.”
  • Augusto Sandino, National Hero: From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, whom he fought for over five years. He was referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government; his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to United States’ domination.
  • The Duty of the Hour: The Cuban Revolution Part I (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):  Even after its independence from Spain, Cuba spent decades as a semi-colonial state, its politics and economy guided by the United States. The 1959 Cuban Revolution, headed by Fidel Castro, was one of the first defeats of US foreign policy in Latin America.

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  • Reform and Resistance: The Cuban Revolution Part II (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):  Once in power, the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro faced challenges from within and without.  The Cubans found themselves increasingly under fire from the U.S. government, turning toward the Soviet Union for support and defense – and in turn, further alienating the Americans.  This lesson discusses in context the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the U.S. Embargo, as well as the social reforms of the Cuban Revolution.
  • The Sandinistas: The Sandinista National Liberation Front – also called the Sandinistas – are a former guerrilla army and ruling party of Nicaragua. Following a decade of single party rule, they submitted to free and fair elections in 1990, ushering in Nicaragua’s current period of period of peace, democratic stability, and relative prosperity after decades of corrupt dictatorship, civil war, and domination by the U.S. and its corporations.
  • Scenes from Nicaragua, 2015 – supplementary photos to enhance a sense of place.
  • A Guided Tour of Bolivia is a curated photo essay for use in middle and high school social studies classrooms.  The essay offers a brief, completely non-comprehensive overview of Bolivian history and culture circa 2016 and is meant to present these topics in an unconventional way – that is, as if the student were travelling through, wandering, and exploring Bolivia on their own.  Explore the streets of La Paz and El Alto, scramble through the 500 hundred year-old silver mines of Potosi, or race across the barren salt flats of Uyuni.
  • A Guided Tour of Peru is a curated photo essay for use in middle and high school social studies classrooms.  The essay offers a brief, completely non-comprehensive overview of Peruvian history and culture circa 2016 and is meant to present these topics in an unconventional way – that is, as if the student were travelling through, wandering, and exploring Peru on their own.  Explore the streets of Cusco and Lima, scramble through Inca ruins from Machu Picchu on down, take a slow boat up the Amazon River from Iquitos, and an even slower boat across Lake Titicaca to the floating man-made islands of the Uros.