“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.
Openendsocialstudies.org is bringing the remnants of these vibrant cultures to life in your classroom – check out our library of free readings, lessons, and activities on precolumbian American civilizations.
- The Three Sisters: Background information on the agricultural combination of maize (corn), beans, and squash that formed the backbone of the Mesoamerican and North American civilization, plus suggested activities.
- The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The Maya people’s rich history can be traced back nearly four thousand years, during which time they have refined and extraordinary and vibrant culture all their own.
- Teotihuacan: The Place Where the Gods were Born (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who built these incredible ruins outside of present day Mexico City, which include one of the largest pyramids in all of history? How did this mysterious civilization influence its neighbors and successors?
- 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. A lesson in two parts:
- 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.
I recently took trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Forgoing the usual tourist center of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, I headed inland to Mérida. From this, a Maya city turned Spanish colonial center turned Mexican provincial capital, one of the oldest inhabited places in the Western Hemisphere, I undertook a short series of day trips to the great Maya ruins of the Yucatan, including Chichen Izta, Uxmal, and Ek’ Balam.
To maximize my time – to make the most sense of my all too brief visit to this incredible region – I did my homework before I left the States. Of particular use to me – and to anyone looking to learn more about the Maya and their Mesoamerican neighbors – is The Maya (People and Places) by Michael Coe. While certain passages were somewhat esoteric in their detailed account of the history of Maya archaeology, the book itself was eminently readable – a great resource for anyone looking to cut through the hype and 2012 sensationalism that soaks the usual Amazon search results.
Aimed at younger readers – but still rich and directly written, with lush illustrations – Ancient Maya by Barbara Somervill is a book that paints a nuanced portrait of this complex society. Suitable for a middle or high school library, and I can honestly say that as an educator I took a lot away from this book myself. It never speaks down to its audience, which is the sign that a book is truly accessible to all ages.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann is a perennial favorite of mine. While its scope is far wider than the Maya – encompassing Teotihuacan, the Aztec, the Inca, and many more Pre-Columbian societies that deserve more attention from the general public, Mann’s masterpiece is a true revelation – an inspiration that started me down the path that eventually led to the creation of Openendedsocialstudies.org.
If you know of any other relevant books I should be looking at – especially if they might help to inform future travel and lessons here at Openendedsocialstudies – please leave a comment in the section below!
What is the root cause of our world’s troubles?
If you ask me, it’s not a trade imbalance or a terrorist threat. If we’re talking about the problem that lies at the heart of everything, it’s got to be a severe, devastating lack of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Continue reading “Open Ended Social Studies has the chapters that your world history textbook is missing”
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. Continue reading “Who made your smartphone? Globalization, raw materials, and slave labor from Potosi to Silicon Valley”
Check out the inaugural episode of the Open Ended Social Studies YouTube series on the Inca. It’s a great supplement to our featured lesson on the Inca. Continue reading “Open Ended Social Studies on YouTube: The Inca”
Meet my World – a film by Peruvian youth, in their own words.
From the filmmakers:
Amantani is an Anglo Peruvian NGO, which works to help children from marginalised Quechua families to access education, stimulating social development for Peru’s most disadvantaged communities. Together with our friends at Andina restaurant in London, we have created Meet My World; a participatory film campaign developed by indigenous children from the Andes of Peru.
Continue reading “Meet my World – a film by Peruvian youth, in their own words.”