Sickening To Think About

‘Sickening’… get it?

This week readings focuses on epidemic, old and new and how they have shaped our world. To me, they have made me think about how much our present views and attitudes are perfectly shaped by our past. Without the presence of deadly disease that revenged the Americans, what would’ve the outcome been. We view Europe as the most powerful and advanced group of people from 1000 AD on, but how much of that is due to these diseases? If 90% of all Americans weren’t wiped out and were available to fight the colonizers as they were attempting to colonize I think there would’ve been a different outcome. I still think Europe would’ve colonized to a certain degree because of their technology but we can not be certain at all that they would’ve been able to take down the Aztec or Mayan empires. However, we do have a reference. The Native Americans from current day America were not just wiped out by disease. From what I’ve learned, their population estimates were in the 50 millions and they by 1960 they numbered a little over 5 million. And as I said, this was not just due to disease, it was an intentional genocide, brought about by the means of murder, in the physical and cultural sense. So I think that the Europeans would’ve still had much “success”, but the Aztecs and Mayans were very powerful at their peaks, which the Europeans never had to face, as stated by the readings (unless I’m misinterpreting them). The Americas today are now in shambles, being completely dominated for centuries by Europe and now dominated by the modern colonizer of America. I wonder if they would have a nation that would be considered by todays standards powerful if they were available to fight.

The Past and Pending

As someone who really likes history, and really likes epidemiology, this week’s reading was especially engaging. I will start with Lewis and Maslin’s “Defining the Anthropocene”. I have always been fascinated by how carbon-14 dating and other such methods are so able to date times long past. The parts of the paper that most stood out to me were when they talked about the methods that they used to track human impact. The part where they looked at preserved Maize pollen in Europe to determine when the first cross Atlantic trading occurred blew my mind. 

Onto the second paper, “From Columbus to COVID-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” by George Lovell. I really enjoyed the way he broke down the impacts of disease location by location. I also find it interesting how much debate there is over how many people originally lived here in the Americas before colonization took off. The only records we have are of the local people writing of almost total societal collapse, and of the Spanish just treating the Native Americans like cattle. Because of this, coming to a total is very difficult. There is also a pretty big leap in the estimated number of people originally along the 1900’s. The earliest cited paper, Kroeber 1939, estimated a mere 8.4 million native Americans originally. Compare this to the figure of 60.5 million from Maslin and Lewis. History, especially this sort of stuff that we aren’t really taught about in high school, really interests me. It also begs the question, what would have happened if these societies never broke down right as the Spanish came to attack.

Lewis and Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” Nature (March 2015), excerpt: “Collision of the Old and New Worlds” (p. 174-175)

Lovell, “From Columbus to COVID-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” Journal of Latin American Geography (July 2020), 177-185

unseen causes of climate change

During one of our earlier classes, as a class we were discussing how covid has humbled humans, in a way. I think that the readings from this week, especially the reading of the genocide of indeginous people and how it draws parallels to covid. Taking a step back from Columbus and the result of his voyage, covid has really shown the world that we are still human and that there are things that we cannot predict can happen. 

Covid is a virus, which means you can’t see it unless it is under a microscope, and I think that covid could also be used like climate change. Because both are unseen, many people are unaware of how big of an issue it really is. In the earliest stages of covid, back during the summer of 2020, people were protesting lockdown mandates that were there to help keep everyone safe. I think because people either didn’t know someone who got covid, or couldn’t see the impacts of covid (among other reasons) they thought that lockdown was ineffective. While that is simplifying and ignoring some points, I would be surprised if in those early days there weren’t at least a handful of people who thought that way. 

I think that this is also like how some people see climate change, they think that because they haven’t seen the real effects of climate change they think that it isn’t happening or that it isn’t as big of a deal as it is made out to be. I think that the fact that there are some pockets in the U.S. that haven’t really experienced the same amount of warming over the past 100 years as the rest of the country has, means that they don’t feel the same thing that everyone on the news they watch talks about. 

Because of the fact that climate change is an unseen problem it may lead to more than a few people thinking that whatever is being talked about isn’t real. However just because there are people who downplay or outright deny the existence of climate change, it doesn’t mean that work to mitigate climate change should be stopped.

Pandemics in History

When the global pandemic hit in 2020, I remember hearing comparisons between prior diseases left and right; mostly pertaining to the Swine Flu, the Spanish Flu, and the more extreme end, the Black Plague. These diseases are more prevalent in the Western Hemisphere’s common consciousness, but there are many other pandemics that have populated the Western Hemisphere, and the lesser known being contained to the Western Hemisphere’s southern half. In Lowell’s piece “From Columbus to Covid-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic” he focuses on 4 geographical settings: Hispaniola, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador. He reflects on how these pandemics and the current Covid-19, but more importantly, the way in which the pandemics have spread at the same rate, even though the world is better equipped to handle today than they were in 1492.

One of the big differences between those pandemics of the past and the current is the way in which it was brought about. Each of the plagues discussed in the essay were diseases brought by the colonizers that conquered the areas, instead of the way in which Covid-19 was brought about.

The newfound diseases of the Anthropocene are just one component of many that have come about in consequence of the era. With more people packing closer and closer together, diseases have much more affluent transmission rates, and even though Coronavirus is still relatively new compared to the prior pandemics, the globalization that has occurred as a symptom of the Anthropocene has led to rapid and sometimes lethal spreading. Just like climate change, humans have had to deal with increasingly more and increasingly complex issues, and the global pandemic is just one of many. The comparison of the pandemics serves as a forewarning to world leaders to what could be the end result if it goes ignored.