What If European History Was Told Like Native American History?

european historyAn Indigenous History of North America inverts the norm by imagining a U.S. school textbook devoted to the intricacies of indigenous societies in the Americas, with a few paragraphs covering the history of Europe:

The first immigrants to Europe arrived thousands of years ago from central Asia. Most pre-contact Europeans lived together in small villages. Because the continent was very crowded, their lives were ruled by strict hierarchies within the family and outside it to control resources. Europe was highly multi-ethnic, and most tribes were ruled by hereditary leaders who commanded the majority “commoners.” These groups were engaged in near constant warfare.

Religion infused every part of Europeans’ lives. Europeans believed in one supreme deity, a father figure, who they believed was made of three parts, and they particularly worshiped the deity’s son. They claimed that their god had given humans domination over the earth. They built elaborate temples to him and performed ceremonies in which they ate crackers and drank wine and believed it was the body and blood of their god, who would provide them with entrance into a wondrous afterlife called heaven when they died. Many wars were fought over disagreements about the details of this religion, each group believing their interpretation was the right one that should be spread across the land.

Before contact, Europeans had very poor diets. Most people were farmers and grew wheat and vegetables and raised cows and sheep to eat. They rarely washed themselves, and had many diseases because they often let their animals live with them.

Pre-contact Europeans wore clothing made of natural materials such as animal skin and plant and animal-based textiles. Women wore long dresses and covered their hair, and men wore tunics and leggings. Both men and women liked to wear jewelry made from precious stones and metals as a sign of status.

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  • BuzzCoastin

    History is Written By the Winners.
    George Orwell

    History will teach us nothing.
    CG Jung

    • Ittabena

      I agree with Mr. Orwell but I have to take issue with Mr. Jung’s statement. Some of us are not satisfied by the homogenous version of history and look for the true history; what really happened.

      Case in point; the US has always claimed to be the good guy, and if you pay attention in the classroom – a monumental achievement for anyone who brought their brain with them that day – and don’t look any further you would think (present company excepted) that we as a nation had all of a sudden become terribly evil. But if you look at the real history of the European man’s actions on this continent it becomes clear very quickly that we haven’t spent more than five minutes being the good guys since the day that Columbus landed here. (His men started the long American tradition of bashing the heads of American Indian babies against rocks.) We just do a good job sweeping our trash under the carpet after the fact.

      I have to disagree with Mr. Jung in that I feel that decisions made without an honest view of history in mind are at best uninformed guesswork. If he had started the same sentence with the word conventional, I could agree.

      • Simon Valentine

        nothing is what truly happened. perhaps the incomplete idea of everything, some portend, pretend, etc.

        nothing is the basis of all things. space crumples around nothing to make the junk we see around everywhere as if it were everything.

        not necessarily contra, you and Jung, Jung and me, me and you, yes?

        • Ittabena

          Oh sure, make the jump to philosophy without even warning a guy. Lol.

          True enough though.

          • Simon Valentine

            i would sacrifice a dozen schadenfreude in your honor :)

      • BuzzCoastin

        I think Jung was making an ironic comment
        since obviously
        history has taught us nothing

        history is not really “history”
        it’s an interpretation (spin) of the facts

        I don’t think wee can really blame schools for this
        because I found out the other side of the story
        without any help or hindrance from school

        and despite all the havoc wrought by Colombo
        white Europeans
        were peacefully interacting with American Indians
        centuries before Colombo arrived

        so the genocide seems to be a change in policy
        and not the predilection of a whole race of people
        but the workings of a small minority with power

        • Ittabena

          I see your point, but I wasn’t referring to people so much as creatures of power.

  • Matt Staggs

    Readers may enjoy “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann.

    • Juan

      Thanks. I’ll have to check that out.

    • InfvoCuernos

      Another good read and case in point for differnet views of history is The Broken Spears edited by Miguel Leon-Portilla – its actually the oral history handed down by the Aztec survivors of the Conquistadors Invasion.

  • Anarchy Pony

    I always thought it would be interesting to look at the history of Europe in this way.

  • emperorreagan

    It’s interesting to think about how bad all narratives of history are. We have a limited, biased set of information and we’re evaluating that information in retrospect to try to form some coherent sequence of events.

    Really, the narratives we choose to believe probably have far more to say about us (our values, motives, etc.) than they have to say about what actually happened.

    • mannyfurious

      This is interesting to me because I recently read Julian Jaynes’ THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND after reading about it on Disinfo, and the thing that struck me is how people can look back on history and see what they want to see. That’s not necessarily a criticism on Jaynes, who I actually think was on the right track re: several of his premises, but just an observation. Jaynes looks back through history and sees an automotomic species, while others look back and see a superstitious species, while others look back and see a hierarchical species, while others look back and see a creative species and so on and so forth….

      • jnana

        projection makes perception

        • mannyfurious

          Too true, ain’t it?

          • jnana

            its ok. just be aware of it and don’t get all bent out of shape when people act on their perceptions created by their projections. just have mercy on them and remember you, too, perceive yer own projections. as it is now, we see through a mirror, darkly. but it is assured, that soon we will know just as surely as we are known.

  • InfvoCuernos

    I don’t see a problem with this “version”. Its pretty much what I have always heard and there doesn’t seem to be anything false it. Is someone disputing any of this?

  • The Well Dressed Man

    Interesting theme on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA, we have an extremely limited knowledge of the nations that were here before. Ever visited Bandelier National Park in New Mexico? A large-scale, urban culture lived there in dwellings built into canyon walls, very much like high-rise apartments, a thousand years ago. It’s amazing. As descendants of colonists, knowledge of our ancestry is similarly limited to the recent era. The genetic information about the early Europeans is getting really interesting. “Cro-Magnon,” and “Neanderthal” DNA suggests a very old indigenous population, and the successive migrations and invasions are also being mapped out from the double-helix.

    • Robert Lai

      A lot of the histories I’ve read or seen make the mistake of thinking that there’s ever been a “simple” time in human history. We’ve always been complicated and are only now even beginning to appreciate that complexity.

      Short Version: “Yep, good point.”

  • Aram Jahn

    Good comments so far. My first take upon reading the excerpt from Sloan (I haven’t yet clicked on the link) was the tone of the piece reminded me of a famous Anthropology/Sociology paper by Horace Miner (IIRC), called “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” It was usually included in anthologies of interesting papers for Sociology/Anthropology in undergrad textbooks in the 1980s and 90s, but I’m not sure if it’s still being reprinted. But if anyone’s innarested:

    https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html?pagewanted=al

  • Robert Lai

    This would have been a fantastic textbook to have had. You can find the specifics if you look, but it often takes quite some time to start really assembling them into a context (and even longer to pry it out of the early writers’ “sub-human children” POV or it’s direct descendant the equally dehumanizing “noble spiritual savage” POV). Vast, complex multi-ethnic nations, as of yet un-ravaged by plague, with divergent technological development, ranging across the resource-rich continent, complete with the wars and trade, politics and faith, as cruel and noble and bloodthirsty and kind and foolish and brilliant as any people anywhere are going to be. Told like a story about PEOPLE in all their complexities, not a fairy tale about THINGS. Of course, I’d like to see more histories about anything told like that… And I understand that my agenda of “hold my interest” is rarely the same as the agendas of the textbook makers ;)

  • Ittabena

    Perdoname! I will try to straighten up.