SAVY 2019: Session 4, Day 1 – Journey Through Time: An Investigation of Colonial America (Rising 3rd/4th)
We had a great first day in Journey through Time!
We started class talking about what a historian does and what, in turn, a history class should be. The students were presented with the challenging proposition that, while factual and carefully researched, historical studies are still interpretative and inherently subjective. Students then, if they are to start thinking like historians, should be studying facts in a history class, not for the sake of memorization, but to create their own interpretations of the past. The idea of the class is to be equal parts of both: facts and interpretation.
After this introduction, we moved into content. The class will culminate with the rise of the English colonies in North America, but today, we spent most of our time on what the Americas looked like before European arrival. We talked about the abundant landscape and wildlife of the “New” World but discussed how this was far from a pristine landscape. We watched videos, for instance, on how Native Americans across the Americas altered their surroundings to fit their needs and why such a bountiful landscape was so important to their survival.
We then turned our attention to the three great civilizations of the Americas that existed in the centuries leading up to European contact: Cahokia and the Mound Builders in North America, the Aztecs in Central America, and the Incas in South America. We discussed the foundations of their rise to power, which in each case involved agricultural breakthroughs (corn with Cahokia and the Aztecs and potatoes with the Incas). With each one, agricultural productivity led to the rise of an amazingly sophisticated and powerful civilization.
We then discussed the fall of both the Aztecs and Incas to the Spanish, an outcome, which on the surface, makes little sense. We talked about the key factors involved (guns, division among the Native peoples, and disease) and weighed the importance of each.
We finished the day with the strange case of Cahokia and the demise of the Mound Building cultures in North America. They would disappear too, but unlike the Aztecs and the Incas, they were never directly conquered. We built a replica of the great city of Cahokia to scale (mostly) so that the students could grasp what an impressive city and civilization it was. We stopped there and will start tomorrow by taking up the question of what exactly happened to these impressive civilizations in North America after 1492.