Week 2: First Encounters in the New World — Upload Post Response by Monday, Sept. 11

American Literature Students:

I highly enjoyed reading your self-introductions; it’s clear we have a vibrant and talented group of classmates (with fascinating roots from across the globe) this semester and I look forward to learning as much from you as I hope you do from this class.

This week we begin at the “beginning” with the first discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Of course, indigenous peoples (the Taino and Arawaks) had long already settled in the Caribbean Basin before then. Columbus, however, does seem to get the credit for this nonetheless (there is a statue of him right by Brooklyn City Hall in fact).

This week, I ask you to watch a brief documentary on the Lost History of the Taino People as well as two sets of readings: an optimistic letter by Columbus “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”  and a later, much darker account of the aftermath of colonization by Bartolome de Las Casas called â€śDestruction of the Indies”.

I also ask that you watch a “pre-history” documentary of New York by Eric Sanderson called: “New York: Before the City” as well as a short video on the history of the upstate New York indigenous tribes known as “The Five Nations” or Iroquois: History of the Iroquois (Five Nations)

Lastly, read Ned Blackhawk’s â€śWithout Indigenous History, There is No US History” This article draws from Blackhawk’s new, important book: The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of US History that tells the history of Native Americans over five centuries, from Spanish colonial exploration to the rise of Indian self-determination. 

Post (by next Monday, Sept. 11) a response to a key episode or theme from ONE of your readings AND from ONE of the videos. Explain what you found to be interesting, disturbing, and/or confusing. Try not to duplicate a point made by another student but feel free to expand on his or her post.

To post, simply click “comments” (above). Scroll down. Write your response in the comment box provided. Then “post comment.”


  1. Mumin Khan

    From Eric Sanderson’s TED Talk “New York: Before the City,” I can point out something that I found that was interesting was his utilization of cutting-edge technology and historical information to recreate Manhattan Island’s ecological and environmental history prior to European colonization as the most fascinating component of the discussion. In stark contrast to the modern metropolitan landscape, this computer reconstruction offers an enthralling insight into the lush, diversified ecology that was present there centuries ago.

    I can provide insights into BartolomĂ© de las Casas’ “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” from 1542 in terms of the eyewitness narrative of the early Spanish colonization of the Americas, particularly the Caribbean, is one of BartolomĂ© de las Casas’ most fascinating features. He gives a first-person description of the interactions between the indigenous peoples and the Spanish explorers, giving insight into the cultural conflicts and misunderstandings that existed at the time.

    Also, something that I found disturbing about this was the sheer scale of the devastation and loss of life in the Americas as a result of European colonization, as portrayed by Las Casas, is deeply unsettling. His account serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of conquest and colonization.

    • Mark Noonan

      Important points to consider Mumin. Well done.

  2. Sarah Munassar

    Reading: “Destruction of the Indies” by Bartolomé de las Casas

    In BartolomĂ© de las Casas’ “Destruction of the Indies” published in 1542, what I found fascinating is how strongly BartolomĂ© de las Casas fought for the rights and decent treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas during the Spanish colonization. Las Casas’ eloquent depictions of the brutal massacre and forced labor carried out by the Spanish conquistadors were horrifying and eye-opening. It was admirable how committed he was to recording these atrocities and calling for more moral treatment of native cultures. However, the level of savagery and suffering perpetrated upon the native populations was what disturbed me the most. Las Casas provided examples of massive acts of violence, slavery, and sickness that wiped out entire civilizations and caused a catastrophic loss of life and culture. His testimony serves as a vivid reminder of the disastrous effects of colonization and the pressing need for justice and compassion in the face of such historical injustices. The dehumanization and exploitation of indigenous people by the conquerors were very disturbing.

    Video: History of the Iroquois (Iroquois Confederacy)

    What disturbed me was the way the American Revolution destroyed the Iroquois and put an end to their confederacy. Conflicts, violent outbursts, and the effects of European colonization are all part of the Iroquois people’s history. It is very upsetting and terrible because indigenous groups suffered greatly and lost many members because of European diseases, war, and land dispossession. They lost their lives as a result of their siding with the British. They suffered the loss of their lives, homes, crops, and lands. Instead, the British waged campaigns against them, forcing some of them to leave while the remaining ones struggled until the confederacy ended in their own land.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent observations Sarah. The destruction of the Iroquois way of life (in upstate New York) and all the tribes really is heartbreaking as you say.

  3. Mariam Otero

    I found the TED talk on New York City’s natural history fascinating, being a born and raised New Yorker myself. The speaker made a great point that cities can still connect with nature. While I love NYC as it is now, I agree with the idea of making it more sustainable by borrowing ideas from its past landscape, like green roofs, and urban farms, and bringing back some forests and streams. These changes could help the city reconnect with its ecological roots. This talk helped me understand how cities can affect the environment, for better or worse, and how finding the right balance is crucial.


    In “Without Indigenous History, There Is No U.S. History,” Ned Blackhawk wants to change how we understand American history by including Native American history and addressing past neglect. He argues that the usual focus on Europeans and their descendants leaves out important parts of history, a point I agree with. Blackhawk suggests a new approach that includes Indigenous perspectives, African-American experiences, and the stories of other non-white communities. In this new way of looking at history, Indigenous voices and their contributions become more important, and we can acknowledge the devastating impact of European diseases on Indigenous people.

    • Mark Noonan

      Wonderful points Mariam. We really do have a great deal to learn from the indigenous peoples who did seem to live “in balance” with their environment.

  4. Glory Omoruyi

    New York: Before the City 

    New Sanderson’s documentary, “new York: Before the City” is a fascinating journey through time, showing the unknown stories and landscapes of New York. One thing that stood out to me is that, Sanderson’s astounding research took us through a thoughtful provoking odyssey, elaborating on the forgotten ecosystems and the indigenous people who once inhabited this land. From this documentary, I understood the New York of  before to the New York of Now; overpopulated, saturated, busy and and dirty. The New York of before had is richness which is now been forgotten. This documentary is important to watch for those who are curious about the history of New York.

    Ned Blackhawk’s Article, Without Indigenous History, There is No US History

    The article ” Without Indigenous History, There is No US History” serve a compelling reminder that Native American history play in the broader narrative of the United State. This article is from Ned Blackhawk’s book “The Rediscovery of America: Native people and the unmaking of US History. It trace Native Americans history from the early days of Spanish Colonial exploration  to present era of Indian self-determination and then showcase the enduring significance if indigenous people’s experiences and their struggles.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent points Glory. Blackhawk’s article will be at the center of our discussions and readings of American lit. this semester.

  5. Jimmy

    Eric Sanderson’s Ted Talk ” New York: Before the City”

    I found Eric Sanderson’s TED Talk “New York: Before the City,” to be very interesting because Sanderson explores Manhattan’s ecological past before urbanization. The Manhattan project, utilizes historical maps, data, and computer models to reconstruct the island’s original landscape. Sanderson’s talk was particularly intriguing to me because it reveals wildlife that once thrive on Manhattan. Wildlife that includes bears, wolves and beaves which is mindboggling if told to an average New Yorker. Sanderson emphasizes nature’s resilience as well as the distressing impacts of urbanization. As a computer science major, the technology behind this was fascinating to me. A project of this magnitude requires a lot of data analysis and modeling, which is something I am very interested in and something I want to pursue a career in.

    Ned Blackhawk’s “Without Indigenous History, There is No US History”

    What I found most interesting in Blackhawk’s text would be his call for a new approach to U.S. History. Blackhawk explains how we need to recognize the significant role of Indigenous people in shaping the nation’s past, something we often overlook. Blackhawk’s text highlights the need for a more complete and accurate account of how America began and grew. It is an eye opening read to learn about the huge impact of European diseases on Indigenous communities and how they overcame those struggles. How Indigenous diplomacy and trade played a big part in early American colonies. It is very concerning to learn that this information is being left out of schools, textbooks and public memorials. It shows that we, as a nation, have a lot of work to still do in order to correct this historical oversight.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very astute discussion of both Sanderson’s incredibly tech-savvy research and Blackhawk’s crucial points, Jimmy.

  6. Waleed Yahya

    “Destruction of the Indies” by Bartolome de Las Casas

    In “Destruction of the Indies,” Bartolome de Las Casas provides a harrowing account of the brutal consequences of Spanish colonization in the Americas. What I found particularly disturbing in this reading is the graphic description of the atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples, including mass killings, forced labor, and enslavement. Las Casas’ account serves as a powerful indictment of the violence and exploitation that accompanied European colonization. It’s deeply unsettling to confront the extent of suffering inflicted on Indigenous populations during this period.

    “History of the Iroquois (Five Nations)”:

    The video “History of the Iroquois (Five Nations)” provides an insightful overview of the rich history and political organization of the Iroquois Confederacy. What I found interesting in this video is how the Iroquois Confederacy’s system of governance, which included principles of democracy and diplomacy among the member tribes, predated and influenced certain aspects of the United States’ own governmental structure. This historical connection between Indigenous governance and early American political thought is a crucial reminder of the contributions of Indigenous cultures to the development of the United States.

    The readings and video I’ve chosen highlight the stark contrast between the brutal colonization depicted in Las Casas’ account and the sophisticated governance system of the Iroquois Confederacy. These selections underscore the importance of recognizing both the injustices and the historical contributions of Indigenous peoples in shaping the history of the Americas.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very astute discussion, Waleed, of the significance of the Las Casas “history” and that of the Iroquois. I really liked your observations “of the stark contrast between the brutal colonization depicted in Las Casas’ account and the sophisticated governance system of the Iroquois Confederacy.”

  7. Roussena Jean Pierre

    #1 Documentary Video; Lost History: Rediscovering the TaĂ­no People

    The short documentary "Lost History: Rediscovering the TaĂ­no People" left me both intrigued

    and shocked as it exposes a lesser-known chapter of history. The documentary’s exploration of

    the TaĂ­no people, an indigenous group from the Caribbean, was quite fascinating. It highlighted

    their advanced agricultural practices, artwork, and spiritual beliefs which challenges the

    prevailing misconception that they were just a primitive society. Learning about their intricate

    social structure and contribution to the world of botany was truly captivating and the richness of

    their heritage.

    However, what disturbed me was the documentary's emphasis on the tragic consequences of

    brutal European colonization. The TaĂ­no people's decline in the wake of Christopher Columbus's

    arrival was deeply devastating to me. I felt dismayed witnessing the destruction of their culture,

    including the burning of their sacred texts, was a reminder of the devastating impact of

    colonialism on indigenous communities. People were overworked and faced harsh penalties due

    to vague reasons. The documentary's portrayal of the loss of their language and traditions served

    as an emotional reminder of the ongoing struggle for cultural preservation among most

    indigenous peoples.

    Furthermore, the confusion stemmed from the realization of how little we know about the TaĂ­no

    people's history. It was really distressing to see such an important part of the world's heritage

    erased from the collective memory. The documentary's title itself, "Lost History," reflects this

    sense of mystery and intrigue surrounding the TaĂ­no people.

    #1 reading; Ned Blackhawk's "Without Indigenous History, There is No US History,"

    I perceive Ned Blackhawk's article, "Without Indigenous History, There is No US History," as a

    thought-provoking exploration of the critical role indigenous history plays in deeply

    understanding the broader narrative of the United States. Several aspects of the article stood out

    as interesting, disturbing as well as thought-provoking.

    What I found interesting was Blackhawk's assertion that indigenous history is not a separate

    entity but an integral part of American history. Blackhawk observes that “Even the word

    “America” refers to Europeans and discovery” (Without Indigenous History, There Is No U.S.

    History, 2023). He also contends that the two cannot be divorced, emphasizing that indigenous

    peoples' experiences have shaped the nation's past and present. His perspective challenges the

    conventional Eurocentric view of American history and invites critiques to reconsider the

    foundational narratives of the United States.

    On a disturbing note, Blackhawk highlights the long history of erasure and marginalization of

    indigenous voices in historical accounts. The deliberate omission and distortion of indigenous

    experiences, particularly in textbooks and educational curriculum, is somehow troubling. It

    underscores the ongoing struggle for recognition and the importance of rectifying historical


    • Mark Noonan

      Very thoughtful responses to the powerful (and disturbing) Las Casas “history” and Blackhawk’s wise reflections in his article.

  8. Bai Ngai

    Eric Sanderson’s Ted Talk ” New York: Before the City”

    Eric Sanderson’s TED Talk “New York: Before the City” dives into the city’s fascinating history, highlighting the significant distinction between its past and present. Eric Sanderson emphasizes New York’s rich natural history, with healthy woods and wetlands now compared to the modern urban landscape. It states that much of current Manhattan was formerly a geological environment. Sanderson investigates how the city evolved from a natural landscape to a concrete jungle filled with buildings. His research included old maps from books and the use of technological data map analysis to provide a unique viewpoint on the growth of the city. From watching this I learned a lot about old NY and how it would compare to what we know as NYC now. This TED talk was posted back in 2009 and the technology we had available allowed Eric to even build map comparisons was what intrigued me the most.

    “Destruction of the Indies” by Bartolomé de las Casas

    The amount of sheer violence displayed in the reading was what disturbed me the most. The images provided display such inhumane acts of violence toward the natives is extremely disturbing. The natives held the Christians to a higher position because of how they viewed them, but in return, they received inhumane acts of violence that led to the mass execution of their tribes. The colonizer’s greed and hunger for power drove the massive extinctions of many different native tribes. This was such a disturbing read.

    • Mark Noonan

      Thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt response to both pieces. Yes,the Las Casas history is so very disturbing.

  9. Sajeevan

    Reading: Without Indigenous History, There Is No U.S. History

    A key theme from the reading is how people should focus on Native American History. We should talk about Indigenous people finding America and they were living here before anyone found it. Also, they weren’t given equal rights as other white American people, even though they deserved equal rights. Something that I find interesting is how the name America refers to Europeans. It was named after Americus Vesputius. Something that I find disturbing is during the Civil War government campaigns for child removal of Indian kids. They were forced to taken to boarding schools and they had to grow up without their parents.

    Video: Iroquois Confederacy

    A key episode from the Iroquois Confederacy video is how they all cooked together and ate together. Also, they stay in the same wooden houses. Something I find interesting is how even though all the tribes stay in the same place, they don’t work together. They have their own different hunting grounds. Also, each tribe has its own trading partnership with the European settlers. Since they want the best deal, they go to the British and French. They select whoever gives the best deal. What I find disturbing is how the Iroquois sided with the British in the war and they had to lose everything. A lot of people died and a lot of people had to leave their houses to go to Canada.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent overview of Blackhawk’s article and the Iroquois video, Sajeevan.

  10. Taylor Edwards

    Eric Sanders New York before City

    Immediately, I am captivated by Eric Sanderson’s evocative description of the world as “lost”. There is a curious irony in the idea that we have ostensibly “found” this world, and yet we have lost touch with its original essence. It is particularly compelling to consider the ways in which we perceive and interact with New York City on a daily basis, without pausing to contemplate its pre-urbanized origins. Sanderson’s vivid depictions of the cityscape before the advent of towering skyscrapers and dazzling lights are so remarkable as to appear almost unreal. As someone who has always associated the city with its iconic architecture, it is difficult to envision it as anything else. At once jarring and illuminating, Sanderson challenges us to reconsider our conception of what the world truly is, and what it might become in several years.

    Ned BlackHawk

    Ned Blackhawk’s article argues that the traditional view of American history, which neglects indigenous peoples, is flawed and misleading. Blackhawk stresses the diversity, resourcefulness, and resistance of indigenous peoples, who were not just passive victims, but active agents of history. He also highlights the conscious strategy of European powers to seize native lands, resources and sovereignty through myths of discovery and divine providence. This resulted in forced assimilation, cultural genocide, and violence against indigenous communities, which had long-lasting effects. Blackhawk maintains that an accurate understanding of native peoples and their experiences is critical for a comprehensive understanding of American history, and calls for a more equitable and inclusive relationship between indigenous nations and non-native peoples. He envisions a future where indigenous knowledge and values are more widely respected and integrated into mainstream institutions and policies.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very sophisticated and thoughtful responses, Taylor. I really liked your line: “There is a curious irony in the idea that we have ostensibly “found” this world, and yet we have lost touch with its original essence.” You also hit on the centrality and importance of Blackhawk’s mission.

  11. Christina Bethelmy

    As a native New Yorker, I found the TED lecture on New York City’s natural history fascinating. Today, the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of New York City is skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, among other things. However, it’s interesting to go back in time and see how the geographic environment that was once huge meadow with enormous hills and streams before anthropogenic intervention, pollution, and poor air quality, including towering buildings, has changed. It used to be a forest with beaches and acres for agriculture where iconic landscapes such as Times Square or Barclays were, and it’s extremely amazing how much it’s changed over time.

    Ned Blackhawk seeks to transform how we interpret American history by incorporating Native American history and rectifying previous neglect in “There Is No US History.” Indigenous people are significant in American history because they battled hard to gain civil freedoms from the nations that conquered them. Indigenous peoples had an important part in the history of the Americas. Many of the historically significant events and developments in the Americas affected the present globe. Giving history an American Indian perspective improves comprehension of global history.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very good readings of both pieces, Christina. Did you officially sign-up to Open Lab. I do not see you listed as a member of the class. I also don’t see your self-introduction. Let me know if you need addition instruction on how to do this.

  12. Akeria

    Video:” Lost History: Rediscovering the Taino People”

    When watching this documentary, it left me dismayed by showcasing the real history of where Taino people came from. What disturbed me the most about when watching this film is how poorly and overworked the Taino people were being treated. The amount of violence the Taino people had to endure was absolutely disturbing to people hear. What I found fascinating about the documentary is how much pride Taino people took on being Taino. To add on, what I also found to be disturbing about the film, is how a Spaniard accused a Taino of stealing leading to the Spaniard cutting off the Taino’s ear. What I found interesting about the film is the history of Taino heritage.

    Reading: “Letter of Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to America,1942”

    In the reading what I found interesting is that Hispaniola is the most accessible for gold mines. To add on, another thing that i found interesting about the reading is Christopher Columbus perceive on people’s native heritage. One thing that disturbed me the most while reading this letter is the monsters that supposedly possesses canoes and eat human fish.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very good discussion, Akeria. I agree with you about the horrid mistreatment of the Taino peoples.

  13. Fiama

    Reading:” On his first voyage to America, 1492.”

    A key theme in the reading was the desire to conquer land. Columbus claimed he had visited all the islands and that they had no government or king. However, Indigenous people at the time didn’t know of the possibility that there was more than what they already knew. Columbus and his people took advantage of and abused them because all he desired was new land to explore. Columbus couldn’t communicate properly with the indigenous people and they were left confused. Since he couldn’t communicate with them, it’s clear they had no idea Columbus came to their land with the idea of renaming it and giving it to someone else. Indigenous people went through injustice and were ripped entirely away from their land. Columbus only cared about the islands’ resources and all the gold he could provide for the king.

    Video: “New City: Before the City”

    From the TED talk, I found both interesting and disturbing how humanity made urbanization happen through time. The pictures and examples showed how the city became a city. It’s disturbing how something can disappear altogether and we only know it existed through paintings and drawings. I think through time some pieces of the city will also vanish and people will only know about them through stories and pictures.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent discussion, Fiama.

  14. Rujin Chen

    Revolution/Warfare theme—-lead to the rise and fall of empires, the redrawing of borders, and the forging of alliances. Throughout time, warfare has evolved in tactics, weaponry, and strategies. It has been a force for both devastation and transformation, influencing art, literature, and technology.

    Video: Iroquois Confederacy

    This video introduces the five Indian nations was a powerful Native America alliance formed in the early 1600s that shared governance, democratic decision-making, but remained independent of one another, and a constitution known as the Great Law if Peace. I feel the most interesting thing in this video is as History Professor, Evan Haefeli states that “the goal of the confederacy was to keep the peace among its members and resolve conflicts.” Therefore, the confederacy had a significant influence on the development of democratic ideas. For example, state laws and federal laws. Besides, the trading tactics made them wealthy. However, during the American revolution war (1775-1783) due to the Iroquois stranded the wrong side with the British, the whole empire became devastated and was totally diminished. The cost of this warfare was involving loss of everything, and this is the most disturbing point, “survival of the fittest.” Even they were the most “powerful and dominate group,” without prudent choices and preparation, the five nations were taken down with suffered Iroquois in the history (picking sides are important in a war).

    Reading: Destruction of the Indies

    “A short account of the destruction of the indies” by Bartolomé de las casas explained the details that the war took place across various regions of the Americas, including present-day Mexico, the Caribbean islands, central and south America. He documented the brutal war and the devastation inflicted upon indigenous population in the Americas during the early year of European colonization, particularly by Spanish conquistadors. This occurred primarily in the 16th century, following Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World in 1492. Bartolomé de las casas, a Spanish Dominican friar, witnessed and documented the bloody and brutal “for political as well as religious reasons” treatment to the indigenous people. The braveness and powerful voice raised awareness about these injustices, including force labor, enslavement, torment, and gave our diseases that caused huge population decline. Again, warfare caused all of these and lead revolution then progress. Things always have many sides. It reminds me almost the same warfare situation in Nanjing Massacre and holocaust. The war theme is dark, heavy, and inconsolable. I can’t fully believe what had happened in the war over the history because history has been always written by the winner. However, what I can learn from the history is that the “truth” inspires me.

    • Mark Noonan

      Thank you for your heartfelt and thoughtful discussion, Rujin. I really appreciated your analogy to the Nanjing Massacre and accompanying comment:

      I can’t fully believe what had happened in the war over the history because history has been always written by the winner. However, what I can learn from the history is that the “truth” inspires me.

      This class will try to break through a lot of historical myths to get through to “the truth”.

  15. Taramattie Persaud

    The Ted Talk focused in on the differences between the city’s past and today, Eric Sanderson’s TED Talk “New York: Before the City” focuses into the history of NY. Sanderson highlights New York’s land differences such as how we use to be a rural town. This is a complete 180 of today’s metropolitan environment. Sanderson looks at how the city changed from rural to urban. His research involved a lot of supplemental material such as modern data map analysis and historical maps from books. I learned numerous things about old New York and comparing it to the NYC we know today from watching this. 

    In “Without Indigenous History, There Is No U.S. History,” Ned Blackhawk seeks to reframe how we perceive American history. This is kind of shaped around the idea of Columbus Day. We never were taught the trials and tribulations the Native Americans went through. Blackhawk incorporated Native American history and addressed historical neglect. This new perspective on history allows us to recognize the destructive effects of European diseases on Indigenous people while also giving Indigenous voices and contributions more weight. This is shown through the renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. They are more efforts how to speak out about the full truth on history. 

    • Mark Noonan

      Great points Taramattie. I really like how you connect Blackhawk’s article to attention now given to Columbus Day, or more properly, Indigenous Peoples Day.

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