A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
October 10, 2011-A New Perspective
This is the first of what I hope will now become more regular updates; updates that will be from a somewhat different perspective, as I will now be writing from Tel Aviv and not from Mamaroneck, NY.
Before commenting on the news I wanted to spend a few moments giving a personal perspective on our first days here. In the past few years I have visited Israel many times, but its been almost two decades since I last lived here. Today, I must say it is different. To summarize our experiences, everything has improved dramatically in the past 20 years. A few examples, considering our business, connection to the internet is obviously an essential tool for what we do. So before we left the US I contacted one of the major internet providers to arrange the fastest internet service possible in our new apartment. The day after we arrived, the Bezek representative called to say he would be half an hour early to install our internet service. It took the technician 20 minutes, and we had hi-speed internet. It may not be as fast as what we had in the US (20 mb down and 1 up), but it is fast enough.
Other surprising experiences include our visit to the Ministry of Interior whose representative stayed open late to make sure we got our identity cards the day after we arrived. Plenty of time remained that afternoon for us to purchase a new bed and mattress for my Dad, which arrived within two hours-- as promised. Finally, last night we went to IKEA. We took some of the small items home with us, but many would not fit in our car. We left the IKEA store at 8:30pm and were told the merchandise would be delivered in the next two days. At 6:30am this morning the bell rang and the IKEA delivery man was there with our goods.
Of course things could still become difficult-- our shipping company questions if our container can get into our street, and we are going to pay storage charges since we arrived later than expected and container arrived significantly earlier than expected. However, all in all, as the ad says- “this isn’t your father’s Israel”
As to the state of affairs, as a general first hand account, whatever else is happening in the Middle East, the people who live in Tel Aviv on the surface seem unconcerned. The biggest concern here at the moment is the threatened resignation of almost all of the interns in Israel’s hospitals. Beyond that, it is not clear where this summer's protest movement is going. Prime Minister Netanyahu succeeded in getting his cabinet to approve, in principal, the suggestions of his committee to change economic priorities in Israel. The protest leaders believe these suggestions did not go far enough. However, beyond that approval in principal by the cabinet, does not mean the actual implementation will take place. After all, part of the reports called for implementation of laws that have been on the books since the 1980’s.
Remembering Henry Johnson, the Soldier Called “Black Death”
Like hundreds of thousands of young American men, Henry Johnson returned from World War I and tried to make a life for himself in spite of what he had experienced in a strange and distant land. With dozens of bullet and shrapnel wounds, he knew he was lucky to have survived. His discharge records erroneously made no mention of his injuries, and so Johnson was denied not only a Purple Heart, but a disability allowance as well. Uneducated and in his early twenties, Henry Johnson had no expectations that he could correct the errors in his military record. He simply tried to carry on as well as a black man could in the country he had been willing to give his life for.
He made it back home to Albany, New York, and resumed his job as a Red Cap porter at the train station, but he never could overcome his injuries—his left foot had been shattered, and a metal plate held it together. Johnson’s inability to hold down a job led him to the bottle. It didn’t take long for his wife and three children to leave. He died, destitute, in 1929 at age 32. As far as anyone knew, he was buried in a pauper’s field in Albany. A man who had earned the nickname “Black Death” in combat was quickly forgotten.
The denial of a disability pension, the Purple Heart oversight, the fleeting recognition—none of it surprised his son, Herman Johnson, who later served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The younger Johnson knew all about Jim Crow, second-class citizenship and the systematic denial of equal rights to black Americans. But in 2001, 72 years after Henry Johnson’s death, a great and unlikely mystery was revealed to the soldier’s estranged son: On July 5, 1929, Henry Johnson had been buried not in an anonymous grave in Albany, but with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Historians who located Johnson’s place of burial believed there could be no more appropriate honor for Herman’s father, who proved his valor on the night of May 14, 1918, in the Argonne Forest.
Just a year earlier, Henry Johnson, who stood 5-foot-4 and weighed 130 pounds, had enlisted in the all-black 15th New York National Guard Regiment, which was renamed the 369th Infantry Regiment when it shipped out to France. Poorly trained, the unit mostly performed menial labor—unloading ships and digging latrines—until it was lent to the French Fourth Army, which was short on troops. The French, less preoccupied by race than were the Americans, welcomed the men known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The Hellfighters were sent to Outpost 20 on the western edge of the Argonne Forest, in France’s Champagne region, and Privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, from Trenton, New Jersey, were given French helmets, French weapons and enough French words to understand commands from their superiors. The two American soldiers were posted on sentry duty on the midnight-to-four a.m. shift. Johnson thought it was “crazy” to send untrained men out at the risk of the rest of the troops, he later told a reporter, but he told the corporal he’d “tackle the job.” He and Roberts weren’t on duty long when German snipers began firing at them.
After the shots rang out, Johnson and Roberts lined up a box of grenades in their dugout to have ready if a German raiding party tried to make a move. Just after 2 a.m., Johnson heard the “snippin’ and clippin’ ” of wirecutters on the perimeter fence and told Roberts to run back to camp to let the French troops know there was trouble. Johnson then hurled a grenade toward the fence, which brought a volley of return gunfire from the Germans, as well as enemy grenades. Roberts didn’t get far before he decided to return to help Johnson fight, but he was hit with a grenade and wounded too badly in his arm and hip to do any fighting. Johnson had him lie in the trench and hand him grenades, which the Albany native threw at the Germans. But there were too many enemy soldiers, and they advanced from every direction Johnson ran out of grenades. He took German bullets in the head and lip but fired his rifle into the darkness. He took more bullets in his side, then his hand, but kept shooting until he shoved an American cartridge clip into his French rifle and it jammed.
By now, the Germans were on top of him. Johnson swung his rifle like a club and kept them at bay until the stock of his rifle splintered then he went down with a blow to his head. Overwhelmed, he saw that the Germans were trying to take Roberts prisoner. The only weapon Johnson had left was a bolo knife, so he climbed up from the ground and charged, hacking away at the Germans before they could get clean shot at him.
“Each slash meant something, believe me,” Johnson later said. “I wasn’t doing exercises, let me tell you.” He stabbed one German in the stomach, felled a lieutenant, and took a pistol shot to his arm before driving his knife between the ribs of a soldier who had climbed on his back. Johnson managed to drag Roberts away from the Germans, who retreated as they heard French and American forces advancing. When reinforcements arrived, Johnson passed out and was taken to a field hospital. By daylight, the carnage was evident: Johnson had killed four Germans and wounded an estimated 10 to 20 more. Even after suffering 21 wounds in hand-to-hand combat, Henry Johnson had prevented the Germans from busting through the French line.
“There wasn’t anything so fine about it,” he said later. “Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”
Later the entire French force in Champagne lined up to see the two Americans receive their decorations: the Croix du Guerre, France’s highest military honor. They were the first American privates to receive it. Johnson’s medal included the coveted Gold Palm, for extraordinary valor.
Henry Johnson in 1919, after receiving the French Croix de Guerre. Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collection
In February of 1919, the Harlem Hellfighters returned to New York for a parade up Fifth Avenue, where thousands lined up to cheer for a regiment that had amassed a record of bravery and achievement. Among the nearly 3,000 troops was a small man leading the procession from the convalescents’ section: Promoted to sergeant, Henry Johnson stood in the lead car, an open-top Cadillac, waving a handful of red lilies as the crowd shouted, “Oh, you Black Death!” along the seven-mile route. The Hellfighters’ arrival in Harlem “threw the population into hysterics,” the New York Times reported.
Upon his discharge, the Army used Johnson’s image to recruit new soldiers and to sell Victory War Stamps. (“Henry Johnson licked a dozen Germans. How many stamps have you licked?”) Former President Theodore Roosevelt called Johnson one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. But by the mid-1920s, Johnson’s difficulties were catching up with him, and he declined until his death in 1929. Once they examined Johnson’s records and read press accounts of his return to the United States, historians from the New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs suspected that Johnson might have been buried at Arlington, but microfilm records indicated only that a William Henry Johnson was buried there. It wasn’t until administrators requested the paper files that they learned there was a data entry error: It was indeed Henry Johnson who was buried at Arlington. Though his son was surprised to learn that Johnson had not been buried in a pauper’s grave, the soldier’s family was even more surprised to learn that there had been a ceremony at Arlington with full honors. “Learning my father was buried in this place of national honor can be described in just one word—joyful,” Herman Johnson said as he stood at his father’s grave in 2002. “I am simply joyful.”
Historians did not forget what Johnson did in the Forest of Argonne back in 1918, however. In 1996, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Henry Johnson the Purple Heart. And once Johnson’s place of burial had been located at Arlington in 2001, the Army awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military decoration.
In recent years, a chain-of-command endorsement in the form of a memo from Gen. John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, written just days after Johnson’s heroics in the Argonne, was discovered in an online database by an aide to Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer believes that this endorsement, not known to exist for nearly a century, will be enough to bestow another posthumous award on the man known as Black Death. “There is no doubt,” Schumer said this past March, standing before a statue of Johnson in Albany, “he should receive the Medal of Honor”—the nation’s highest military honor.
Books: Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America 1919, Simon &Schuster, 2007. W. Allison Sweeney, History of the American Negro in the Great World War, Project Gutenberg Ebook, 2005. Chad L. Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soliders in the World War I Era, University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
In the 1830s, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor studying in India, found that cannabis extracts could help lessen stomach pain and vomiting in people suffering from cholera.
By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments.
Scientists later discovered that THC was the source of marijuana’s medicinal properties. As the psychoactive compound responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects, THC also interacts with areas of the brain that are able to lessen nausea and promote hunger.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two drugs with THC that are prescribed in pill form, Marinol and Syndros, to treat nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite in AIDs patients.
Perspective: A new model of leadership performance in health care
Current leadership models are based largely on concepts and explanations, which provide limited access to the being and actions of an effective leader in health care. Rather than teaching leadership from a theoretical vantage point, the ontological perspective teaches leadership as it is lived and experienced. When one exercises leadership "as lived," concurrently informed by theories, one performs at one's best. A distinctive feature of the ontological approach resides in its capacity to disclose human ways of being and acting that limit our freedom to lead effectively as our natural self-expression. Ontological leadership maintains that our worldviews and mental maps affect the way we lead and are shaped by and accessible through language--hence, to lead more effectively, mastery of a new conversational domain of leadership is required. This emerging model of leadership performance reveals that (1) our actions as leaders are correlated with the way in which the leadership situation we are dealing with occurs for us, and (2) this "occurring" is shaped by the context we bring to that situation. Master leaders use language to recontextualize their leadership challenges so that their naturally correlated ways of being and acting can emerge, resulting in effective leadership. When leaders linguistically unveil limiting contexts, they are freed up to create new contexts that shift the way leadership challenges occur for them. This provides leaders--physicians, scientists, educators, executives--with new opportunity sets (previously unavailable) for exercising exemplary leadership. The ontological approach to leadership offers a powerful framework for tackling health care's toughest challenges.
A Closer Look at Social Perspective Taking
A keen interest in humans’ distinctive capacity to decipher the thoughts and feelings of others — a capacity known as social perspective taking (SPT) — has driven the research of Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Hunter Gehlbach for the better part of a decade.
“Psychologists believe that our ability to read others supports one of our primary drives as human beings, the drive to relate to others and form social bonds,” says Gehlbach, an educational psychologist who is looking at ways to improve teaching and learning by enhancing SPT in the classroom.
In addition to suggesting that students who are more motivated and accurate in their social perspective taking also tend to get higher grades, Gehlbach’s research has outlined ways in which SPT is critical for a variety of stakeholders in education.
“Principals constantly need to read and respond to the needs of students, parents, and teachers and resolve issues in ways that are effective and equitable,” Gehlbach says. “Teachers have to figure out each day whether that student in the third row understands what’s being taught, and students need to be accurate in their assessment of teachers’ expectations and the perspectives of their classmates.”
The last point is especially important, notes Gehlbach, in an era when globalization has made it much more likely that students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds will be learning together. “We need to help students comprehend their classmates’ values, perspectives, and motivations so they can learn from each other as well as from their teachers.”
To develop ways to help students and teachers hone their perspective-taking, Gehlbach decided it was necessary first to more fully understand the underlying process. In research due to be published early next year, Gehlbach, doctoral student Maureen Brinkworth, Ed.M.’06, and Ming-Te Wang, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’10, looked closely at how SPT actually happens. The study yielded some important clues about what motivates individuals to take the perspectives of others, the strategies used by “expert” perspective takers, and the sources of evidence that inform perspective takers’ conclusions.
Choosing to Empathize
What motivates us to take the perspectives of others? “We are exposed to dozens of people every day — in the grocery check-out line, during our commute to work or school, or sitting in a restaurant — yet we are very selective about those with whom we empathize,” Gehlbach says. To uncover motivational factors in SPT, Gehlbach and his colleagues compared two groups of participants: a sample of 18 adults from professions such as teaching, psychotherapy, and military intelligence, who were identified by peers as experts at social perspective taking and a group of 13 high school students nominated by their teachers and administrators and chosen because of their apparent struggles with SPT.
All participants completed a survey, viewed a video, and answered related questions during in-depth interviews designed to uncover triggers and barriers to SPT. One key finding was that if a person or situation is important to us, we are much more likely to engage in SPT. “For example,” Gehlbach explains, “a border crossing guard who is trying to identify someone who might be a threat, or [a] detective questioning a high-stakes suspect, is very motivated to take that person’s perspective to try to figure out what they might be thinking.”
In less dramatic circumstances, a high-stakes person might be a family member, teacher, or student whose opinions and actions matter to us. “Students who want to do well in school have a high interest in teachers’ expectations, and adolescents, in general, are very interested in how they are viewed by their peers,” he says. “It’s how we develop a sense of ourselves during a critical time in our lives.”
A more unexpected finding, says Gehlbach, is the extent to which the role individuals take on in a given situation determines whether or not they engage in SPT. “One member of the Army that we interviewed was highly motivated to engage in SPT when he was in his role as an interrogator. However, when he was in his role as the disciplinarian of his unit, he was completely uninterested in the perspective of soldiers who had broken rules,” says Gelbach. “A teacher who views his or her job as solely to deliver content might not try to figure out what’s going on with a student who pays attention on Monday but acts out on Wednesday.
“That kind of teacher might see perspective taking as the job of a school counselor,” continues Gehlbach, “but what is interesting to consider, especially for those of us who want to enhance SPT in educational settings, is the possibility that one’s role can be changed.”
If teachers who focus primarily on delivering content can be convinced that having a better understanding of their students’ perspectives will increase their success, Gehlbach says, “they may shift their strategy to include a greater emphasis on SPT.”
Strategies and Cues
When it comes to strategies that facilitate social perspective taking, the old standby of putting oneself in another’s shoes is commonly used, but it is by no means foolproof. “That can be risky,” Gehlbach says, “because you can impose your personal values and background on someone who might not share those at all.”
A more sophisticated strategy that emerged in the study was the practice of delaying judgments about others until ample information is available. “This was a technique the counseling psychologists often used,” Gehlbach relates, “along with volunteering information about themselves in order to draw out the perceptions of their clients.”
In looking at the sources of evidence used to discern the thoughts and feelings of others, in-depth interviews with participants revealed 12 different cues, including facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and postures.
“One data point that was a little less intuitive,” Gehlbach says, “was the lack of expected reactions.” In one of the videos used in the study, when a joke was told and did not elicit laughter, viewers concluded that the person listening didn’t understand what was going on. “They began to read something into that,” he says. “It seems that unexpected responses are a pretty strong cue in social perspective taking.”
Triggers and Barriers
Gehlbach’s soon-to-be-published research offers numerous insights on the triggers and barriers that influence social perspective taking in the classroom. “Cognitive load is one frequently cited example of a barrier,” he relates. “If a teacher is focused on taking attendance, starting a lesson, catching up a student who was absent yesterday, and scheduling a principal’s observation, taking the perspective of 25 students in a given class is very difficult.” On the other hand, Gehlbach says relationship goals, “such as when a student engages with a new classmate to get to know him or her better,” promote SPT and could be used to facilitate peer learning in the classroom.
One of the biggest surprises in the study was the extent to which the “expert” participants and the student SPT novices fared similarly across a spectrum of measures. “I think that’s indicative of the complexity of the process,” Gehlbach comments. “Even those who struggle with SPT strategies and skills can go a long way just on motivation. It’s a great platform to build on as we begin to develop approaches to teach SPT in school settings."
Christ and his church have had an enormous influence. And if only we were out and out for Jesus Christ in the fullness of our commitment, then we would have far more influence than we do.
So, away with pessimism, and away also with blind optimism, as if we thought utopia was around the corner. No, Christians are sober-minded, biblical realists, who have a balanced doctrine of creation for redemption and consummation. We are not powerless. I'm afraid what we are, rather, is often lazy and shortsighted and unbelieving and disobedient to the commission of Jesus.
Beyond Mere Survival
To many of us, the verses of Matthew 5 are becoming increasingly familiar. We see their great importance today, and we begin to look at them again. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims, in verse 13: "You are the salt of the earth." Verse 14: "You are the light of the world." Verse 16: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven" (ERV).
In both these metaphors of the salt and the light, Jesus teaches about the responsibility of Christians in a non-Christian, or sub-Christian, or post-Christian society. He emphasizes the difference between Christians and non-Christians, between the church and the world, and he emphasizes the influences Christians ought to have on the non-Christian environment. The distinction between the two is clear. The world, he says, is like rotting meat. But you are to be the world's salt. The world is like a dark night, but you are to be the world's light. This is the fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, the church and the world.
Then he goes on from the distinction to the influence. Like salt in putrefying meat, Christians are to hinder social decay. Like light in the prevailing darkness, Christians are to illumine society and show it a better way. It's very important to grasp these two stages in the teaching of Jesus. Most Christians accept that there is a distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian, between the church and the world. God's new society, the church, is as different from the old society as salt from rotting meat and as light from darkness.
But there are too many people who stop there too many people whose whole preoccupation is with survival&mdashthat is, maintaining the distinction. The salt must retain its saltiness, they say. It must not become contaminated. The light must retain its brightness. It must not be smothered by the darkness. That is true. But that is merely survival. Salt and light are not just a bit different from their environment. They are to have a powerful influence on their environment. The salt is to be rubbed into the meat in order to stop the rot. The light is to shine into the darkness. It is to be set upon a lamp stand, and it is to give light to the environment. That is an influence on the environment quite different from mere survival.
What is the nature of this influence? Let me suggest to you a few ways in which we Christians have power.
First, there is power in prayer. I beg you not to dismiss this as a pious platitude. It isn't. There are some Christians who are such social activists that they never stop to pray. They are wrong, are they not? Prayer is an indispensable part of the Christian's life and of the church's life. And the church's first duty toward society and its leaders is to pray for them. "I urge, then, first of all," writes Paul in his first letter to Timothy, "that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people&mdashfor kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
If there is more violence in the community than peace, more indecency than modesty, more oppression than justice, more secularism than godliness, is the reason that the church is not praying as it should? I believe that in our normal services, we should take with increasing seriousness the five or ten minutes of intercession in which, as a congregation, we bow down before God and bring to him the world and its leaders, and cry to him to intervene. And the same is true in our prayer gatherings, in our fellowship groups, and in our private prayers. I think most of us, myself included, are more parochial than global in our prayers. But are we not global Christians? Do we not share the global concerns of our global God? We should express these concerns in our prayers.
Second, there is the power of truth. All of us believe in the power of the truth of the gospel. We love to say, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). We are convinced of the power of the gospel in evangelism&mdashthat it brings salvation and redemption to those who respond and believe in Jesus. But it isn't only the gospel that is powerful. All God's truth is powerful. God's truth of whatever kind is much more powerful than the Devil's lies. Do you believe that, or are you a pessimist? Do you think the Devil is stronger than God? Do you think lies are stronger than the truth? The Christian believes that truth is stronger than lies, and God is stronger than the Devil. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:8, "For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth." As John said in his prologue to the fourth gospel, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Of course it cannot that light is the truth of God.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the legendary Soviet dissident, believed in the power of truth over lies. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, he gave a speech called "One Word of Truth." Writers, he says, "haven't got any rockets to blast off. We &hellip don't even trundle the most insignificant auxiliary vehicle. We haven't got any military might. So what can literature do in the face of the merciless onslaught of open violence?" Solzhenitsyn doesn't say we haven't got any power. He says, "One word of truth outweighs the whole world." If anybody should believe that, it's Christians. It's true. Truth is much more powerful than bombs and tanks and weapons.
How are we going to see the power of truth at work? Persuasion by argument. Just as we need doctrinal apologists in evangelism to argue the truth of the gospel, so we need ethical apologists in social action to argue the truth and the goodness of the moral law of God. We need more Christian thinkers who will use their minds for Jesus Christ, who will speak and write and broadcast and televise in order to influence public opinion.
I'll give you one quick example. You cannot force people to go to church by legislation. You can't force them to rest on Sundays. Nor can we simply quote from the Bible as if that settles the matter. But we can put forward our best arguments. We can argue that, psychologically and physically, human beings need one day's rest in seven, and that socially it's good for families who are separated during the week to have a day together on Sunday. We can argue for legislation that protects workers from being compelled to work and encourages family life. In this example, we're neither imposing our Christian views, nor leaving non-Christians alone in their own views, nor quoting the Bible dogmatically. We are simply using every argument&mdashphysical, psychological, sociological&mdashin order to commend the wisdom and truth of biblical teaching. Why? Because we believe in the power of truth.
If you doubt the power of secular forms of argument to illuminate biblical truth, then consider an article appearing in the American magazine Seventeen in 1977 called "The Case against Living Together." It's an interview with Nancy Moore Clatworthy, a sociologist at The Ohio State University. For ten years, Clatworthy had been studying the phenomenon of unmarried couples living together. When she began, she was predisposed towards the custom. "Young people," she said, "have told us it was quite wonderful." And she said she believed them. It seemed to her to be a sensible arrangement, a useful step in courtship in which couples get to know one another. But her research, involving the testing of hundreds of couples, married and unmarried, led her to change her mind. And she concluded that living together was not doing the things the couples expected it to do, especially with girls. She found them uptight, fearful, looking past the rhetoric to the possible pain and agony.
Clatworthy makes two points: In the areas of happiness, respect, and adjustment, "Couples who live together before they're married have more problems than couples who marry first." In every area, the couples who lived together before marriage disagreed more often than the couples who hadn't. Living together, she concludes, doesn't solve your problems.
Her second point was about commitment, the expectation a person has about the outcome of a relationship. Commitment is what makes marriage and living together work. But here's the problem: "Knowing that something is temporary, like living together unmarried, affects the degree of commitment to it. So unmarried couples are less than wholehearted in working to sustain and protect their relationship. And, consequently, 75 percent of them break up. And especially the girls are badly hurt." She concludes, "Statistically you are much better off marrying than living together, because for people who are in love, anything less than a full commitment is a cop-out."
Now, I don't think that Clatworthy is a Christian. Her appeal is not to the authority of Scripture but to the findings of sociology. And yet her sociological research vindicates the wisdom of Christian ethics as it applies to the institution of marriage. It reminds us that God's truth has power, in both its biblical and non-biblical guises.
Our third power as Christians is the power of example. Truth is powerful when it's argued. It's more powerful when it's exhibited. People need not only to understand the argument. They need to see the benefits of the argument with their own eyes. It's hard to exaggerate the power for good that a thoroughly Christian family can exert, for instance, in a public housing development. The whole community can see the husband and wife loving and honoring one another, devoted and faithful to one another, and finding fulfillment in one another. They see the children growing up in the security of a loving and disciplined home. They see a family not turned in on itself, but turned outward&mdashentertaining strangers, welcoming, keeping an open home, seeking to get involved in the concerns of the community. One Christian nurse in a hospital one Christian teacher in a school one Christian in a shop, in a factory, or in an office&mdashwe will all make a difference, for good or for ill.
Christians are marked people. The world is watching. And God's major way of changing the old society is to implant within it his new society, with its different values, different standards, different joys, and different goals. Our hope is that the watching world will see these differences, and find them attractive, that they "may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
Fourth, Christians have the power of group solidarity&mdashthe power of a dedicated minority. According to the American sociologist Robert Belair, at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, "We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a whole culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision."
That was the way of Jesus. He began with a small group of only 12 dedicated people. Within a few years, Roman officials complained they were turning the world upside down. There is a great need for dedicated Christian groups committed to one another, committed to a vision of justice, committed to Christ groups that will pray together, think together, formulate policies together, and get to work together in the community.
Do you want to see your national life made more pleasing to God? Do you have a vision of a new godliness, a new justice, a new freedom, a new righteousness, a new compassion? Do you wish to repent of sub-Christian pessimism? Will you reaffirm your confidence in the power of God, in the power of prayer, of truth, of example, of group commitment&mdashand of the gospel? Let's offer ourselves to God, as instruments in his hands&mdashas salt and light in the community. The church could have an enormous influence for good, in every nation on earth, if it would commit itself totally to Christ. Let's give ourselves to him, who gave himself for us.
John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) was rector of All Souls Church in London, founder of Langham Partnership International, and the author of many books. This article is adapted from a sermon published on Christianity Today 's sister website PreachingToday.com.
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today has a collection of articles describing the life and ministry of John R. W. Stott.
CT's sister website, PreachingToday.com, has published several of Stott's sermons, including:
Other CT articles on spirituality include:
John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. For 66 years he served All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London, England, where he pioneered effective urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry. During these years he authored more than 50 books, and served as one of the original Contributing Editors for Christianity Today. Stott had a global vision and built strong relationships with church leaders outside the West in the Majority World. A hallmark of Stott's ministry was his vision for expository biblical preaching that addresses the hearts and minds of contemporary men and women. In 1969 he founded a trust that eventually became Langham Partnership International (www.langham.org), a ministry that continues his vision of partnership with the Majority World Church. Stott was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives
The human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. Although global-scale human influence on the environment has been recognized since the 1800s, the term Anthropocene, introduced about a decade ago, has only recently become widely, but informally, used in the global change research community. However, the term has yet to be accepted formally as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history. In this paper, we put forward the case for formally recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch in Earth history, arguing that the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 provides a logical start date for the new epoch. We then explore recent trends in the evolution of the Anthropocene as humanity proceeds into the twenty-first century, focusing on the profound changes to our relationship with the rest of the living world and on early attempts and proposals for managing our relationship with the large geophysical cycles that drive the Earth’s climate system.
. 2007 La Biosphère de l’Anthropocène:climat et pétrole, la double menace Geneva, Switzerland Georg/Editions Médecine and Hygiène Repères transdisciplinaires (1824–2007). Google Scholar
2004 Global change and the earth system:a planet under pressure Berlin, Germany Springer The IGBP Book Series. Google Scholar
. 2000 The Anthropocene . Global Change Newsl. 41, 17-18. Google Scholar
. 2002 Geology of mankind:the Anthropocene . Nature 415, 23(doi:10.1038/415023a). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
Zalasiewicz J., Williams M., Steffen W.& Crutzen P.
. 2010 The new world of the Anthropocene . Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 2228-2231(doi:10.1021/es903118j). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
Meadows D. H., Meadows D. L., Randers J.& Behrens W. W.
. 1972 The limits to growth New York, NY Universe Books . Google Scholar
. 1991 Leaving Eden:to protect and manage the Earth Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar
. 1992 Global warming:understanding the forecast New York, NY American Museum of Natural History, Environmental Defense Fund, Abbeville Press . Google Scholar
. 1986 Sustainable development of the biosphere Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar
. 1873 Corso di geologia vol. II
. 1874 The earth as modified by human action:a new edition of ‘Man and Nature’ New York, NY Scribner, Armstrong and Co. (Reprinted by Arno Press) . Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1864 Man and nature or, physical geography as modified by human action New York, NY Charles Scribners. (Reprinted by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) . Google Scholar
. 1922 Man as a geological agent London, UK H.F. and G. Witherby . Google Scholar
. 1956 Man’s role in changing the face of the Earth Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press . Google Scholar
Turner B. L., Clark W. C., Kates R. W., Richards J. F., Mathews J. T.& Meyer W. B.
. 1990 The Earth as transformed by human action:global and regional changes in the biosphere over the past 300 years Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar
Naredo J. M., Gutierrez L.& ed s.
. 2005 La incidencia de la especie humana sobre la faz de la Tierra (1955–2005) Granada, Spain Fundacion César Manrique, Lanzarote, Universidad de Granada . Google Scholar
. 1875 Die Entstehung der Alpen Wien, Germany W. Braunmüller . Google Scholar
. 1924 La géochimie Paris, France Librairie Félix Alcan . Google Scholar
. 1929 La biosphere Paris, France Librairie Félix Alcan . Google Scholar
. 2007 Geochemistry and the biosphere:essays by Vladimir I. Vernadsky Sante Fe, NM Synergetic Press (First English translation from the 1967 Russian edition of selected works.). Google Scholar
. 1999 The biosphere and the noosphere reader London, UK Routledge . Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1948 Our plundered planet Boston, MA Little, Brown and Co . Google Scholar
. 1945 The biosphere and the noosphere . Am. Scient. 33, 1-12. Google Scholar
. 1907 L’Evolution créatrice Paris, France Librairie Félix Alcan (Creative evolution, transl. Arthur Mitchell, Henry Holt and Co. and New York). Google Scholar
. 1918 The evolution of the Earth New Haven, CT Yale University Press . Google Scholar
. 1979 Gaia:a new look at life on Earth Oxford, UK Oxford University Press . Google Scholar
. 1988 The ages of Gaia:a biography of our living Earth New York, NY W.W. Norton and Co . Google Scholar
. 1896 On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground . Phil. Mag. J. Sci. Ser. 41, 237-276. Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1938 The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature . Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 64, 223-240(doi:10.1002/qj.49706427503). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2010 Challenged by carbon:the oil industry and climate change Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar
. 1997 World fire:the culture of fire on Earth Seattle, WA University of Washington Press . Google Scholar
. 1976 The brain in hominid evolution . Encyclopaedia Britannica vol 8 London, UK Encyclopaedia Britannica 1032Macropaedia. Google Scholar
. 1962 A revolution in the iron and coal industries during the Northern Sung . J. Asian Stud. 21, 153-162(doi:10.2307/2050519). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1967 A cycle of economic change in Imperial China:coal and iron in northeast China, 750–1350 . J. Econ. Soc. History Orient 10, 102-159(doi:10.1163/156852067X00109). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1975 Air pollution and fuel crisis in preindustrial London, 1250–1650 . Technol. Culture 16, 337-359(doi:10.2307/3103030). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
. 1987 The big smoke:a history of air pollution in London since medieval times London, UK Methuen . Google Scholar
. 1984 Quaternary extinctions:a prehistoric revolution Tucson, AZ University of Arizona Press . Google Scholar
. 2001 A multispecies overkill simulation of the end-Pleistocene megafaunal mass extinction . Science 292, 1893-1896(doi:10.1126/science.1059342). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
2001 New ages for the last Australian megafauna:continent-wide extinction about 46,000 years ago . Science 292, 1888-1892(doi:10.1126/science.1060264). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
. 2003 The anthropogenic greenhouse gas era began thousands of years ago . Clim. Change 61, 261-293(doi:10.1023/B:CLIM.0000004577.17928.fa). Crossref, Google Scholar
Kutzbach J. E., Ruddiman W. F., Vavrus S. J.& Philippon G.
. 2010 Climate model simulation of anthropogenic influence on greenhouse-induced climate change (early agriculture to modern): the role of ocean feedbacks . Clim. Change 99, 351-381(doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9684-1). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2002 An exceptionally long interglacial ahead . Science 297(doi:10.1126/science.1076120). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
. 2006 The Holocene CO2 rise:anthropogenic or natural . Eos Trans. AGU 87, 27-29(doi:10.1029/2006EO030002). Crossref, Google Scholar
Joos F., Gerber S., Prentice I. C., Otto-Bliesner B. L.& Valdes P. J.
. 2004 Transient simulations of Holocene atmospheric carbon dioxide and terrestrial carbon since the Last Glacial Maximum . Global Biogeochem. Cycles 18, GB2002(doi:10.1029/2003GB002156). Crossref, Google Scholar
Stocker B., Strassmann K.& Joos F.
. 2010 Sensitivity of Holocene atmospheric CO2 and the modern carbon budget to early human land use:analysis with a process-based model . Biogeosci. Discuss. 7, 921-952(doi:10.5194/bgd-7-921-2010). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1990 L’effet de serre de la Biosphère:de la révolution thermo-industrielle à l’écologie globale . Stratégies énergétiques, Biosphère et Societé 1, 9-34. Google Scholar
. 1999 The British industrial revolution:an economic perspective Boulder, CO Westview Press . Google Scholar
. 2001 Der Europäische Sonderweg:Ursachen und Factoren Stuttgart, Germany Breuninger Stiftung GmbH . Google Scholar
. 2008 Energy in nature and society:general energetics of complex systems Cambridge, MA MIT Press . Google Scholar
. 2011 Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere . Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 1010-1035(doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0331). Link, ISI, Google Scholar
. 2000 Something new under the sun:an environmental history of the twentieth century world London, UK W.W. Norton . Google Scholar
. 2006 Land-use and land-cover change:local processes and global impacts Berlin, Germany Springer The IGBP Global Change Series. Crossref, Google Scholar
Steffen W., Crutzen P. J.& McNeill J. R.
. 2007 The Anthropocene:are humans now overwhelming the great forces of Nature . Ambio 36, 614-621(doi:10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[614:TAAHNO]2.0.CO2). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
Etheridge D. M., Steele L. P., Langefelds R. L., Francey R. J., Barnola J.-M.& Morgan V. I.
. 1998 Historical CO2 records from the Law Dome DE08, DE08-2, and DSS ice cores . Trends:a compendium of data on global change Oak Ridge, TN Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory . Google Scholar
1999 Holocene carbon-cycle dynamics based on CO2 trapped in ice at Taylor Dome, Antarctica . Nature 398, 121-126(doi:10.1038/18158). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 1960 The concentration and isotopic abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere . Tellus 12, 200-203(doi:10.1111/j.2153-3490.1960.tb01300.x). Crossref, Google Scholar
Hibbard K. A., Crutzen P. J., Lambin E. F., Liverman D., Mantua N. J., McNeill J. R., Messerli B.& Steffen W.
. 2006 Decadal interactions of humans and the environment . Integrated history and future of people on Earth
, Costanza R., Graumlich L.& Steffen W.
MIT Press Boston, MA 341-375Dahlem Workshop Report 96. Google Scholar
. 2008 An Earth system perspective of the global nitrogen cycle . Nature 451, 293-296(doi:10.1038/nature06592). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
2000 Consequences of changing biotic diversity . Nature 405, 234-242(doi:10.1038/35012241). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar
Raupach M. R., Marland G., Ciais P., Le Quéré C., Canadell J. G., Klepper G.& Field C. B.
. 2007 Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 10288–10293(doi:10.1073/pnas.0700609104). Google Scholar
2009 Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide . Nat. Geosci. 2, 831-836(doi:10.1038/ngeo689). Crossref, ISI, Google Scholar
Sorrell S., Speirs J., Bentley R., Brandt A.& Miller R.
. 2009 An assessment of the evidence for a near-term peak in global oil production London, UK Energy Research Centre . Google Scholar
. 1949 Energy from fossil fuels . Science 109, 103-109(doi:10.1126/science.109.2823.103). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
Cordell D., Drangert J.-O.& White S.
. 2009 The story of phosphorus:global food security and food for thought . Global Environ. Change 19, 292-305(doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.10.009). Crossref, Google Scholar
2010 Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome . Science 329, 52-56(doi:10.1126/science.1190719). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
. 2010 Synthetic genome brings new life to bacterium . Science 328, 958-959(doi:10.1126/science.328.5981.958). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
2001 The sequence of the human genome . Science 291, 1304-1351(doi:10.1126/science.1058040). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
2001 Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome . Nature 409, 860-921(doi:10.1038/35057062). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
. 1953 The production of amino acids under possible primitive Earth conditions . Science 117, 528-529(doi:10.1126/science.117.3046.528). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
. 1959 Organic compound synthesis on the primitive Earth . Science 130, 245-251(doi:10.1126/science.130.3370.245). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
2010 Global biodiversity:indicators of recent declines . Science 328, 1164-1168(doi:10.1126/science.1187512). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
2004 Key biodiversity areas as site conservation targets . Bioscience 54(doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[1110:KBAASC]2.0.CO2). Crossref, Google Scholar
2005 Pinpointing and preventing imminent extinctions . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 102, 18497–18501(doi:10.1073/pnas.0509060102). Google Scholar
Collen B., Loh J., Whitmee S., Mcrae L., Amin R.& Baillie J. E. M.
. 2009 Monitoring change in vertebrate abundance:the Living Planet Index . Conserv. Biol. 23, 317-327(doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01117.x). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
2008 Humid tropical forest clearing from 2000 to 2005 quantified by using multitemporal and multiresolution remotely sensed data . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 9439–9444(doi:10.1073/pnas.0804042105). Google Scholar
. In press Climate change:a truly complex and diabolical policy problem . Oxford handbook of climate change and society
, Dryzek J. S., Norgaard R. B.& Schlosberg D.
Oxford, UK Oxford University Press . Google Scholar
. 2009 The Earth system:sustaining planetary life support systems . Principles of ecosystem stewardship:resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world
, Chapin F. S., Kofinas G. P.& Folke C.
Lenton T. M., Held H., Kriegler E., Hall J. W., Lucht W., Rahmstorf S.& Schellnhuber H. J.
. 2008 Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1786–1793(doi:10.1073/pnas.0705414105). Google Scholar
. 1978 Adaptive environmental assessment and management Toronto, Canada John Wiley and Sons International Series on Applied Systems Analysis. Google Scholar
Bunnell F., Dunsworth G., Huggard D.& Kremsater L.
. 2003 Learning to sustain biological diversity on Weyerhauser’s coastal tenure Vancouver, Canada Weyerhauser Company . Google Scholar
Haynes R. W., Bormann B. T.& Martin J. R.
. 2006 Northwest forest plan—the first 10 years (1993–2003):synthesis of monitoring and research results General PNW-GTR-Portland, OR:USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2008 Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective . Policy Sci. 41, 71-93(doi:10.1007/s11077-007-9055-6). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2007 Community-based conservation in a globalized world . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 15188–15193(doi:10.1073/pnas.0702098104). Google Scholar
. 2005 Understanding institutional diversity Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press . Google Scholar
Meinshausen M., Meinshausen N., Hare W., Raper S. C. B., Frieler K., Knutti R., Frame D. J.& Allen M. R.
. 2009 Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C . Nature 458, 1158-1162(doi:10.1038/nature08017). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
Allen M. R., Frame D. J., Huntingford C., Jones C. D., Lowe J. A., Meinshausen M.& Meinshausen N.
. 2009 Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne . Nature 458, 1163-1166(doi:10.1038/nature08019). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
Rasch P. J., Crutzen P. J.& Coleman D. B.
. 2008 Exploring the geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulfate aerosols:the role of particle size . Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L02809(doi:10.1029/2007GL032179). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2008 Geoscale engineering to avert dangerous climate change . Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 366, 3839-4056(Theme Issue). Google Scholar
. 2010 Fixing the sky:the checkered history of weather and climate control New York, NY Columbia University Press . Google Scholar
. 1977 Climatic changes Washington, DC American Geophysical Society . Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2006 Albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injections:a contribution to resolve a policy dilemma . Clim. Change 77, 211-219(doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9101-y). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2005 Air pollution-related illness:effects of particles . Science 308, 804-806(doi:10.1126/science.1108752). Crossref, PubMed, Google Scholar
. 2005 Impact of improved air quality on the future evolution of climate . Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L23704(doi:10.1029/2005GL023902). Crossref, Google Scholar
Tilmes S., Garcia R. R., Kinnison D. E., Gettelman A.& Rasch P. J.
. 2009 Impact of geoengineered aerosols on the troposphere and stratosphere . Geophys. Res. 114, D12305(doi:10.1029/2008JD011420). Crossref, Google Scholar
. 2007 Effects of Mt Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering . Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, 15702(doi:10.1029/2007GL030524). Crossref, Google Scholar
Gillett N. P., Weaver A. J., Zwiers F. W.& Wehner M. F.
. 2004 Detection of volcanic influence on global precipitation . Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, 12217(doi:10.1029/2004GL020044). Crossref, Google Scholar
Lambert F. H., Gillett N. P., Stone D. A.& Huntingford C.
. 2005 Attribution studies of observed land precipitation changes with nine coupled models . Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 18704(doi:10.1029/2005GL023654). Crossref, Google Scholar
Bruckner T.& Schellnhuber H. J.
. 1999 Climate change protection:the tolerable windows approach . IPTS Rep. 34, 6-14. Google Scholar
2009 A safe operating space for humanity . Nature 461, 472-475(doi:10.1038/461472a). Crossref, PubMed, ISI, Google Scholar
2009 Planetary boundaries:exploring the safe operating space for humanity . Ecol. Soc. 14, 32See http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/. Google Scholar
. 2010 Requiem for a species. Why we resist the truth about climate change Sydney, Australia Allen and Unwin . Google Scholar
. 1957 A theory of cognitive dissonance Stanford, CA Stanford University Press . Google Scholar
Richardson K., Strager H.& Rosing M.
. Inpress When scientific discoveries threaten human identity . Climate change:global risks, challenges and decisions
October 10, 2011-A New Perspective - History
We know that making a film requires that first leap of faith. For you to take a chance on your story, and for someone to take a chance on you. This fellowship encourages that spirit coupled with the knowledge that not everyone has been given an equal chance to tell the stories they want, and that this creative freedom is a form of justice in and of itself.
We know that multiple perspectives are key to capturing the truth of a moment and America today. We love supporting documentary films that inspire, provoke, and illuminate through innovative use of story and form. We also recognize it's incredibly difficult to get started and funding opportunities for artists who create against the grain has never been more competitive. Doc Society is excited to provide an alternative and launch the New Perspectives Fellowship supporting the development and production of non-fiction projects by filmmakers.
Applications are now closed
We are particularly looking for filmmakers who offer a rare insight of the often underrepresented and overlooked who see more than what's being shown in the common zeitgeist. We're looking for those stories that break barriers and explore nuance over polarity.
Across every corner of the United States, we want to hear from you and support your vision.
Funding and Mentorship
Over the course of this two year fellowship, our aim is to support and sustain distinctive creative voices at critical junctures in their careers through targeted grantmaking, bespoke artist support, and training. In partnership with the Perspective Fund, the New Perspectives Fellowship supports filmmakers with a strong directorial vision, fierce creativity, and an unwavering belief in the transformative, ecstatic, and restorative power of art. From developing a creative approach, casting characters, and designing an effective impact campaign -- we will be mentoring filmmakers on both the production of this project and their careers at large. We are looking for documentary filmmakers eager to share their perspective of the world around them. This fellowship empowers artists to be brave and curious in pursuing the stories they seek to tell.
We are dedicated to supporting diversity across gender, sexuality, race, regions, mixed-abilities and class. There are a wealth of innovative, bold, and driven storytellers who are waiting for this industry to open its gates. We need your talent and your perspectives to imagine what’s next.
The October Revolution
Graham Darby argues that the Bolshevik success of 1917 was rooted in the failings of the Provisional Government and the aspiration of ordinary people.
With the eightieth anniversary of the Communist Revolution looming large on the horizon, it is probably an appropriate moment to consider once again how it was that the Bolsheviks were able to seize power in October 1917. Of course until 1991 the Revolution remained very much a part of living history, part of the Cold War - an event which according to Soviet sources, was part of an unfolding grand design as predicted by Karl Marx, part of the inevitable process on the road to world socialism. In short, the Bolshevik Revolution was bound to happen.
To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.
If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.
Alfred W. Crosby on the Columbian Exchange
In 1972, Alfred W. Crosby wrote a book called The Columbian Exchange. In it, the historian tells the story of Columbus’s landing in 1492 through the ecological ramifications it had on the New World.
At the time of publication, Crosby’s approach to history, through biology, was novel. “For historians Crosby framed a new subject,” wrote J.R. McNeil, a professor at Georgetown University, in a foreword to the book’s 30th anniversary edition. Today, The Columbian Exchange is considered a founding text in the field of environmental history.
I recently spoke with the retired professor about “Columbian Exchange”—a term that has worked its way into historians’ vernacular—and the impacts of some of the living organisms that transferred between continents, beginning in the 15th century.
You coined the term “Columbian Exchange.” Can you define it?
In 1491, the world was in many of its aspects and characteristics a minimum of two worlds—the New World, of the Americas, and the Old World, consisting of Eurasia and Africa. Columbus brought them together, and almost immediately and continually ever since, we have had an exchange of native plants, animals and diseases moving back and forth across the oceans between the two worlds. A great deal of the economic, social, political history of the world is involved in the exchange of living organisms between the two worlds.
When you wrote The Columbian Exchange, this was a new idea—telling history from an ecological perspective. Why hadn’t this approach been taken before?
Sometimes the more obvious a thing is the more difficult it is to see it. I am 80 years old, and for the first 40 or 50 years of my life, the Columbian Exchange simply didn’t figure into history courses even at the finest universities. We were thinking politically and ideologically, but very rarely were historians thinking ecologically, biologically.
What made you want to write the book?
I was a young American historian teaching undergraduates. I tell you, after about ten years of muttering about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, you really need some invigoration from other sources. Then, I fell upon it, starting with smallpox.
Smallpox was enormously important until quite modern times, until the middle of the 20th century at the latest. So I was chasing it down, and I found myself reading the original accounts of the European settlements in Mexico, Peru or Cuba in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. I kept coming across smallpox just blowing people away. So I thought there must be something else going on here, and there was—and I suppose still is.
How did you go about your research?
It was really quite easy. You just have to be prepared somehow or other to notice the obvious. You don’t have to read the original accounts in Spanish or Portuguese. There are excellent English translations dating back for generations. Practically all of them will get into a page or two or ten about the decimation of American Indians, or a page about how important maize is when all European crops fail, and things like that. I really didn’t realize that I was starting a revolution in historiography when I got into this subject.
Historian Alfred W. Crosby coined the term "Columbian Exchange" in reference to the impact of living organisms traded between the New World and Old World. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images) Through the "Columbian Exchange," a term coined by historian Alfred W. Crosby, Columbus brought the new and old worlds together. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images)
So, how were the idea and the book received at first?
That is kind of interesting. I had a great deal of trouble getting it published. Now, the ideas are not particularly startling anymore, but they were at the time. Publisher after publisher read it, and it didn’t make a significant impression. Finally, I said, “the hell with this.” I gave it up. And a little publisher in New England wrote me and asked me if I would let them have a try at it, which I did. It came out in 1972, and it has been in print ever since. It has really caused a stir.
What crops do you consider part of the Columbian Exchange?
There was very little sharing of the main characters in our two New World and Old World systems of agriculture. So practically any crop you name was exclusive to one side of the ocean and carried across. I am thinking about the enormous ones that support whole civilizations. Rice is, of course, Old World. Wheat is Old World. Maize, or corn, is New World.
The story of wheat is the story of Old World civilization. Thousands of years ago, it was first cultivated in the Middle East, and it has been a staple for humanity ever since. It is one of Europe’s greatest gifts to the Americas.
Maize was the most important grain of the American Indians in 1491, and it is one of the most important grain sources in the world right now. It is a standard crop of people not only throughout the Americas, but also southern Europe. It is a staple for the Chinese. It is a staple in Indonesia, throughout large areas of Africa. If suddenly American Indian crops would not grow in all of the world, it would be an ecological tragedy. It would be the slaughter of a very large portion of the human race.
Maize, potatoes and other crops are important not only because they are nourishing, but because they have different requirements of soil and weather and prosper in conditions that are different from other plants.
What ideas about domesticating animals traveled across the ocean?
American Indians were very, very roughly speaking the equal of Old World farmers of crops. But American Indians were inferior to the Old World raisers of animals. The horse, cattle, sheep and goat are all of Old World origin. The only American domesticated animals of any kind were the alpaca and the llama.
One of the early advantages of the Spanish over the Mexican Aztecs, for instance, was that the Spanish had the horse. It took the American Indians a little while to adopt the horse and become equals on the field of battle.
You talk about the horse being an advantage in war. What other impacts did the adoption of domesticated horses have on the Americas?
Horses not only helped in war but in peace. The invaders had more pulling power—not only horses but also oxen and donkeys. When you consider the great buildings of the Old World, starting with the Egyptians and running up through the ages, people in almost all cases had access to thousands of very strong animals to help them. If you needed to move a ton of whatever in the Old World, you got yourself an animal to help you. When you turn to the Americas and look at temples, you realize people built these. If you need to move a ton in the New World, you just got a bunch of friends and told everybody to pull at the same time.
What diseases are included in the Columbian Exchange?
The Old World invaders came in with a raft of infectious diseases. Not that the New World didn’t have any at all, but it did not have the numbers that were brought in from the Old World. Smallpox was a standard infection in Europe and most of the Old World in 1491. It took hold in areas of the New World in the early part of the next century and killed a lot of American Indians, starting with the Aztecs and the people of Mexico and Peru. One wonders how a few hundred Spaniards managed to conquer these giant Indian empires. You go back and read the records and you discover that the army and, just generally speaking, the people of the Indian empires were just decimated by such diseases as smallpox, malaria, all kinds of infectious diseases.List of site sources >>>