6.0095 Further Rs: On 'Discovery' (3/125)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 22 Jun 1992 16:32:29 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0095. Monday, 22 Jun 1992.

(1) Date: Thu, 18 Jun 92 19:08:37 EDT (24 lines)
From: lenoblem@ERE.UMontreal.CA (Lenoble Michel)
Subject: Re: 6.0091 More Rs: On 'Discovery'

(2) Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 14:36:52 EDT (30 lines)
Subject: 6.0091 More Rs: On 'Discovery' (2/28)

(3) Date: Sat, 20 Jun 92 13:00:48 -0230 (71 lines)
From: NNTP server account <usenet@morgan.ucs.mun.ca>
Subject: R: "Discovery" - who cares? I do!

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 18 Jun 92 19:08:37 EDT
From: lenoblem@ERE.UMontreal.CA (Lenoble Michel)
Subject: Re: 6.0091 More Rs: On 'Discovery'

> My point is simply : there is no difference between something that has
> no impact and something that doesn't exist.

I doubt it. Take for example an unexploded atomic bomb...

The colonial conquest of the Americas has had a MAJOR IMPACT on
the native populations of the continent. Their relegions,
cultures, ways of life, languages, social organisations were next
to totally destroyed and irradicated. Beside these trivialities,
there was of course, officially, no impact reported.

Michel Lenoble           |
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Universite de Montreal   |        --->   lenoblem@ere.umontreal.ca
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Canada - H3C 3J7         |
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------34----
Date:     Fri, 19 Jun 92 14:36:52 EDT
Subject:  6.0091  More Rs:  On 'Discovery'  (2/28)
> My point is simply : there is no difference between something that has
> no impact and something that doesn't exist.
This comment, re "discovery" of the Americas, seems to suggest that
"impact" = "existence" ("Thus I refute Berkeley," and all that).
I personally have no doubt that there resurrection of Jesus did not
happen.  (I know others have doubts and yet others are sure
it did happen; that's not the point here.)  Yet I also acknowledge that
the belief/knowledge/faith/etc (depending on the person involved)
in/of/in/etc that resurrection has had enormous impact.  I also
know/believe in cultural history (malleable though it may be) while some
of my students seem not to (Only 1/3 assert that they have read
even one page of the Bible, the most influential text in their
culture), yet that history clearly has an impact on them, albeit
they might not be able to disentangle that impact from all the
other factors shaping them and their world.  In short, the impact=
existence equation seems to me to undercut the whole notion of
phenomenology even as it seems to assume all extant phenomena as
and only as acts of consciousness--and this strikes me as profoundly
mistaken.  "There are more things in heaven and earth..."
Eric Rabkin                esrabkin@umichum.bitnet
Department of English      esrabkin@um.cc.umich.edu
University of Michigan     office: 313-764-2553
Ann Arbor MI 48109-1045    dept  : 313-764-6330
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------91----
Date: Sat, 20 Jun 92 13:00:48 -0230
From: NNTP server account <usenet@morgan.ucs.mun.ca>
Subject: R: "Discovery" - who cares? I do!
I've been following the discussion on Pre-Columbian "discovery"
with some interest (there's a similar discussion going on on the
SOC.HISTORY news network. Marc Eisinger triggered much of the
discussion when he observed a) that there was no proof for pre-
Columbian contact and b) even if such contact did occur, "who
cares?" Since then, Eisinger has conceded that there is proof
that the Norse had made it at least as far as Newfoundland. The
saga tradition which described Norse voyages has been confirmed
archaeologically at L'Anse aux Meadows. Structural remains,
artifacts, and evidence that bog iron was smelted there, provide
irrefutable proof. The archaeologists are careful to avoid
identifying this site as the "Vinland" of Leif Eriksson; all the
evidence indicates that L'Anse aux Meadows was an encampment used
for a few seasons at best. While women may have been present
(often a sign of permanence or semi-permanence), the site was
probably an iron-smelting work camp (lots of nails have been
found). "Vinland," if it existed as an actual place and not a
general region, has not yet been found.
But proof of Norse habitation, even if only for a short while,
does not signify "discovery," and I tend to concur with
Eisinger's basic point. On the SOC.HISTORY network, I cited
Daniel Boorstin's "The Discoverers" (NY: Random House, 1983), p.
215, where he says that "The Vikings were probably the first
European settlers in America, which is far from saying that they
'discovered' America .... What they did in America did not change
their own or anybody else's view of the world. Was there ever
before so long a voyage ... that made so little difference?
There was practically no feedback from the Vinland voyages. What
is most remarkable is not that the Vikings actually reached
America, but that they reached America and even settled there for
a while without _discovering_ America." John E. Koontz argues
that the Norse exploitation of Newfoundland and other parts of
North America enabled their Greenland colonies to survive. Yet
those colonies eventually died out, so Eisinger's basic point
remains valid. Of course, there is some suggestion that Columbus
visited Iceland years before his 1492 voyage, heard stories about
the Greenland and Vinland experiences, and thus became convinced
in his theory that Asia (for what else could it be) could be
reached by crossing the Atlantic. But here, too, strong evidence
is lacking, and the stories Columbus may have heard, were by then
more myth and legend than irrefutable evidence.
What disturbs me about Eisinger's position is his "who cares?"
remark. I expect more from somebody on the HUMANIST network. The
Norse experience was real, and though it failed to lead to
sustained contact, that failure itself is worth studying. Thomas
McGovern looked at that experience in "The Vinland Adventure: A
4(1980/81): 285-308; he provides a convincing case for Norse
"strategic overstretch," and thereby improves our understanding
of economic, social and political conditions in the medieval
Norse North Atlantic. For others, interested in early seventeenth
century North American colonization efforts, the Norse experience
in North America provides useful points of comparison. The high
mortality rates, the importance of limiting factors of an
environmental nature, the nature and quality of Norse shipping as
a factor in their lack of success, the friction with indigenous
people, these are all discussed by McGovern. In short, the
abortive Norse experience in trans-Atlantic expansion helps
explain why the "discovery" of the Americas did not occur
earlier; it reinforces the point that Columbus owed much of his
success to the social, economic, technological, political, and
intellectual developments of the fifteenth century. I am appalled
that anyone would respond to improvements in our understanding of
the past with "who cares?"