It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.Anonymous
I came across, by way of a footnote on Jason Kottke’s piece on clam gardens, an interesting review of Sam Arbesman‘s work on the half-life of facts, which apparently can be described mathematically. How long will it be before the conventional wisdom is neither conventional nor wisdom?
Mr. Kottke notes,
I’m guessing most people reading this learned in school that the Americas were sparsely populated and almost pristine before Columbus showed up, but subsequent research over the past 20 years has shown that this is very much not the case.
I should ask my kids what the kids are learning these days. I’m sure Pearson has had little incentive to update the standard texts, even though William Cronon’s Changes in the Land was published 36 years ago, in 1983. Though evidence certainly abounded before then, it was news to me when I read Changes in the Land in 1990 or so.
Update: JSTOR Daily, in “Yes, Americans Owned Land Before Columbus,” notes that our understanding of the indigenous understanding of property has changed over time, and points out Allen Greer’s “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” The American Historical Review, vol. 117, no. 2, 2012, pp. 365–386.