Quick Takes: 1493 and Under New Management


Authors of two new books have intriguing interviews, Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created and Randy Martin’s Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn.

Mann’s 1493 gets a positive plug from John Tierney in the New York Times and from John Hawks. Tierney uses Mann to do his own bit about beating up on locavores and organic food, but I agree with these reviewers that Mann has been an interesting read.

Ian Morris in Seeds, Germs, and Slaves also gives Mann a positive review, and hones in on a key point that can make Mann useful for anthropology courses:

As well as making humans share the stage with other organisms, Mann also wants Europeans to surrender more of the limelight to the rest of humanity. In the 1960s, historians began to flip from casting Europeans as heroic adventurers who created the modern world to casting them as wicked exploiters. But they continued nonetheless to put Europeans in the main roles. Mann repeatedly emphasizes that the numbers do not bear this out. “Much of the great encounter between the two separate halves of the world,” he observes, “was less a meeting of Europe and America than of Africans and Indians.” As late as the 19th century, Europeans were still in a distinct minority in the New World.

Of course to the degree this is true, it makes Mann’s subtitle, “the New World Columbus Created” a bit strange. As Morris points out, it seems worth attending to power differentials:

Mann might be faulted for sometimes seeming to forget that since 1492 it has overwhelmingly been Europeans (not Africans or Native Americans) who have put animals, plants and microbes into motion, but his larger points still stand. In setting off the Columbian Exchange, humans rarely knew what they were doing. Once begun, the process ran completely out of human control.

I’ve used Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus for Introduction-to-Anthropology. I find his explanation of what was happening in the Americas more convincing and useful than Jared Diamond. I also reference material from 1491 for understanding Jared Diamond’s Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.

Update August 2012: See Jared Diamond won’t beat Mitt Romney and More than Guns, Germs, and Steel.

The interview with Randy Martin appeared on the Inside Higher Ed blog. There were complaints in the comment section that this book and interview did not seem to have a point, but I suspect it is because Martin’s argument is perhaps more ambivalent about academia’s “new management” than some of the other either condemnatory or celebratory accounts.

Two points from the interview stood out. First, on 100 million learners:

At some 100 million, far more students are involved in adult and continuing education than as matriculated students. Higher education is no longer simply the portal for a stable career but a medium of lateral labor mobility as people retool themselves continually as lifelong learners. Most academic departments and disciplines have done little to reflect upon this massive population returning to the university in terms of their own intellectual itinerary and aims.

It’s a definitely something to ponder–and one of the reasons I hope to continue Living Anthropologically as I’ve resumed official teaching duties.

Second, on reconfiguring academic “service”:

Indeed, service has a connotation of voluntary or unpaid work, which associates it with the raced and gendered divisions of labor on many campuses–those who serve the academic mission, from clerical staff to food and maintenance workers. Service as a category of labor is also connected to unpaid domestic work and slavery. Devaluing service not only makes it easier to take for granted all these jobs that allow campuses to operate, but also takes attention away from the increasing administrative work that faculty are asked to do and the growing purview of decision-making claimed by senior administrators — whose own work is becoming more generously compensated. Academic freedom, doubtless a value that cannot be taken for granted, pertains to faculty governance, a domain that is being eclipsed by university governance over which administration holds sway, especially when it comes to priorities in collecting and disbursing funds or investments. Faculty will be well-served to recast service as administrative labor, both to give value to an increasingly consequential aspect of their academic lives, but also to come to recognize the knowledge they possess as to how to run the institutions of which they are a part.

This is also of personal concern, as along with resuming my teaching duties, I am taking a place on an academic governance committee, one of the more strenuous service roles at my college.

In the context of recasting service as labor, I am also thinking about some very interesting comments made by Tom Boellstorff in response to a post from Rex on Savage Minds, Big Content runs 66% of our journals, but the Open Access shortfall is our fault. Boellstorff writes:

Going forward in terms of a long-range vision, I do think there needs to be more discussion of the corporate model, which overlaps with the open access stuff but of course not completely the same. In a way I would almost prefer a pure corporate model where editors got paid, say $20,000 or $10,000 or even $1,000 a year to do their work, and reviewers got a little recompense, and so on.

Intriguing stuff to pursue as another academic year commences.

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