Reading Blog: March 2022
Stories from the Pacific and Mongolia. Delayed this a bit to see if I would finish a Yugoslavia book, but I’m only halfway.
At the end I had updates to previous reads and added a mini-review for A Chemical Hunger.
Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific (Nicholas Thomas, 2021)
This book offers a look at Oceania history through a modern lens. I hadn’t thought about how Magellan’s voyage was in the 1520s, yet it was 250 years of a few European trade routes and unmapped run-ins before Captain Cook’s expedition to Tahiti, Australia, and Aotearoa. Tupaia joined the crew in Tahiti and and played a significant role as a mapmaker and translator (one of Tupaia’s charts plays a critical role because it was the only pre-colonial knowledge which became a paper record, survived cultural erasure, and was adapted to form readable by cartographers today; since 1987 researchers have re-assessed that what he’d told Cook showed knowledge of a huge expanse of the Pacific including Hawai`i and Rapa Nui).
Meanwhile Cook was surprised that the Aotearoan people had similar languages, beliefs, canoes, and tattoos to the Tahitians, meaning they had one origin. An ethnographer on the crew would later make a table of languages and even correctly connect them to the language of Madagascar. From then on there were centuries of European race scientists trying to prove their various points, which lead many geographers to categorize Oceania into three groups — Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia — and claims into the 1950s that the most distant islanders must be Caucasian (huge cringe). This plays into long-held misconceptions that Pacific islanders came to distant islands or drifted to Papua New Guinea by accident. Genetic and geological evidence shows Oceania’s people are who they say they are, and have been building boats and rafts for a long time (Thomas explains the difficulty of finding physical artifacts and what does remain — bones from deep sea fish such as tuna).
For the deeper voyages into the Pacific, Polynesians had seafaring canoes, navigated by the stars, and brought sweet potato, pigs, and dogs with them to support their families. When I visited Hawai`i, I heard that they may have followed whales throughout the Pacific, even north to Alaska.
If you subscribe to the history of Polynesians arriving in Rapa Nui and Hawai`i around the year 500–1000 CE, the notably limited shared ancestry in South America, and the disappearance of trade routes before Europeans got to the Pacific, I wonder how you would explain the breakdown of trade (disaster, famine, quarantine?).
For this, I found an article from Professor Dennis Kawaharada, University of Hawaii:
By the time Europeans arrived in Hawai‘i in the 18th century, voyaging between Hawai‘i and the rest of Polynesia had ceased for more than 400 years, perhaps the last voyager being Pa‘ao or Mo‘ikeha in the 14th century.
The reason for the cessation of voyaging is not known. However, after the 14th century, the archaeological evidence reveals a dramatic expansion of population and food production in Hawai‘i (Kirch 303–306).
I mentioned in my February post that this book is rather light — I’m hoping to find a book which answers my remaining questions.
Nomadic Life in Mongolia: Stories of the Enkhbat Family and Their Belongings (Hotta Ayumi, 2021)
Ethnographer Dr. Hotta Ayumi produced this photo book of 40 objects in a nomadic family’s ger (Mongolian tent-home) around 2009–2012. Amazon has a Japanese edition and this English translation by Dr. Meredith Shaw. I picked this as a coffee table book for my post-nomad apartment, instead of getting a Mongolia framed photo.
This book is an interesting treat for the right person. The first third has scenes from nomad life. The middle third has photos of objects and captions from interviews, usually highlighting where it came from, was it a gift, how much did it cost. The text is brief but shows that the family was very cooperative and often sentimental.
Minjin: We bought this from a peddler
Me: Is it new?
Minjin: No, it was quite a while ago. The year Banzaa was born .
The final third discusses how the ger and objects were acquired by the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. I didn’t know this! I wonder if this book might have been created for the museum gift shop.
My copy is from Amazon’s print-on-demand shop. The photos, paper, and layout do the job, but it’s not the full-sized high-res glossy photo paper you would expect in a coffee table book. This fit what I was looking for, but your experience may vary.
Updates to Previous Reads
- I added previous and anticipated future books to GoodReads. I was able to sort my wishlist books by star rating: Border and Rule, Gulag Archipelago, and Assata appear at the top of the list (removing those with < 10 reviews).
There are so many books on the list before any which I actually have on hand — the supposed best of these are The International Brigades, Seeds of Science, and Tombstone.
Top books on my already-read list are City of Darkness (yes), Unsettled (I suppose mostly reviewed by sociologists?), and Uncertain Harvest (cool).
- A post on Chicago’s subreddit revived discussion about “The Big Shift” concept art to develop land east of Grant Park. I’ve never seen so many commenters become experts on public trust and riparian rights.
- There’s a new video series about smallpox and eradication.
- 2021 blog series A Chemical Hunger argues that obesity trends are due to a contaminant which Americans started consuming or bio-accumulating around 1980. It’s well-written. First the authors put more popular explanations to rest. Throughout they keep the focus on population effects over time, while acknowledging genetic variation on the individual level (reminded me of The Genetic Lottery). It also reminded me of the alternate global health strategies which could have existed from A History of Global Health.
I’m not the right person to endorse or debunk this blog series. Though I liked the contamination theory, their top suspect (lithium) and one covered in response to comments (vegetable oils) seem less solid? With fewer studies, they’re not as easy to debate as others.
The #1 issue I had was the authors rarely break down statistics by race or income. If you study healthcare and life expectancy in the US, you can’t miss those stats. Or bruh when the authors’ takeaway from this map is the Mississippi River?
When the authors said that runoff was the problem and Alabama, Maine, and West Virginia were outliers, I quickly looked up GDP per capita.