Friday, December 18, 2009

Daniel Headrick's "Power over Peoples"

Daniel R. Headrick is professor emeritus of social science and history at Roosevelt University. His books include The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century and The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Power over Peoples deals with the population and diseases of the Native American peoples before Columbus, and makes the point that the peoples of the Americas had relatively few diseases and were therefore vulnerable to imported diseases.

The sub-title of the book is Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present. Its goal is to explain why Western peoples (i.e. Europeans and European-Americans) were able to conquer large parts of the rest of the world when they did, and why at other times they failed to do so or were forced to relinquish their conquests. Part of the reason is technology, especially possession of more powerful weapons or means of transportation and communication, and why such technologies worked in some cases and not in others. Another part of the reason is the environments they encountered, in particular the diseases they encountered and the diseases they brought with them. Thus, in the Americas, the Western conquests were attributable in large part to the deaths of over 90 percent of the native population due to imported diseases. In contrast, in Africa, diseases favored the indigenous peoples and prevented the European conquest until the late nineteenth century.

So, yes, page 99 tells you a little about one aspect of the story, but it isn’t really representative of the rest.
Read the introduction to Power over Peoples, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue