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Guns, Germs, and Steel

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Diamond worked closely with a Blackfoot Indian, who one day said, “Damn you, Fred Hirschy, and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!” Fred Hirschy had developed a farm on the Blackfoot land, so naturally, the blackfoot felt they were cheated. Why did the farmer win instead of the Blackfoot indians?

The Blackfoots were hunter gatherers, and food production was unknown to them until pioneers came to their land and started farming. Everyone was a hunter gatherer until 11,000 years ago when food production was introduced. Diamond found that food production always took place before guns, germs, and steel cam along. Hunting and gathering was tedious, because not everything was edible. Farming brought more opportunities to safely eat, and there was more food in a certain area. Food production enabled others to pursue other means of livelihood, like politicians (chiefs, kings, bureaucrats). More food was made, so when there were overages, it could be stored. It could also be taxed, giving those who don’t own a farm a chance to eat.

Animals were also domesticated in food production. These animals include reindeer, camels, alpacas, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, llamas, and yaks. They provided milk, transportation, meat and manure for crops, and pulled plows for farming. Reindeer and dogs were used for transportation in the arctic, camels and llamas were used in north africa, arabia, and the andes, and horses were used in Eurasia.

Pioneers and animal trade opened up new ways to spread diseases. Semi- or fully-immune peoples traveled to areas where the disease was unknown. The people in this new area had never been exposed to that germ before, so they had no way of fighting it. Up to 99% of the unexposed population was killed.

Plant and animal domestication caused a surplus of food, and in transporting those food overages, deadly germs were spread.

Chapter 6: To Farm or Not to Farm

Why did food production start when it did? Why not earlier? This train of thought commonly occurs because, from the first world perspective, farming seems easier than being a hunter-gatherer. However, being a hunter-gatherer was actually easier. It required less hours of work than food production, acquired fewer diseases, and provided a longer lifespan.

Food production did not start instantaneously. It was a process. No human had the goal of farming, because they had never seen it done before. Sometimes, people groups would replant foods they had eaten, so the would grow again; just like when the Aboriginal Australians ate most of the edible tuber, but put some back in the ground. This group also burned land, preparing it for seed growth. They were hunter-gatherers, since they were making use of what the earth gave them, but also food producers, because they enabled the food to grow back faster, harnessing the power of the earth. They were an in between people group.

One misconception Diamond brings to light is, “there is a sharp divide between nomadic hunter-gatherers and sedentary food producers” (102). Some peoples seasonally switched from hunter-gatherers to food producers, traveling back and forth. 15,000 years ago, more sedentary people were hunter-gatherers than food producers. Some of the half-and-half people groups (such as the earlier mention Aboriginal Australians) had to prioritize what they needed. Should they farm to produce more food in the long run? Should they go hunting to possibly get a lot of food? Or go fishing for a definite, small amount of food? Another factor in determining what route they should take is how they perceive others who produce food, or others who hunt and gather. If one group is despised, then the former people group will go the other direction.

A reason food production became more and more prevalent is because animal resources started running out. In the last 13,000 years, “animal resources have become less abundant or even disappeared” (105). Another is that more food production brings more power to a society. It gives them the opportunity of training warriors and learning to fight. The more people in a society, the more likely the society is to take of food production, because as the population grows, more mouth need to be fed; farming provides more edible calories per acre.

Chapter 10: Spacious Skies and tilted axis

The axis orientation of a continent means that it either covers more north-to-south area, or covers more east-to-west area. This had a hand in why crops and animals took a long time to travel in the americas and africa. In east-west oriented eurasia, crops/animals traveled faster because they didn’t have to endure much climate change. Their latitude was consistent. In north-south oriented Africa and the Americas, crops and animals had to continually adapt to different climates on their journey. As an example, food production spread across Eurasia from 0.7-3.2 miles per year, whereas food production’s spread across the americas took 0.3-0.5 miles per year. Food production started spreading out of the Fertile Crescent (in Eurasia).

“Portugal northern Iran, and Japan, a;all located at about the same latitude but lying successively 4,000 miles east or west of each other, are more similar to each other in climate than each is to a location luing eben a mere 1,000 miles south” (176). This quote demonstrates why difference in climate, and why it was different to spread on north-south axes. Another reason crops couldn’t travel from north to south as easily is the fact that growing seasons are different throughout the continent. Closer to the equator, the season is longer, but father north and south, the season gets shorter. For example, if a plant spread from the equator no a place north of the equator, it might sprout early while it is still under snow. It also wouldn’t have as much time to grow, since the season is shorter.

Many crops in the americas had wild variations. Some plants were even domesticated twice (lima beans, chili peppers, and common beans, goosefoot, squash). The reason for this is that they spread too slowly.

Just like the crops, animals need to be adjusted to latitude. Also, diseases can slow down the spread of animals. When cattle, sheep, and goats spread to Africa, the process was stopped for 2,000 once they hit the Serengeti plains.The spread of animals in Africa was especially slow.

One more thing was spread across the continents: writing and wheels. These things don’t seemingly depend on latitude. Although, the fist wheels transported food produce. It makes sense that the wheel would travel with food production. Writing was exclusive to the elite, and food production brought about the ability to even have an elite part of society. That being said, writing indirectly raveled with food production.

Chilli peppers, squash, amaranth, chenopods

Chapter 16: How China Became Chinese

China is a consistent country. “It seems absurd to ask how China became Chinese. China has been Chinese, almost from the beginnings of its recorded history” (309). So, the question we must ask is how China became so unified.

Despite China’s monolithic ways, there is a divide between North and South China. The people look different and experience a different climate, and also judged each other harshly. The Northern Chinese viewed the Southerners as “barbarians.”

Most of China speaks Mandarin Chinese (800 million), while most of the remaining population speaks other relatives to Mandarin. There were four families of language in China: Sino-Tibetan, Miao-Yao, Austroasiatic, and Tai-Kadai. The latter three represent “‘islands’ of people surrounded by a ‘sea’ of speakers of Chinese and other language families” (310). Chinese speakers looked down on non-Chinese speakers, and tried to convert them to their language. Sino-Tibetan speakers moved south across China, while those from other language families moved across southeast asia.

China possibly based two food production centers. It is also possible that they started producing food before the fertile crescent. They also had dogs, chickens, water buffalo, and pigs. Water buffalo were useful in food production. Chinese pigs started influenza. Despite China’s axis orientation, the spread of advancements was made easier from north to south because of its rivers. They provided a more consistent climate, making it easier for animals and plants to adjust to a different area.

China had many technological advances, such as iron smelting, rice cultivation, and a writing system. THeir writing system was adopted by surrounding countries; Japan has no plan of letting it go, and Korea is just now switching their system. This shows how influential China was.

Epilogue: The Future of Human History as a Science

“The striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the people themselves but to differences in their environments” (389). This quote sums up the whole book. Diamond has been proven that it was the place people ended up in that determined how they came about.

Most animals and plants were not fit to be consumed or used, or unable to be domesticated. That left a small window of domesticable, suitable plants and animals; they act was also conducted in a very small window, disproportionate to the continent.

With food production came migration, spreading the practice. This migration opened doors to share inventions with other civilizations. The larger an area was, the more inventors it had, more changing methods, more pressure to take on new, as well as keep, methods, and more societies were competing. Societies who failed to do so failed as a society (391).

One question Diamond addressed in the epilogue is: Why was it Europe who conquered the americas? Simply, there was no one else willing. It took lots of persuasion for europe to even start exploring, as Columbus was rejected many times for funding. The fertile crescent was prosperous, until it cut its resources much more rapidly than it could grow the forest back. China fell out of the race because sending fleets got banned after a squabble. Only Spain explored, per Columbus’s request, and after they started bring in lots of money, the rest of Europe decided to join in as well. Europe not being unified encouraged competition.

Diamond wrote this book not only to prove that differences in human were not innate, but geographical, but to also encourage history as a science as well as a humanity. He states, “I am optimistic that historical studies of human societies can be pursied as scientifially as studies of dinosaurs–and with profit to our own society today, by teaching us what shaped the modern world, and what might shape our future” (409). This reflects on the prologue when he says the role of historians is to study the chain of past events in hopes of keeping history from repeating itself.

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