2/2 just doesn’t seem right. He also made it out that just like they thought it was right we think it was wrong because those morals were ingrained in us as normal. But I believe as long as there has been oppression there has been opposition and as long as there has been status-quo and normalcy there has been deviation just like today. So couldn’t we agree that everyone then didn’t think the same and agree that everyone can disagree with anything? Or is it closer to what the professor said?
I’m kind of blown away by this, just because I’m not sure who your professor is theoretically surveying for opinions here. Because I am pretty fricking sure that if you asked the people being murdered and/or enslaved, they would say yeah, it’s pretty bad.
If we are limiting ~opinions on genocide and colonialism~ to Europeans, well. First of all, the idea of something being “normal” wasn’t actually a thing yet, and wouldn’t be for some time. At least, not the way we think of it today.
If we limit out “opinion survey” ONLY to Europeans directly involved with colonizing, there are a ton of examples that demonstrate acknowledgement of what we could call abnormal levels of violence that were routinely happening as a direct result of colonization. One of the notorious Captain Cook’s own men described his behavior as “irrationally violent," and desertions were pretty rampant. When Prince William Ansa Sasraku was sold into enslavement rather than being transported to England for English instruction, the novel written about it was quite popular. You don’t write a novel about something if it’s not an unusual occurrence. I’m not even going to get into stuff like King Leopold in the Congo because I will literally throw up. NO ONE thought that was “normal”.
I could give endless examples, but the real problem here is
1. the normalization NOW of violence in “the past”
What we have here is a near-terminal case of “Things Were Just Like That Back Then”. There is a enormous cultural concept of the past as a cesspit of bloody-minded violence, oppression, exploitation, and nonstop existential horror that was supposedly so commonplace that no one would bat an eyelash at seeing their neighbors rent limb from limb as a matter of course on a Wednesday morning.
The thing I find so frustrating is that shaking people loose from the idea that history is a line graph that goes “things were really bad, then became better!” is almost impossible. I’m not just talking about non-academics, either…academics and historians can be even worse about it. It just isn’t true. Depending on what societies and eras you’re trying to draw comparisons to, violence is much more “normalized” NOW than it was in the past.
*takes a deep breath*
Anyways. What is a more fruitful line of thought is to consider why people try to serve up this kind of apologism for colonialism, genocide, and enslavement. It’s excruciatingly obvious that your professor is trying the line of “well, it wasn’t that bad because ____.” Apologism comes in all your classic white supremacist flavors: “Africa already had slavery”, “Native Americans were already at war with each other”, and of course, “Violence was just how things were back then so blah blah Social Darwinism.”
^^^ All of that nonsense is meant to justify how things are now, like white supremacy and gun violence in American culture, institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and a bunch of other crap that so many facets of our history education are tailored to maintain. Exaggerating violence in the past is a way of making the present seem “less bad”, which is supposed to make us more okay with the violence and oppression that surrounds us. And the idea that even IF violence was normalized in the past in popular opinion, that it somehow is subject to some kind of moral relativism that we should all observe with “objectivity” is a moral failure in itself.
Your professor sucks. Like, really hard. Even if you ignore the people who were slaughtered by Europeans, who obviously weren’t cool with their own genocide and who often had wildly different social codes when it came to conduct during war/disputes over resources, you don’t have to look too hard to find sources contemporary with Columbus et al who were sharply critical of the practice of colonization and chattel slavery.
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indes by Spanish friar Bartolome de las Casas was an eyewitness account of the Spanish invasion of the Caribbean, written about 50 years after Columbus’ first voyage. It’s an account of genocide (it’s actually a major source of information about the initial genocide in the first wave of Spanish invasion), it sharply condemns individual conquistador leaders and calls on the Spanish monarch to end the whole practice of invasion, slavery and murder of native peoples. It was widely published and read across Europe, and was part of a vicious public debate about the legitimacy of colonization.
Like, you can problematize de las Casas (and if you’re serious about history, you should—his book was used by other European empire builders to undermine Spain’s claims in the New World in some interesting ways that didn’t necessarily benefit the people de las Casas claimed he was trying to benefit, he differentiated between African and American peoples and advocated a lot harder for the latter, and abolition of the slave trade didn’t happen for centuries after he published his Account) but you can’t accurately teach about the European invasion of the Americas and just pretend that de las Casas (and thousands of other people who opposed the project of European expansion) never wrote anything. This is basic stuff. US History 101, ‘these are the roots of the European and American abolitionist movements’ stuff. Your professor is bad at his job.
I’m relieved that someone actually brought up de las Casas and makes the point that his advocacy for Native Americans was hugely problematic because it was pretty much saying “enslaving Africans is better” off the bat. That’s the thing, he wasn’t advocating for enslaved Africans.
No accounts of these events is objective. The thing is, the MORE perspectives we have, the better we can draw our own conclusions through research and critical thinking.
Diversity of perspective in history is how we get closer to the truth. The problem is when one narrative crowds out all others, and some histories are marginalized for the benefit of others.
Something I just wrote a paper about is diversity of perspectives. Basically the conclusion is that if you’re looking at history from only one side then the perspective you’re using might as well be considered false. It is impossible to get the full story from one side. And 10 times out of 10, if the perspective is white, then it will be based on lies and exaggerations.