Learning From History: The Collapse of Complex Societies

Preamble: A Brief History of Complexity with David Christian

[From TED.com:] Backed by stunning illustrations, David Christian narrates a complete history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the Internet, in a riveting 18 minutes. This is “Big History”: an enlightening, wide-angle look at complexity, life and humanity, set against our slim share of the cosmic timeline.

Dr. Joseph Tainter,

“The Collapse of Complex Societies”

Tainter, Joseph, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Dr. Patricia McAnany on ‘Questioning Maya Collapse: A Reconsideration of Apocalyptic Narratives  (podcast)

McAnany, Patricia (Ed), Yoffee, Norman (Ed), Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Questioning Collapse challenges those scholars and popular writers who advance the thesis that societies – past and present – collapse because of behavior that destroyed their environments or because of overpopulation. In a series of highly accessible and closely argued essays, a team of internationally recognized scholars bring history and context to bear in their radically different analyses of iconic events, such as the deforestation of Easter Island, the cessation of the Norse colony in Greenland, the faltering of nineteenth-century China, the migration of ancestral peoples away from Chaco Canyon in the American southwest, the crisis and resilience of Lowland Maya kingship, and other societies that purportedly “collapsed.” Collectively, these essays demonstrate that resilience in the face of societal crises, rather than collapse, is the leitmotif of the human story from the earliest civilizations to the present. Scrutinizing the notion that Euro-American colonial triumphs were an accident of geography, Questioning Collapse also critically examines the complex historical relationship between race and political labels of societal “success” and “failure.”

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