New World Encounters

Guest Post by Prof. Ronnie Perelis


I have a wonderful group of students in my Friday morning YC class, New World Encounters. We have been meeting every Friday morning since the semester began to discuss the early accounts of European exploration and conquest of the Americas and the encounter between worlds that unfolded after Columbus first step foot in the Caribbean in October 1492. We have read the differing narratives and considered multiple perspectives when possible as well as those perspectives that were missing- mostly from the point of view of the natives or of the non-elite Europeans. We have also been paying careful attention to the way the Americas and the Americans and the encounter between the Old and New World plays out in art and contemporary culture.

A month ago, we went to the National Museum of the American Indian and toured layers of indigenous, colonial, and early American life on the tip of Manhattan with Yitzchak Schwartz, a YC alum and current PhD Candidate, as our guide. This month, we went to the Met and explored their collections of art from the Americas as well as the new exhibition of the Diker Collection which focuses on North American artists. With both museum trips, we wanted to see the works of art produced by native peoples of the Americas, especially those related to the peoples we have studied. We also were curious about how the museums decide to present these objects and what stories they tell within their galleries.

Seeing is not innocent, nor is it simple, and neither is reading. We bring our selves to the texts and images we encounter, and how we make sense of those texts and images is informed and energized by the network of texts, images, and relationships that have been flowing through us from our first moments of consciousness. Education can help us be more aware of these delicate mechanisms and give us the language to give meaning to these intuitions and culture’s unspoken layers.


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