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Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire



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Cambridge University Press
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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."

Author Biography

Patricia A. McAnany is Kenan Eminent Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A Member of the editorial board of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, she has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced study at Harvard University. She is the principal investigator of the Xibun Archaeological Research Project in Belize ( and of the Maya Area Cultural Heritage Initiative (, Which works with descendant Maya communities. She has authored Living with the Ancestors; Kinship and in Ancient Maya Society; edited K'axob: Ritual, work and Family in an Ancient Maya Village; and recently co-edited Dimensions of Ritual Economy. Norman Yoffee is a scholar of ancient Mesopotamia and social evolutionary and anthropological theory. He teaches in the Departments of Near Eastern studies and Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author and editor of eleven books, including Myths of the Archaic state: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, states, and Civilizations; Excavating Asian History: Interdisciplinary studies in History and Archaeology; and Negotiating the Past in the Past: Identity, Memory, and Landscape in Archaeological Research, as well as the Cambridge world Archaeology series.

Table of Contents

List of Figuresp. vii
Contributorsp. xi
Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Why We Question Collapse and Study Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empirep. 1
Human Resilience and Ecological Vulnerability
Ecological Catastrophe, Collapse, and the Myth of "Ecocide" on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)p. 21
Did the Medieval Norse Society in Greenland Really Fail?p. 45
Calamities without Collapse: Environment, Economy, and Society in China, ca. 1800-1949p. 71
Surviving Collapse: Studies Of Societal Regeneration
Marketing Conquest and the Vanishing Indian: An Indigenous Response to Jared Diamond's Archaeology of the American Southwestp. 113
Bellicose Rulers and Gimatologkal Peril? Retrofitting Twenty-First-Century Woes on Eighth-Century Maya Societyp. 142
Collapse in Ancient Mesopotamia; What Happened, What Didn'tp. 176
Societies in the Aftermath of Empire
Advanced Andeans and Backward Europeans: Structure and Agency in the Collapse of the Inca Empirep. 207
Rwandan Genocide: Toward an Explanation in Which History and Culture Matterp. 239
"Failed" States, Societal "Collapse, " and Ecological "Disaster": A Haitian Lesson on Grand Theoryp. 269
The Power of the Past: Environment, Aborigines, Archaeology, and a Sustainable Australian Societyp. 299
Excusing the Haves and Blaming the Have-Nots in the Telling of Historyp. 329
Reflections On Sustainability
Sustainable Survivalp. 367
Indexp. 367
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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