Guns, Germs, and Steel

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Reading Questions from Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel
This exercise is meant to challenge and develop your independent reading, synthesis, and writing skills, and to provide explanations for the differing geographies of cultural development. Read the following pages and write out well organized, thorough answers to each question. While you are not required to turn in your answers, I highly recommend that you study with other people, discussing the topics covered and comparing your answers. Some of these questions will appear in similar form on the examination.
pp. 13-27 (Yali’s Question)
1. Who is Yali?
2. Describe the meaning of the term “cargo” to Yali.
3. What was Yali’s big question? (p. 14) How does the author reformulate Yali’s question on page 15, and then again later on page 16?
4. List and explain the author’s discussion of three major objections to discussing Yali’s question (pp. 17-18).
5. The author summarizes popular “answers” or “explanations” to Yali’s question on pages 18-25. Summarize these explanations and their shortcomings.
6. Contrast the meaning of proximate versus ultimate explanations.
7. Summarize what the author’s strongest argument or reasons are for writing the book (middle paragraphs of page 25). Have you ever wondered about these things?
8. Write out the author’s one sentence summary of the book as found near the end of page 25.
pp. 53-66 (A Natural Experiment of History)
1. Describe the limited Moriori resource base and climate conditions, and nearby resources. What steps did the Moriori take to live within such limitations?
2. Describe the Maori (not to be confused with Moriori above) resource base, and how it influenced their population size, societal development and occupational specialization.
3. Both the Moriori and Maori descended from the same ancestors. Why were the Maori able (& willing) to conquer the Moriori?
4. List the six environmental variables that contributed to the differences in Polynesian societies, and summarize how each played a role (pp. 58-66)
pp. 85-92 (Farmer Power)
1. Learn Figure 4.1 well enough to be able to reproduce it as a hand-drawn sketch. Then learn the background ideas behind each component and their interconnections.

(note: this will also be covered in class)

2. Outline and explain four ways that livestock fed more people. (p. 88)
3. Identify an indirect way that plant and animal domestication led to denser human populations by producing more food than did the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
4. Discuss the other changes in human societies that arose because of plant and animal domestication. (pp. 89-92)

pp. 131-156 (Apples or Indians)
1. What are the two basic questions for the chapter? (p. 131)
2. Why are the vast majority of wild plants unsuitable for domestication and food production?
3. According to the author, a mere dozen species accounts for over 80 percent of the world’s annual tonnage of all crops. Why does he say that it’s not surprising that many areas of the world had no wild plants at all of outstanding domestication potential? (p. 132)
4. Diamond raises the question of why Native Americans failed to domesticate apples and grapes (p. 134), even though their wild ancestors were abundant in the Americas – and this type of question can be posed for other peoples in other regions as well. He provides a partial answer to this question in the first half of page 134. Summarize this answer.
5. Diamond discusses a number of reasons why the Fertile Crescent became an early region of significant plant domestication (pp. 136-142). Summarize these reasons in a way that would be understandable to someone who had not done this reading, and then contrast the situation in Mesoamerica.
6. Summarize the advantages of big seed wild plants for domestication, and where they were concentrated.
7. Does Diamond believe that early farmers failed to cultivate any useful wild plant species that was suitable for domestication? Explain why.
8. Why was indigenous food production in New Guinea a) widely practiced, yet b) not as successful in meeting the nutritional needs of the population (for example, it suffered from chronic protein shortfalls) as was the food production of the Fertile Crescent? (pp. 146-150)
9. Why did agriculture in the Eastern US get off to a slow start, only to later accelerate after ~AD 900 and trigger a large population boom? Which was more important in the early limitations, something about Native Americans themselves or rather their biota and environment?
10. Summarize concisely the answers presented by Diamond to the two questions posed in #1.

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