by James Myers
For much of the world’s history, change has come slowly. It’s only been in recent decades that the march of progress has changed the world over mere decades. Before our lifetime, the world was a slow-moving animal, changing and growing only over centuries and millennia. But there are those rare times when the course of human history is jarred from its plodding pace.
One such time is explored in Dr. Aaron M. Shatzman’s new book, The Old World, the New World, and the Creation of the Modern World, 1400-1650: An Interpretive History.
According to Dr. Shatzman, Ambler, Dean of Social Sciences for Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) since 2003, his book goes beyond the traditional structure of history text books to bring the reader a more interactive approach to this exciting period of history when Europeans discovered the new world.
“It’s more than just a textbook that tells you all the facts,” said Shatzman. “There are plenty of books if you want to know the who, the what, the when and the why — that’s well known.”
Shatzman’s book seeks to explore the greater meanings and impacts behind the facts.
“It’s not the ‘What,’” he explained. “It’s the ‘So what?’”
Dr. Shatzman refers to his work as “an interpretive history,” offering up his thoughts and views on the cataclysmic changes that erupted from the discovery of the new world.
“The pre-modern/medieval world is a world without the concept of change,” Shatzman explained. “The world as depicted in the magnificent Martellus map of 1487 was really no different from the world described by ancient geographers. Things are as they have been and as they always will be—just the way they were when created by God. To propose to alter this divinely ordained state of affairs was dangerous—one might be accused of heresy.”
That world order was shaken to the core by the discovery of a continent and a people who were not supposed to be there. One consequence of the discovery was that “some people began questioning inherited wisdom. In the old world we accept the status quo and assume that the social order is fixed. Now questioning can’t be avoided.”
The book not only explores the upheaval of the Old World, but considers the creation of the New World. Dr. Shatzman examines two competing interpretive views of the European colonization of the Americas, asking the reader to consider whether the New World was open space where Europeans could realize plans and dreams they brought with them or whether it was an irresistible force that transformed them, no matter their origins or goals, into something unique in history–Americans.
Dr. Shatzman offers up a wealth of original source material – nearly a third of the book is comprised of original maps, accounts and writings of Europeans at the time – giving the reader a rare opportunity to not just take the historian’s word but to explore the evidence and draw his or her own conclusions.
“[It’s] a selection of original source material unlike any that I know of ever being published,” said he said. “I’ve included an eyewitness description of an Aztec human sacrificial ceremony in Mexico, an account of the martyrdom of Jesuit missionaries in Canada, and a motivational address to his captains by a Portuguese Admiral.”
Shatzman has spent more than four decades in higher education, both as an administrator and educator. He has published many articles and chapters on American History, including a book exploring 17th century South Carolina, Servants into Planters (1989). He left what he calls his “dream job” as a dean at small liberal arts college to bring his family to Philadelphia when his wife, a physician, was offered a position at Merck.
Dr. Shatzman, who has held positions as Assistant Dean at Washington University; Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Student Programs at Franklin & Marshall College; Dean of the College at Hobart College; and Chair of the Department of General and Professional Studies for the University of Phoenix, called his coming to MCCC the “perfect culmination to my career.”
The Old World, the New World, and the Creation of the Modern World, 1400-1650: An Interpretive History [Anthem Press] is available online and at retailers now. Learn more at anthempress.com.