(excerpt from Käthe Roth’s speech)
I have worked with Denis Vaugeois for many years now, and most of our projects been about the earliest days of the discovery of the Americas by Europeans. Denis has always insisted that quotation marks should be put around the term “New World” when it is applied to the Americas because, after all, these continents were new only to the Europeans who first landed on them, but certainly not to the people who had already been living here for thousands of years. In a way, this book takes that idea to its logical conclusion by celebrating what the “old world” of the Americas has contributed to the rest of the world. In fact, we may consider that the true “new world” is the product of the meeting of these civilizations.
It is easy to think of how the arrival of the Europeans irrevocably changed the lives of the peoples of the Americas. After all, that’s what the history books talk about. The influence of the original Americans over the rest of the world is subtler but just as pervasive. There are foods that we can’t imagine doing without, such as tomatoes and corn. The ancestor of chewing gum can be traced back to the original Americans, as can the use of tobacco. What would winter be like without toboggans, spring without fresh maple syrup! How many ways do we use rubber, invented by equatorial American people! And would our gardens be as bright without indigenous American flowers! The concept of team sports played with balls was taken back to Europe from the Americas, and the organization of original American societies inspired European philosophers.
When the project of L’Indien Généreux came to me, I was really excited about the concept of the book. As work proceeded on the adaptation of the text, however, I found that some of the entries didn’t really translate, and I began to be drawn in to doing research on alternatives that would work better in English. Some of these were due to etymological differences between French and English, but I also found myself wandering further into the exotic areas of South American birds and animals, and down country paths to find North American wildflowers and foods. All in all, after working on this book I certainly look at the way the “new world” and the “old world” fit together quite differently than I did before.
And in fact, I think that is what we hope America’s Gift will do for those who read it. The book is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive, and, in a larger sense, to encourage people to discover how two worlds – the “new” and the “old” – combined to make a truly new world More hints. We hope that people will open the book at any page and find out something that makes them say, “I didn’t know that!” and perhaps enjoy the prospect of exploring further.