Guns, Germs, and Steel Questions and Answers
by Jared Diamond

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In Questioning Collapse, the authors of individual chapters take issue with Diamond’s arguments concerning how specific societies have confronted environmental crises leading to collapse or the threat of collapse. Choose any two of these societies and for each, briefly summarize Diamond’s explanation of the collapse or crisis, along with the main points made by his critics. One of the two may be the society your group studied. Conclude by comparing the two cases and stating which arguments you think are more persuasive, and why.

In Questioning Collapse, the authors of two chapters take issue with Diamond's arguments respectively concerning environmental crises in the Norse colony on Greenland and the country of Haiti.

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Jared Diamond in Questioning Collapse attributes the demise of the Norse colony on Greenland primarily to cooling conditions in the North Atlantic. He blames a considerable rise in sea ice that cut the Norsemen off from their fellows on Iceland and in Scandinavian Europe as they were dependent on an external supply of foodstuffs and new settlers. Joel Berglund in Questioning Collapse contends that the Norse colony on Greenland was not a failure "because it endured for a long as its inhabitants could manage the conditions they were given." He points out that the 450 years in which the colony existed far exceed the 250-year history of the US as a nation. He describes various ways in which the cooling climate constricted the Norsemen, for example, how the size of their dwellings decreased. However, he disputes Diamond's claim that the increasingly hostile environment finally crippled food production in the colony. The settlers compensated for dwindling grain production by turning to seafood, he claims.

In Questing Collapse, Drexel Woodson takes issue with Jared Diamond's description of Haiti. On a meta-level, he opposes the very genre which Diamond represents, disparagingly calling it "grand theory" and claiming that work in this genre cannot excuse the researcher from examining contrary evidence from the fields of anthropology and sociology. In his book, Diamond attributes Haiti's plight as one of the poorest countries on the globe largely to deforestation and compares its situation in this regard with its somewhat more fortunate neighbor the Dominican Republic. Woodson considers this theory as overly simplistic and considers Diamond's narrative as lacking a closer examination of the context surrounding Haiti's coming into existence. He criticizes Diamond's knowledge of Haitian conditions as superficial, as it is based on knowledge gleaned from a few books and not on firsthand experience of the country.

Berglund's case resting on the longevity of the Norse colony on Greenland actually supports Diamond's account as he concurs with his final verdict that a worsening climate eventually caused the settlement to disappear. Woodson's critique of Diamond's examination of Haiti and the Dominican Republic is undercut by his own argument considering Diamond's sources: he admits to lacking any substantial personal experience of conditions in the Dominican Republic.

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