Situating Knowledge Systems – A Summary

Western thought, knowledge, and education systems differ from Indigenous ways of knowing. What this means is that there are certain assumptions that originate from Western European society’s culture, history, and ideology that are quite different from the knowledge systems that are based on the traditions, history, and philosophies of non-Western cultures. Western rationalizations have largely excluded the knowledge systems of the colonized ‘other’ in their discourse, and by this, they produce conditions of social injustice. Dr. Bagele Chilisa has intimate knowledge concerning both the dominant knowledge systems and that of the colonized ‘other’. This is because Dr. Chilisa was born and raised in Botswana, Africa (a former British colony), and educated in a Western academy at Pittsburg University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and is currently a social science research expert at the University of Botswana. Therefore, with a firm foundation in each worldview, and as an informed response to the prevalence of Euro-Western intellectual domination and the suffering that results, Dr. Chilisa has authored a text, Indigenous Research Methodologies (2012), in which she has placed the philosophies of these two worldviews in conversation with one another in order to form a new framework that she describes as a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm.

Situating Knowledge Systems, the title of chapter one of Indigenous Research Methodologies, provides a framework for understanding the differences between Western and non-Western philosophies and worldviews. In this chapter, Chilisa discussed the need for the decolonization of Western research methodologies, and then she examined various cultural assumptions concerning ontology (the nature of reality), epistemology (the nature of knowledge and truth), and axiology (cultural values). To do this, she compared and contrasted three research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative, within the context of a non-Western worldview. Then, Chilisa suggested the integration of relational indigenous ways of knowing with aspects of Euro-Western research paradigms for the dual purposes of decolonizing social science research and legitimizing indigenous knowledge and value systems by constructing an indigenous research paradigm. Thus, situating knowledge systems, concerns the need to examine the cultural assumptions that shape various social science methodologies, and appropriately make changes that will decolonize the hegemonic Western approach by shaping an alternative postcolonial indigenous integrative and relational research paradigm and methodology.

The decolonization of Western research methodologies is necessary in order to give voice to historically silenced perspectives. Western research methodologies move toward decolonization when the research paradigm becomes inclusive of the relational indigenous perspective. Thus, decolonized research methodologies value relationships, and therefore, they recognize and embrace the notion of interconnectedness. They are formulated and framed within indigenous ways of knowing and they are simultaneously respectful of the Indigenous ownership of indigenous knowledge. They open discourse space to topics that have been historically invalidated or silenced. The dismissal of what might be labeled sorcery, or the avoidance of the discussion of colonization, are examples of such silencing. They also adhere to “ethical standards such as the informed consent of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 3, 4.). Thus, research approaches have a postcolonial indigenous paradigm and method when they are participatory in that they create a ‘third space’ in which to consider the history, experience, perspective, values, needs, and rights of the researched; and when they shift power in such a way as to direct it toward social justice by meeting indigenous goals including the recognition of a relational reality and the right to Indigenous self-determination.

In order to meet the goals of an indigenous research paradigm and methodology, it is necessary to establish a context for understanding how such compares and contrasts with predominant and hegemonic Western research approach. For this reason, Chilisa documented cultural assumptions concerning the nature of social reality (ontology), ways of knowing (epistemology), and ethics and value systems (axiology) within three Euro-Western research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative. She discussed them and their associated cultural assumptions in detail by scrutinizing each paradigm’s philosophical underpinnings, their ontological assumptions, where each places cultural values in the research process, their assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge and the meaning of ‘truth’, the methodology each employs, and the techniques each uses for gathering data. Each of these cultural values are relevant, yet especially important to consider, though, is the purpose for which each research paradigm has been designed, because the purpose (and the world view that informs it) shapes what is and is not included in the other cultural assumptions. With this context, Chilisa also suggested an alternative framework for an indigenous research paradigm and she listed the cultural assumptions from which it was developed.

Thus, the positivist/postpositivist approach to social science research has been designed in order to discover natural laws that are generalizable and which are universally applicable. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as the scientific method, which is informed by the philosophies of realism, idealism, and critical realism, which in turn, state that there is one objective reality that is (because of human imperfection) only knowable and expressed in terms of probability. The scientific method, because of its universal applicability, is free from cultural values, except when choosing a research topic. Knowledge, in this way is objectively determined where the truth is based on observation and measurements that are verifiable. Positivist/postpositivist research designs use quantitative, correlational, quasi-experimental, experimental, causal comparative, and survey methods. Scientists gather data, primarily through questionnaires, observations, tests, and experiments (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research is designed to meet the needs and goals of the researchers, and it may not necessarily address “questions of relevancy” or issues of ethics and morality, but instead further reinforce the dominant group and their particular paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, p. 31.)

On the other hand, the interpretive approach to social science research has been designed in order to understand and describe human nature. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of hermeneutics and phenomenology, which state that reality is socially and multiply constructed where each social group determines its own value system. Knowledge, in this way, is subjective and idiographic where the truth is dependent on context. Interpretive research designs use qualitative, phenomenology, ethnographic, symbolic interaction, and naturalistic methods. Researchers gather data, primarily by the use of interviews, participant observation, pictures, photographs, diaries, and documents (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research has a history of unequal power relations, where the researcher has also been the colonizer, and where the result is that indigenous knowledge is likely to be suppressed in favor of Euro-Western paradigms, thus the worldview and practices of former colonized societies might become excluded from the dominant system of knowledge production with the interpretative research paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, pp. 34-35.).

In addition, the transformative approach to social science research has been designed in order to destroy myths and to empower people to change society radically. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories, which state that multiple realities exist, which in turn, are shaped by human rights values, democratic and social justice values, and political, cultural, economic, race, ethnic, gender, and disability values. Knowledge, in this way, is dialectical in understanding, which is aimed at critical praxis and is informed by a theory that unveils illusions. Transformative research designs use a combination of quantitative and qualitative action research, and participatory research. Researchers gather data by using culturally responsive techniques of data collection (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). The transformative approach to social science research has addressed shortcomings of the positivist/postpositivist and the interpretative methods, yet is still not indigenous because it is not culturally situated in Indigenous ways of knowing.

On the other hand, the indigenous approach to social science research has been designed with a very different purpose that is shaped by a very different worldview. The indigenous approach is designed to “challenge deficit thinking and pathological descriptions of the formerly colonized and reconstruct a body of knowledge that carries hope and promotes transformation and social change among the historically oppressed” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). What this means is that the indigenous approach is much the same as the transformative research paradigm in that it is informed by the empowering philosophies of “critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, critical race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories” but it is distinct in that it is also informed by indigenous knowledge systems (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology integrates what is useful in Euro-Western paradigms with indigenous ways of knowing in order to create a new paradigm and methodology that is uniquely designed to meet the needs of Indigenous people.

Additionally, the indigenous paradigm is similar to the interpretive and transformative research paradigms in that it assumes multiple realities, yet it holds the further distinction that communicates the indigenous worldview. Thus, indigenous assumptions about reality hold that there are “[s]ocially constructed multiple realities” that are “shaped by the set of multiple connections that human beings have with the environment, the cosmos, the living, and the nonliving” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Knowledge, in this way, holds that “all research must be guided by a relational accountability that promotes respectful representation, reciprocity, and rights of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology recognizes interconnectedness, human rights/animal rights/environmental rights ethics as integral to the nature of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’, and this shapes the approach.

Thus, indigenous research designs are unique. They use “participatory, liberatory, and transformative research approaches and methodologies that draw from indigenous knowledge systems” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). Unlike western methods, researchers using an indigenous paradigm and methodology gather data using “techniques based on philosophic sagacity, ethnophilosophy, language frameworks, indigenous knowledge systems, talk stories, and talk circles” and they use these in conjunction with techniques adapted from Western paradigms (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). In this way, indigenous methodology situates first, the indigenous worldview and ways of knowing and integrates this with what is useful from the Western academy when conducting social science research with indigenous and otherwise marginalized populations.

Thus, Dr. Bagele Chilisa has, in order to decolonize social science research paradigms and methodologies, put forth a postcolonial framework for indigenous research. This framework is inclusive of the Western worldview and methodologies, but it is critical in that it examines the purpose of each of three Western paradigms, understanding that each has its unique notions concerning what it values, and what is real and true. For this reason, the positivist/postpositivist, the interpretative, and the transformative paradigms are not truly effectual for Indigenous social science research, because indigenous ways of knowing are distinct. Thus, in order to give voice to traditionally silenced ways of understanding what is real, true, and valued; Chilisa has shaped a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm and methodology. This paradigm creates a space to conduct research that is not only about Indigenous (otherized) people, but instead is inclusive of Indigenous life experience, worldviews, and ways of knowing. In this way, Chilisa has situated Indigenous ways of knowing at the front, yet along with Western knowledge systems, blending the past and the present across multiple ways of knowing, in order to shape a new future where social science research methods legitimize the experience, perspective and wisdom of historically oppressed Peoples within and without the Western academy. An indigenous social science research framework fosters hope and creativity in order to shape strategies designed to meet Indigenous goals and needs.


Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Stereotypically Objective Paradigm

To be objective is to hold assumptions about reality and the nature of truth without considering context. This is the scientific method, and it is imperfect in that it is generally understood that because of human error, truth can only be known and expressed in terms of probability when discussing human behavior. The scientific method eliminates what the researchers find to be false in order to ‘bring knowledge closer to ‘the’ truth,’ rather than proving something true. This is the reason for expressing scientific knowledge about human behavior in terms of probabilities. Furthermore, when context is taken into consideration, the generalizations that the scientific method produces may no longer hold true in individual cases. What, then, is produced by scientific objectivity in the social sciences?

Objectivity produces a mind that thinks in terms of generalizations. Classifying the world in this way also results in what social science research expert, Dr. Bagele Chilisa (2012) described as a “paradigm that becomes essentialized, compelling thought along binary opposites of either/or,” and that way of thinking underlies notions of ‘us and them’ when thinking about people (p. 25.). What this means is that when we generalize about people, thinking in terms of either/or, we are very likely to ‘otherise’ people. Otherizing takes place when we think in terms of generalizations about individuals (others), who we perceive (and maybe incorrectly so) to belong to certain groups, who we then perceive (and maybe incorrectly so) to hold certain characteristics, and this way of thinking can block the way of truly getting to know and understand individual particularity. Objectivity, then, we can reason, produces a mind that is likely perceive and classify individuals in general terms concerning characteristics that we have attached to certain groups; in other words, obective thinking likely leads to the stereotyping of individuals.

Chilisa, B. (2011). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Examining My Assumptions About Money, Wealth, Possessions

I have come to understand that how mainstream U.S. culture has taught me to think about money, wealth and possessions (that is, to highly value those things and to desire them increasingly more and more) as something that is likely to promote violence. The reason that I say this, is because of how I ‘heard’ a Native American view, which was the expressed opposition to overvaluing money. Specifically, Aleck Paul, a Chippewa, explained in Our Stock of  Food and Clothes (Nabokov, 1999, pp. 85-87.)

When the white people came, they commenced killing all the game. They left nothing on purpose to breed and keep up the supply, because the white man don’t care about the animals. They are after the money. After the white man kills all of the game in one place he can take the train and go three hundred miles or more to another and do the same there (Nabokov, 1999, p. 86.).

What Mr. Paul was expressing was that when the European immigrants came into Chippewa territory, they would exploit the resources without regard for maintaining environmental sustainability. Their only concern was to make as much profit as possible from their exploitations of the environment, and then move on to do the same elsewhere once the resources were depleted. This was different than the Chippewa way.

In contrast to this sort of environmentally devastating behavior, Mr. Paul explained that the Chippewa act differently. They do not need government regulation concerning hunting. This is because the Chippewa “must protect the game or starve,” Paul said (Nabokov, 1999, p. 87.).  In other words, the Chippewa people do not need governmental regulation because they act with self-regulation.

After gaining this Native American perspective on resource management, I question the assumptions that I have learned about the capitalistic ideals of competition and profit and consumption. I now see that if a person’s priority is to ‘get ahead’, and get wealthy, that person may be too focused on those goals in order to be able to see that such actions are detrimental in the long term. Therefore, when a society is culturally taught to overvalue wealth, competition and consumption – and especially acquiring beyond one’s need, it is likely that resources will be depleted in such a way that others are unable to have their needs met. Then, unmet needs increase competition such that conflict is likely to result – thus the need for governance.

In essence, what I have concluded from Mr. Paul’s story is that when people act with self-regulation there is likely to be less conflict and less need for other-governance. Yet, if some people are competing in order to get ahead, those who self-regulate will be ‘left behind’. This too can cause conflicts. Therefore, self-regulation promotes peace only when everyone self-regulates. The two different life-ways are incompatible.


Nabokov, P. (1999). Native American testimony: a chronicle of Indian-white relations from prophecy to the present, 1492-2000. Penguin Group USA.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

American History: Facts, Legends or Myths?

I have recently discovered that for much of my life, what I have known about U.S. history has been based on partial truths. This is because much of what mainstream U.S. culture ‘knows’ of American history is based on legends and myths.

According to anthropologist, Dr. Rhianna Rogers, A legend is a semi-true story, which has been passed on from person-to-person.  Legends have important meanings or symbolism for the culture in which they originate. They include elements of truth, or are based on historical facts, but they also have ‘mythical qualities’.  They can involve heroic characters or fantastic places and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of the culture in which they originated.

Rogers also stated that a myth is a story based on tradition or legend, which has deep symbolic meaning. Myths convey ‘a truth’ to those who tell them and hear them, rather than necessarily recording a true event.  Myths may be accounts of actual events that have become transformed by symbolic meaning or shifted in time or place. Often, myths are used to explain universal and local beginnings and involve supernatural beings. The great power of the meaning of these stories, to the culture in which they developed, is a major reason why they survive as long as they do – sometimes for thousands of years. Examples of such myths are certain creation stories.

‘American’ myths include the myth of Manifest Destiny, for example. Manifest Destiny was the notion that it was the duty of the ‘enlightened’ European people to bring ‘civilization’ to the ‘savage’ inhabitants of the ‘New World’ that they ‘discovered’. I now know that myths, such as these, began as a way for Europeans to justify the taking of the land and their attempt to exterminate the people who lived in the New World, and many of these myths have persisted over time, even to this day.

Myths, such as those related to the Manifest Destiny, many times, began as works of art that were created by non-Natives and they presented a simplified and romanticized version of the conquest of the continent and also of the Native Americans.

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As students begin to describe what they see, they quickly realize that they’re looking at a kind of historical encyclopedia of transportation technologies. The simple Indian travois precedes the covered wagon and the pony express, the overland stage and the three railroad lines. The static painting thus conveys a vivid sense of the passage of time as well as of the inevitability of technological progress. The groups of human figures, read from left to right, convey much the same idea. Indians precede Euro-American prospectors, who in turn come before the farmers and settlers. The idea of progress coming from the East to the West, and the notion that the frontier would be developed by sequential waves of people (here and in Turner’s configuration, always men) was deeply rooted in American thought.For example, American Progress (circa 1872), a painting by John Gast is an allegorical representation of the good that was supposedly inherent in the westward expansion of European notions of civilization.  This was shown by portraying the progression of technology and economic activity. Historian Martha A. Sandweiss of Amherst College explained,

Consider, also, this portrait of westward expansion, Attack on an Emigrant Train, from an advertising poster, ca 1910.

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In this way, certain artifacts – that is, works of art created by artists who held biased views – became a sort of ‘objective’ record of history that future novelists used to expand the myths. An example of such is Beadle’s Half Dime Library. New York, Beadle and Adams. Vol. XIV, No. 350. (Mass Market Appeal 2 of 19), which according to the Bancroft Library, stereotyped Native/non-Native encounters stating that, “Amid kidnapping, drinking, and wilderness pursuits”,  author Ned Buntline introduced “Indian warriors who succumb to the wiles of ‘fire-water’ and tobacco and others who carry out a heartless massacre that forever separates the young lovers.”This is a portrait of a “Madonna-like mother and child, a Florence Nightingale version of a young woman tending to a wounded man, the heroic ‘white father’ leading the pioneers’ defense, a black man offering assistance, and the ever-faithful family dog straining to meet the attackers” (Bancroft, Mass Market Appeal 19 of 19). By representing the European immigrants as the victims and Native people as bloodthirsty savages, the creators of such works also portrayed colonial imperialism as ‘promoting peace’.

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Later, popular culture and mass media expanded the myths even more. Consider the stereotyped image of the ‘savage warrior’ as it was represented in popular magazines such as Western Story.The caption for the cover illustration reads, “SUDDENLY, THE WHIZ OF AN ARROW WAS HEARD, AND THE ARM OF THE WRETCH WAS LITERALLY PINNED TO THE TREE.  Stereotypical characters assist in the generation of the ‘us against them’ narrative that creators of dramas rely on in order to engage their audiences.

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Consider, also, the stereotypical representations of the American cowboy that appeared in cinema, such as the 1934 motion picture film, The Lawless Frontier, a ‘cowboy and Indian’ action picture,  which starred ‘Western’ film icon John Wayne.

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Consider also, the stereotypical Indian princess in the 1995 Disney animation film, Pocahontas.

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Stereotypical notions of the ‘savage warrior’, the ‘American cowboy’, and the ‘Indian princess’ dominate mainstream mass media and therefore public notions of such figures in history. Images such as these are so pervasive, that, many times, we hardly notice them:

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Until someone demands our attention:

Then, perhaps we begin to see. Much of what mainstream U.S. culture ‘knows’ about Native Americans comes from sources that are less-than-credible: Our knowledge, for the most part, consists of stereotypes of American historical figures that have been commodified and perpetuated such that our ‘remembrance’ of the past is now less-than-accurate. I have come to see that, for the most part, there has been precious few portrayals of Native people as intelligent actors, who were defending their homes, family and heritage. More portrayals of Native people in all the roles in which they engage would help to balance perceptions of these marginalized, objectified, and for the most part, socially excluded group of American people.

Works such as Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-white Relations From Prophecy to the Present (Nabokov, 1999) offer their readers a much needed historical view from the Native American perspective.

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The description from the back cover reads,

In a series of powerful and moving documents, anthropologist Peter Nabokov presents a history of Native American and white relations as seen through Indian eyes and told through Indian voices: a record spanning more than five hundred years of interchange between the two peoples. Drawing from a wide range of sources – traditional narratives, Indian autobiographies, government transcripts, firsthand interviews, and more – Nabokov has assembled a remarkably rich and vivid collection, representing nothing less than an alternative history of North America. Beginning with the Indian’s first encounters with the earliest explorers, traders, missionaries, settlers, and soldiers and continuing to the present, Native American Testimony presents an authentic, challenging picture of an important, tragic, and frequently misunderstood aspect of American history.

This book has drawn me into a world and a history that, until now, I had not known existed. This is expanding my knowledge of American history.  I am no longer relying quite so much on the semi-true stories, of heroic characters of ‘American’ lore, or the creation myths of America’s origins that have dominated ‘American’ history.  I am now able to compare and contrast the stories told by many narrators, in order to develop a more complete picture of a very complex social order.  It is interesting to see that many of the Native narratives in Nabokov’s book contain the very same elements of legends and myths in the Native historical record, as exists in mainstream U.S. culture. I think that now, when I read different views of the past, I will be less interested in knowing ‘the facts’ and more engaged in seeking out ‘the truths’ that people hope to share when they create such stories.

Works Cited

 “Mass Market Appeal (2 of 19).” Mass Market Appeal (2 of 19). N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2014. <;.

“Mass Market Appeal (19 of 19).” Mass Market Appeal (19 of 19). N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2014. <;.

Nabokov, Peter. Native American testimony: a chronicle of Indian-white relations from prophecy to the present, 1492-2000. Rev. ed. New York, N.Y.: Penguin, 1999. Print.

Rogers, Rhianna. “Interpreting the Past and Present: Myths and Stereotypes in US History.” U.S. History Throuogh Ethnology. Empire State College. May 2013. Reading.

Sandweiss, Martha A.. “John Gast, American Progress, 1872.” Picturing US History All. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2014. <;.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Stereotyping Native Americans

The view of native people by the mainstream and dominating culture of the U.S. has changed over time.  The composers of early images and descriptions of native people in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley, for example, tended to overtly objectify the subjects of their compositions, presumably with full support from mainstream society.  One way that the native people were objectified in this way is that they were not necessarily represented in an accurate way, but rather they were represented as an exotic novelty, and their way of life and their image (accurate or not) was something which could be consumed as a form of interesting entertainment by the dominating mainstream culture.  Sometimes this consumption took the form of education as in the example of the Lantern Slides Relating to Ishi, ca. 1911-1916 (n.d.).  Ishi was the last surviving member of the Yano (Yahi) group of Native Americans.  The caption that described this image of Ishi explained that he was posed and that the many photographs designed in this way “may tell us more about the photographers than they do about the subject” (Lantern Slides, n.d.).  Other times this sort of cultural consumption took the form of stereotypical notions of native people as a means to sell products, as evident in the image on the advertising labels for “Mountain Chief”, which offered a romanticized and noble depiction of North American natives as a positive image for selling oranges (Schmidt Lithograph, n.d.).

These are only two examples of the many ways in which native cultures have been historically ‘consumed’ by a dominating culture that wishes to capitalize on their uniqueness. More recently, the mainstream and dominating culture in the U.S. has become more aware of the harmful nature of this sort of attitude and actions toward native people.   This is evidenced in the recent negative attention given to team mascots that represent native people in unwanted fashion.  No longer does mainstream society so readily embrace the overt exploitation of ‘others’.  In response to this new understanding, there is effort to represent native people “simply as people” and “like any other people” with “strengths and weaknesses as well as valuable contributions” to society (Sutton, 2012, p.17.).  Even though many of the stereotypical notions and exploitation of native people still exist in contemporary society, awareness and change toward a more accurate representation, a greater equality and social justice for all is finally beginning to take shape.

Sometimes, different historical views may conflict with one another, perhaps one may be considered more ‘accurate’ while another has been proven to be a less-than-accurate depiction of past events such as the above mentioned stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans.  Yet, thinking in terms of accurate or inaccurate depictions of history may be a stumbling block in an effort to gain a deep understanding of the past.  What I mean by this is that when looking at historical artifacts, it would be good to think of them not so much as truth or untruth, but rather as perspectives of a larger historical record (only a small part of a more complete story).  For example, the paintings by George Catlin of romanticized and idealized Native America and Native Americans, which are displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Campfire Stories, n.d.), are an example of the perspective and purpose of the specific man, George Catlin. We can learn from those paintings about one perspective that can then be compared and contrasted to other perspectives of both then and now.  Perhaps Catlin’s work can be compared to other ‘American’ artists or other male artists, and likewise they can be contrasted to Native-American or feminine depictions of the past and/or of the present, this, in order to discover similarities and differences in the many historical perspectives.  Compiling and combining information in this way, and comparing and contrasting the many perspectives or stories over time, allows for a more complete picture of a very complex social reality.  Therefore, it may at first seem logical to disregard historical views that have proven to be less-than-accurate, but to do so would limit our ability to learn about and learn from the past.  Instead of disregarding certain aspects of the historical record, we can understand that there are many historical views of history and when these differing views are combined, a more complete understanding of both the past and the present may then emerge.


Campfire Stories with George Catlin.  (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

Lantern Slides Relating to Ishi, ca. 1911-1916. (n.d.). The Bancroft Library:  Portraits of Native Americans – Early Ethnography. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from

Schmidt Lithograph Company Records. Advertising Labels, Volume VI., ca. 1950.. (n.d.). The Bancroft Library:  Portraits of Native Americans – “ Mass Market Appeal. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from

Sutton, M. Q. (2012). An introduction to native North America (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding Artistic Representations of Native Americans

George Catlin and other non-native painters offered viewers of their works of art a glimpse of their own perspectives concerning native people. Catlin’s works of art, which are displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Campfire Stories, n.d.), for example, were designed for multiple purposes. Catlin stated that he wished to capture the life and culture of Native-Americans before they (as he supposed they would) disappeared altogether as a result of displacement and genocide.  It appears that Catlin attempted to portray natives as close to what he presumed they were like before the disruption of Western European invasion.  Most of the paintings show idealized images of the landscape and of native people and very few of his paintings offer images that show the negative impact of colonization on these people. One of the few paintings by Catlin that offers a depiction of a Native-American impacted by the colonizer is of Wi-jn-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going to and Returning from Washington (n.d.).

Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington

In a less than flattering fashion, Catlin described Wi-jn-jon’s appearance on his return trip from Washington, as dressed in what Catlin supposed were garments of a fine military costume, given to him by the President.  Interestingly though, as evidenced in his painting, Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume, (n.d.) he sees nothing perverse with people of European descent dressed in Native-American costume and engaged in native themed ‘reenactments’, as it was his custom to put on such ‘Wild West’ performances (he called them “tableaux vivants”) in order to capitalize on the events (Theodore Burr Catlin, n.d.).

Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume


Catlin’s other and unstated purpose for painting the life and culture of Native-Americans before they were gone, then, was to capitalize on their unique culture as his own means for economic survival in a competitive, capitalistic society.  In this way, the representations of Native-Americans were truer than what might first appear on the surface.  The representations of Native-Americans by painters such as Catlin are a record of how European-Americans imagined everything (including people) in The New World to be objects for their own exploitation and capitalistic gain, and they made their imaginations become reality.



Campfire Stories with George Catlin.  (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

Theodore Burr Catlin, in Indian Costume. (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from

Wi-jn-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going to and Returning. (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum:  Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Good Neighbors

On May 28, Kristina Bravo reported in takepart that for the first time in sixteen years, the Colorado River has reached its final destination, returning to the Gulf of California. Finally, we in the U.S., are learning how to be good neighbors. For years, we have been denying our southern neighbors their right to fresh water. We have done this by building dams and diverting the Colorado River to places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This has prevented the river from flowing into Mexico as it once did, naturally and historically. This action violated treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, and has caused drought conditions, the loss of crops, the loss of livelihoods, poverty and many other social ills for the Mexican people.

In addition to limiting the availability of fresh water in Mexico, the U.S. also disrupts Mexican food markets in other ways. This is because the U.S. federal government subsidizes U.S. grain producers. That means that the taxpayers of the U.S. fund the grain producers, so that the prices of grain are kept artificially low. By this arrangement, commodity traders are able to flood the world markets with ‘cheap grain’, thereby displacing the farming economies in other nations, such as Mexico. These U.S. policies have negatively impacted the wellbeing of our Mexican neighbors in many ways.

The consequences of U.S. economic policies, such as these, are the impoverishment of our neighbors. Farming families in Mexico become no longer able sustain themselves, as they once did for generations.  Therefore they flock to border cities, to maquiladoras, the manufacturing facilities in the so called Free Trade Zones. They go to the maquiladoras looking for factory work. The Free Trade Zones are areas in Mexico where ‘American’ factories are set up in order to capitalize on cheap ‘foreign’ labor. Yet, these new jobs in the maquiladoras do not provide the Mexican people with an adequate compensation or means for survival.

The major labor force, in these maquiladoras, is that of young female workers, because they will work longer and harder, for less money, and with less protest than men will. This is the typical situation in any industry where the main labor force is that of women. In any industry that is mainly sustained by the labor of women, with very few men laborers, you can be fairly certain that the working conditions are such that men refuse to tolerate them. This is because young women are more willing than men to work in oppressive and exploitative conditions for poverty wages, and this is a perfect opportunity, for those with the power and desire to do so, to profit from capitalistic gain at the expense of vulnerable others.

Furthermore, the living conditions that surround the maquiladoras are meager. They are slums, without adequate housing, plumbing, electricity or fresh, clean water. This condition exists because too many displaced farming families have fled their homes hoping to find an economic means of survival elsewhere, but the jobs that they do find do not compensate them adequately so that they can improve their living conditions. It might be questioned why the displaced Mexican farmers migrate to such areas. An important consideration in this forced migration situation is asking where ‘elsewhere’ might be if one’s skills for their traditional way of life do not easily transfer to a new economy. What are the options that exist for the Mexican people in light of the affects of U.S. policy?

In order to survive, some Mexican people have risked their lives to come to the U.S. looking for work. The work that they find is generally in industries that citizens of the U.S. refuse. That is, many immigrants become migrant workers, working in dangerous conditions, harvesting crops that are grown here. Likewise, many become domestics, cleaning the homes of the privileged who can afford such luxuries..  These are professions that are essentially working in servitude.

Regardless of the work that they do find, the professions they take on are generally those of hard, backbreaking work for very little pay. This means that others benefit from their labor, while they barely survive. Because of U.S. economic policy, many Mexican people have found themselves trapped in a situation that offers them few choices and very little opportunity.

Therefore, it is clear that U.S. taxpayers subsidize the oppression, exploitation and abuse of the Mexican people, in order that we, as a country, may profit from commodity trading, and the cheap goods produced elsewhere, and also the cheap labor here for those tasks that we prefer not to do. It is good to see that our policy and actions are beginning to change. Restoring the Colorado River to more closely resemble its natural flow is a move in the right direction. Yet, restoring 1% of the river’s pre-dam flow is not enough. More still needs to be done, if we are going to become good neighbors.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections on the Meaning of Peace

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the U.S. On Memorial Day each year, countless numbers of folks display their “American” flags, and they gather together at parades, picnics and other get-togethers in order to remember and honor the nation’s veterans who have passed on as the result of their service to our country and its mission of freedom and security. Generally speaking, our society instructs us that those veterans gave their lives in order to secure and spread the ideals of a peaceful democracy that we may live life free. Therefore, for the most part, many of us tend to think of ourselves as citizens of a rather benevolent nation, where values of living in peace and harmony prevail.

Yet, living in peace and harmony are virtues to which many of us aspire but few of us achieve. Instead, we engage much of our lives in competition and conflict. For example, when we are young, we often engage in sibling rivalry, and we begin to learn our exclusionary social tactics by grouping ourselves together in cliques at school. Additionally, we learn to compete with each other in our academics, in sports activities, and in our consumption patters – forever seeking to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ even when we are too young to know that this is what we are doing. We learn this competitive attitude and behavior when we are young, and we work to perfect it in order to “compete in the marketplace of America”, as political commentator Bill O’Reilly has so eloquently named our purpose and way of life (O’Reilly, n.d.). Our way of life, for the most part, then, consists of maintaining social exclusions, competition between individuals and between groups of people, and because of this, a great deal of social injustice results, and this leads to conflicts between people, not peace and harmony.

Personally, I have become tired and emotionally and spiritually drained from an ever increasingly competitive environment that is rife with social conflicts. Certainly, I tell myself again and again, there must be a better way. It was two years ago, when I decided to learn about ‘another way’ and decided to go to college in order to do so. It had occurred to me, at that time, that most of mainstream U.S. culture is built upon stories of competition, conflict and domination, as evidenced in our very profitable and rather violent entertainment and sports industries, for example. I wanted to learn about what I thought of at that time as the ‘hidden peace stories’ – those stories that did not have the exciting appeal of a conflict or combat (and therefore they gain little media attention) but are essential, to my way of thinking, of passing on cultural knowledge of how people can act in order to get along with one another in a peaceful and harmonious way.

At that time, it was my intention to engage in what I thought of as ‘Peace Studies’. When I told folks that it was my intention to learn ‘peace studies’ almost no one knew what I was talking about. I explained that what I had in mind was learning about interpersonal skills of conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conflict management, peace building, and peacekeeping. I did not know much about the field of Peace Studies, either. I discovered that only a few colleges and universities offer studies in peace. No wonder our ideas about peace and how to achieve it are sometimes rather ambiguous. This reinforced my idea that there was a great need for this sort of education, for both myself and for others.

Through my own research, I discovered that Peace Studies, as an academic discipline, began in the 1950’s in the aftermath of World War II. The focus at that time was on international wars and their prevention, but the field has been expanding in scope ever since it began. Currently, the approach to peace studies may take different paths depending on the lens with which the topic of peace is examined. Two common approaches include that of dealing with the politics of war and the effective means for its prevention, while another related method is concerned with the causes of social conflict and its effective management and/or resolution or transformation (What is Peace Studies, n.d.). There is a wide breadth concerning approaches to the academic field of peace studies and one’s approach may take place at the interpersonal, societal, or the international level, depending upon the focus one wishes to explore. I prefer approaching the topic of peace studies at the interpersonal level.

For certain, the concept of peace means different things to different folks. Perhaps the most common idea concerning peace is that it is a state of social harmony that is characterized by the absence of conflict, violence, or war. I used to think this way. This notion of peace is sometimes referred to as negative peace, as described by sociologist Johan Galtung, the founder of peace and conflict studies. Yet the components of negative peace are only a fraction of what peace is, because in order to achieve a sustainable state of social harmony, it is also necessary to address the reasons for social unrest that lead to conflict, violence and war.

It is important to understand that power and wealth disparity are major causes of societal unrest in the world, whether it is at the level of interpersonal relationships, larger group and community interactions, or increasingly (because of globalization) at the national and global level. Much of the power and wealth disparity that exists in the world is a result of social and economic systems that have been in place since the time of Western European wars and colonial expansion into other nations. These social and economic systems have resulted in systemic power and privilege imbalances, and are often described as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, and many more ‘isms’, which are now deeply embedded into our society.

These unequal systems of power and privilege easily develop into systems of domination, resulting in indirect structural violence, where some groups of people are able to profit greatly while others are left in conditions of suffering and despair. Many times, these situations of unequal power and privilege erupt into physical violence, such as what took place during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the U.S. and more recently in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I now know that if the human race is to achieve living together in peace and harmony, we must not only eliminate physical violence, but we must promote what Galtung named positive peace, by working toward a greater degree of equality and social justice for all.

Social justice recognizes a shared humanity. It also values diversity. Social justice promotes a positive and sustainable peace, by ensuring that all people have access to food and clean drinking water, security from physical harm and psychological harm, education for all, including for women and children, and other inviolable human rights. Social justice demands the consideration of human rights for all, and it works to balance competing demands for “needs, desert, and equality within and between societies”while balancing between joint responsibilities of both societies and of individuals (What is Social Justice, n.d.). Social justice addresses concepts of fairness at the macro social level by making the systems and structures of society more equitable. Therefore, in order to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace in society, it is necessary to move from unjust social systems to more just social systems, and this requires social change.

Collective action and social movements describe two methods that can be used to intentionally encourage social change. Collective action takes place in groups and describes behaviors such as a protest marches, political rallies, and the signing of petitions, for example. Mahatma Gandhi used this type of direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression as he worked to gain independence from the control of Great Britain for the nation of India and he called this method satyagraha or obstructive program (n.d.). When this type of group activity is purposeful, organized, and institutionalized, collective action then becomes what is known as a social movement.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960s was also led by a nonviolent obstructive program strategy. Nonviolence embraces a core belief that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society, and additionally it asserts that just means must be used in order to achieve a just end. Furthermore, nonviolence is a method of achieving social change by encouraging respectful dialogue and negotiation as a means for problem solving. Finally, nonviolence is a method of intentionally bringing about social justice by working to create an awareness of people’s unmet needs, and also by creating new systems and structures designed to meet those needs.

Nonviolent systems and structures are types of constructive programs ( n.d.)that are designed to replace the current unjust arrangement. They might include those that meet basic needs such as food, clean water, clothing and shelter for all. They could possibly be concerned with environmental sustainability. They might provide education and healthcare for all. They could also encompass more just economic systems that provide needed jobs and fair wages. Programs that include cultural awareness can reduce intercultural conflict while promoting the value of and the sharing of cultural knowledge. They might embrace nonviolent communication, or alternative dispute resolution programs such as mediation and conflict resolution programs. Or they may be ‘new’ ways of thinking about and addressing ‘criminal justice’ and involve strategies of restorative justice and restorative practices as an alternative to retributive justice and incarceration. Programs that encompass teaching about trauma healing (including the transformation of historical harms) and forgiveness can increase psychological wellbeing. There are many ways in which one can approach working toward a more peaceful future. Non-violent methods of constructive program, because of their intention to meet human needs and promote a more just society, are methods that are perfectly suited to promote not only social change, but also more specifically, social justice and consequently, a lasting social peace.

Over time, my ideas concerning what the notion of peace is, have been evolving to compare with the ideologies of many indigenous cultures, and that of nonviolence, constructive program, and especially in developing language skills (because the way we conceptualize our world is closely connected to our use of language) in non-violent communication. To my way of thinking, we may be best able to achieve a greater degree of social justice, and therefore peace and harmony by gaining theoretical knowledge and practical skills in the field of non-violent social change. What is most important to me is the notion of positive peace – a peace that focuses on a greater degree of social equality and justice for all. Ultimately to me, peace involves ‘right relationships’ with the Earth and with one’s neighbors including even one’s ‘enemies’.


Constructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from

Obstructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from

O’Reilly on America’s Race Problem. (n.d.). CNS News. Retrieved from

What is Peace Studies? (n.d.). University of Louisville. Retrieved from

What is Social Justice? (n.d.) Appalachian State University department of government and justice studies. Retrieved from

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Newton or Leibnitz?: Avoid Cultural Appropriation When Citing the Development of Calculus

“Calculus is the mathematics of change. Differential calculus, or differentiation, determines varying rates of change. Differentiation helps solve problems involving acceleration of moving objects from a flywheel to the space shuttle, as well as rates of growth and decay, optimal values, graphs of curves, and other issues. Integration is the ‘inverse’ (or opposite) of differentiation. It measures accumulations over periods of change. Integration can find volumes and lengths of curves, measure forces and work, and solve other problems. It is used in the day-to-day work of space scientists, architectural engineers, and theoretical physicists (Kowalski, 2011.).”

In the Western world, calculus was considered a mathematical breakthrough, because it dealt with continuously varying quantities, which until mid-17th century, in western mathematics, this concept had not been recognized. England’s Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Germany’s Baron Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) are the 17th century European mathematicians who are generally credited with inventing/discovering calculus. It is certain that both Newton and Leibnitz created calculus methods independently of one another, and they argued until their deaths about who developed calculus first (Calculus: Maths in Flux, 1999). We should recognize, however, that this important work was built upon a foundation laid by many others over the centuries. As Newton famously acknowledged, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Other contributors to the field of calculus are many. For example, the Greek Archimedes (approx. 287 – 212 BC), tackled problems of finding areas under parabolas and inside spirals, and he solved how to find the volume of the sphere, spherical segments, and the paraboloid. Archimedes also showed how to compute the slope of a line tangent to a spiral, the beginnings of differential calculus. He also used a clever ‘method of exhaustion’ to approximate the area inside a spiral. Archimedes attributed this method to Eudoxus of Cnidus (408-355BC) who used it to find the volume of a pyramid.

Additionally, in the tenth century, Thabit ibn Qurra (826-901) of southern Turkey and Abu Sahl al-Kuhi (940-1000) of northern Iran had discovered their own proofs for the volume of a paraboloid. Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (Latinized Alhazen) (965-1040) born in Basra, Persia (now southeastern Iraq) read the work of Qurra and al-Kuhi and almost 700 years before the formulas for integrals would be known, he found the volume of a paraboloid by stacking disks.

Likewise, there were two Indian astronomer/mathematicians who are noteworthy for their contributions to calculus. Interestingly, they share the same name. Bhaskara I (n.d.), (600-680) authored the Mahabhaskariya, an eight chapter work on mathematical astronomy which included topics such as the longitudes of the planets, conjunctions of the planets with each other and with bright stars, eclipses of the sun and the moon, risings and settings, and the lunar crescent. Bhaskara II (n.d.) (1114-1185) is known for his writings in Siddhanta Shiromani, that work with differential calculus and its application to astronomical problems and computations.

Although there is evidence of all of this work (and more) in calculus in the ancient world, with records as early as Eudoxus of Cnidus (408-355BC), it is interesting to note that it is generally understood that centuries later, during the 1600’s and in Europe, an important ‘breakthrough’ in mathematics was occurring. This breakthrough was that European mathematicians began to use the algebraic structure of real numbers and they were imposing on it the notion of geometrical ‘closeness’. This is considered the birth of Analysis, a new field of mathematics at that time, which includes calculus. This is when the French philosopher, mathematician and writer, René Descartes developed the Cartesian plane (analytic geometry). It is claimed that this is what paved the way for the development of calculus in Europe. Yet, it is clear that many of the foundations of calculus were known well before Newton and Leibnitz. Therefore, it should be stated the history of the development of calculus, as we know it today, is the result of a long evolution of mathematical thinking, not a revolution in mathematical thinking, though Newton and Leibnitz are certainly the central figures to be credited. Newton and Leibniz were the first to state, understand, and effectively use the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

Considering the controversial origins of calculus, another more recent argument has arisen. That is, Dr. C. K. Raju presented a paper, The Infinitesimal Calculus: How and Why it Was Imported into Europe , at the International Conference on Indian History, Civilization and Geopolitics (ICIH 2009) that was held at New Delhi (How Jesuits Took Calculus, n.d.). This paper claimed that development of calculus is not a European invention but rather it is an Indian invention that had been appropriated by Europeans. The claim is that in the 1600’s, Jesuit priests took trigonometric tables and planetary models from the Kerala mathematicians of the Aryabhata school to Europe to assist with Europe’s foremost problem, that of navigation. The problem of navigation was that at that time, the European calendar was off by 10 days, and this led to inaccurate measurements of latitude. By using calculation methods described by the Indian astronomer/mathematicians Bhaskara I and Bhaskara II, the navigation problem was solved. It is believed that the Indian mathematics was the source from which both Newton and Leibnitz drew their insights. They did not attribute where they obtained their knowledge, but instead credited the discovery of their new calculating methods to themselves.

Therefore, in light of this more detailed understanding of the development of calculus, we can state that both Newton and Leibniz added to a vast body of knowledge in the areas of both differential and integral calculus that began long before them. The problems that are studied in calculus: areas, volumes, related rates, position/velocity/acceleration, infinite series, and differential equations had been solved before Newton and Leibniz, but the expression of these solutions was awkward and slow. Newton and Leibniz were the first to state, understand, and effectively use the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. The field of calculus continues to evolve and develop today. Calculus is useful in solving problems in physics, biology, chemistry, economics, business, and other disciplines. On the Western front, the calculus quarrel between Newton and Leibnitz encouraged both men to publish their work so that later mathematicians could apply and expand it. The calculus quarrel illustrates the importance of publishing scientific work, and how important discoveries should be shared and also why they should be properly credited.

In conclusion, the Western world, calculus was considered a mathematical breakthrough. Mathematicians including René Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, and Baron Gottfried Wilhelm are all are commonly given credit for its development. Yet, it should be recognized that this important work was built upon a foundation laid by many people in many lands and over many centuries. Contributors to the field of calculus outside of Western Europe of the Middle Ages included the Greek mathematician, Archimedes (approx. 287 – 212 BC); the Turkish, Thabit ibn Qurra (826-901); Abu Sahl al-Kuhi (940-1000), Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (Latinized Alhazen) (965-1040) and Qurra and al-Kuhi (each from regions that we know today as Iran); Bhaskara I (600-680) and Bhaskara II (1114-1185), both from India; and Eudoxus of Cnidus (today’s Turkey) (408-355BC), who all contributed to the foundations and development of calculus. Therefore, it is clear that the development of calculus, as we know it today, is the result of many contributions to a long evolution of mathematical thinking, adding to and building upon the knowledge of many individuals and cultures.


“Bhaskara I.” (accessed November 27, 2012).

“Bhaskara.” (accessed November 27, 2012).

Calculus: Maths in flux. (1999, December 25). The Economist, 353(8151), 99.

Calculus, A P, and D Bressoud. “Calculus Before Newton and Leibniz: Part I, II, III.

“How Jesuits Took Calculus from India to Europe.” (accessed May 2e, 2014).

Kowalski, K. M. (2011, July-August). A quarrel: Who invented calculus? Odyssey, 20(6), 17+. Retrieved from

Raju C. K.. “The Infinitesimal Calculus: How and Why it Was Imported into Europe (Abstract).” Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi 110 011 & Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 36 Tuglaquabad Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 062.–Infinitesimal%20Calculus.PDF (accessed May 2e, 2014).

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Feeding the Soil, Which in Turn Feeds the Plants That Feed Us

Fort Edward Community Garden Sign copy

Today, Josh and I prepared the raised bed at our community garden. When we arrived at our little plot of land, the bed was bare, and had a few weeds growing. So, we pulled up the weeds, raked out some trash and dug down a bit to see what the soil was like. We did not see any evidence of worms or other small life forms. Yet, we know that alive and healthy soil is full of worms and other small critters. So we set out to fix that.

Josh and I went home to get some worms from our worm bin and some supplies in order to make them comfortable in their soon-to-be new home.  When we returned, we dug a little trench down the center of the bed, and put in some red wigglers and many, many worm eggs. Then we covered them over with soil. Worms do not like sunshine!  Next, we watered the soil. Worms do like moisture.  Finally, we put on a layer of leaves to cover over the soil, and provide the worms with something to eat until the compost arrives.

A good friend of mine, and organic gardener, Moira Ryan, who we dearly miss, always advised, “Nowhere in nature, does bare soil exist”.  That is to say, when soil is left bare, the life in it is destroyed and then the soil disappears. Many folks may not think of soil as alive, but it is. Amazingly, there is more life living in healthy soil, than can ever live on top of it. Healthy soil will be alive with worms, other small critters, micorrhizae, and all sorts of microbes that I have come to think of as ‘the micro-herd’.   All of this life is desirable and we should encourage it and support it. This is the reason that when we garden, we try to disturb the soil as little as possible and this is why we keep it covered.

IMG_0483     IMG_0497

Once we finished preparing the bed and covering the soil, we then stepped back to see how nice it looked. We thought to ourselves that perhaps we might lose our leaf mulch if there was a big wind. That would not be a nice thing to happen to our neighbors, finding our leaves all over. So we topped it all off with some cardboard boxes. To hold them in place we used a few pieces of wood. A good rain would sure help the soil and the soil critters a great deal right now. We intend to keep the leaves and cardboard in place in order to retain soil moisture and to also keep the weeds down.  An extra bonus of the mulching is that it will all eventually break down into new and healthy soil.

It is so nice to have fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, but gardening, to us, is about much more than just growing food. This project will be a part of Josh’s homeschool curriculum.  He can learn about horticulture and community building while working on this project. Furthermore, because the small act of gardening puts one in touch with nature, it is natural that he will be learning about environmental issues, too.  In this way, our summertime fresh-food project will be a hobby that produces, rather than a hobby of consumption.  Our little garden plot will produce fresh fruits and vegetables, some healthy outdoor exercise, plus an educational opportunity in the sciences, social studies, and in creation care.  This is truly a More-with-Less adventure.



On Mother’s Day, my dear son and I plan to return to our little garden plot in order to install some fencing for trellis, and perhaps plant a few cold weather crops, too.

When we were done working today, Josh said, “This is fun!”

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.