Scott Henstrand, BHP Teacher
New York, USA

This month, we’re diving deep into th e story of the Collect Pond as covered by Eric Sanderson and the Mannahatta Project. We’ve made a passage from Mannahatta available for free to all Big History teachers here. Take a look! What follows is a reflection on this passage by New York City-based BHP teacher Scott Henstrand, and some suggestions for how you might use this passage in your classroom.

BHP Team

As a New York City-based BHP teacher, incorporating the story of the Collect Pond into my classroom is a natural overlap of Big History themes and local history. The work done by Eric Sanderson and the Mannahatta Project allows us to critically examine the interplay of ecological constraints and human behavior, over time, at a very specific site. It surfaces a logical question: Why do our immediate environs look the way they do?

Here’s a bit on my reaction to the Collect Pond passage, and how I’d envision incorporating it into my BHP classroom. Note: Although I’m especially excited about this site, given my location, I’d argue the themes that emerge have universal appeal, especially for Big History types.

Using a Big History lens to teach history involves a constant shifting across scales of time and space: from the beyond-comprehension cosmic to the equally confounding microscopic. New patterns emerge that wouldn’t otherwise in a typical history course. They inform the very human curiosity surrounding how we got here and what our future might hold. The history of the Collect Pond, as informed by the research of Sanderson and team, gets to these questions as they relate to a specific geography, and conveniently intertwines the BHP themes of causality and scale-shifting while doing so.

I’d have students read the provided passage (probably a few times!), and then examine the text from a few different angles

The filling of the pond

  1. Why did the Collect Pond get filled? Name a short-term cause, and see if you can extend out to medium-term and long-term causes. What were the consequences?
  2. Can you think of another site where similar patterns are occurring? Perhaps as related to a water source, or perhaps a different resource. What is the range of causes? What is the range of consequences?

Changing views of water’s utility: as a survival resource; as an engine for industrialization*

  1. How did the Lenape view the land and its resources? How did the Europeans view the land and its resources?
  2. What were the uses of the Collect Pond, from the establishment of New Amsterdam in 1626 to 1790?
  3. How was the Collect Pond used between 1790 and 1810? What is the driving force that brought about this change in use of the Collect Pond?  How is this change an example of Threshold 8? What are ways Threshold 8 changed the way humans see the world?

*Extra Resources at end of post

Clash of world philosophies**

  1. How did the Lenape perceive time and their relation to the cosmos? How did the Europeans perceive time and their relation to the Universe?
  2. How did the Lenape structure their community? How did the Europeans structure their society?
  3. How do these different world philosophies help explain the early interactions of the Lenape with Europeans? Could the interactions have been different? How do the world philosophies help explain the relationship between current indigenous populations with the governments in power?
  4. How do these world philosophies exemplify multiple modes of collective learning? Are there other modes of collective learning?

**Extra resources at end of post

And a bonus ending: Mini-LBH project

I would love to see this as a mini-Little Big History. Students would present their findings and their questions to representatives of city government to project changing uses of the land, taking into account the shift from the cosmic to theand into a future of unknown complexity. How does this urban center accommodate the natural with the international Venn diagram that is New York City? The wealthy with those just getting by? The connections between the natural environment and its uses by humans for modern economic and population needs is a microcosm of the complexity of the connection of the four World Zones driving modernity. I think it would be awesome to share this complex history with the students and see what connections the students come up with.

Now, think about your location. You cannot avoid this same development pattern , wherever you are. What’s an example of a place near you that unfolds the concepts of Big History? Keep us posted!

*Extra resources: Collect Pond

**Extra resources: Clash of world philosophies

  • Reading the Country: Introduction to Nomadology, by Stephen Muecke, Paddy Roe, and Krim Benterrak. Relates to Australian aboriginal peoples.
  • “Indigenous and Popular Thinking in America, by Rodolfo Kusch. Relates to Latin American indigenous peoples.
  • For Indigenous Eyes Only and For Indigenous Minds Only, by Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird. Relates to North American indigenous peoples.
  • For a summary of the differences:
  • For specifics of the Lenape lifeway:
  • For a more philosophical and critical view: Philosophy of Liberation, by Enrique Dussel

About the author:

Scott Henstrand has been teaching Big History at Brooklyn Collaborative Studies, a public school in New York, since 2011. His school offers the course as a two-year deployment that replaces global studies. In the first year, Unit 1 through Unit 6 are covered; in the second year, Unit 6 through Unit 10. Scott loves teaching the course because of the fundamental philosophical implications of the material.

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