Explore Refining an Argument with ''1491''

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13853

Every secondary source you ever read will have an argument within it. The author will have taken the time to structure their argument in a way to make it more understandable and convincing.


Writing, Writing

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • If something you read makes you laugh, smile, or feel positive in any way, are you more likely to believe that information?

laughing emoji on keyboard

While it is more difficult, many authors try to integrate moments of levity into their writing as a way to help develop and bolster their claims.

  • What does this look like?


Throughout the 1500s and 1600s, European powers steadily began to inhabit more and more of the New World. In fact, by the early 1600s, England had already established a few of its own settlements in modern-day New England.

plymouth plantation

All these encounters, from South America to Mexico to the eastern coast of the United States, led to one incredibly destructive outcome: 90% of the Native Americans living in these areas were killed.

For a quick overview, watch a portion of Americapox: The Missing Plague, from CGP Grey:

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Old World diseases spread from tribe to tribe and killed millions of unsuspecting natives in the New World.

  • With this in mind, why do you think the Native Americans were nice to the Europeans?

They brought chaos in the form of disease that killed thousands and took land away from tribes.

  • Why would the natives be anything but hostile?
  • Would you be happy if someone showed up and decided to take half your house?


1491 book cover

Image courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing, via Wikimedia Commons, qualifies as fair use.

To explore this question, you will read the excerpt below from the 2006 book by Charles C. Mann entitled 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, provided by Google Books.

As you read, complete the Read-Along Worksheet: Part 1, found under the Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar, to help you think about the text.

You should also note and define any words you don't know, so you can read this passage comprehensively.

Ignore the selections we have emphasized during your first reading.

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  • What connections were you able to make between the paragraphs?

You should have noticed how Mann structures this passage in such a way as to continually back up the information given beforehand.

Now look back over the passage and note that:

  • the italicized texts refer to disease and its aftermath
  • the bold texts refer to trading

The ability to remain on land for an unlimited amount of time meant trading could happen constantly. Having so many furs to trade gave the Native Americans leverage in convincing the English to ally with them even in the wake of losing a large part of their tribes to European diseases.

The author arranged these four paragraphs so that this information builds upon itself until both topics converge into a single action.


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  • What was the analogy in the text?
  • What is an analogy anyway?

For a quick overview, watch this Analogy Lesson from LearningGamesForKids:

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  • Are you now able to identify the analogy found in paragraph three above?

An analogy is useful in this context because it makes something that happened a long time ago more relatable and modern. In this case, trading between the Native Americans and the Europeans is compared to shopkeepers giving away fancy technology for used socks.

  • How does this change the meaning?

This shows us that the deal the Native Americans were getting for the copper pots and finished goods was just too good. The natives were encouraged to keep their relationship with the Europeans -- despite the devastation by disease -- because furs were easily accessible to them but nothing the Europeans had was.

Continue on to the Got It? section to consider how the claims in this passage were developed.

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