Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America

Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America

Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America

Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America

Synopsis

In the past thirty years historians have come to realize that the shape and temper of early America was determined as much by its Indian natives as it was by its European colonizers. No one has done more to discover and recount this story than James Axtell, one of America's premier ethnohistorians. Natives and Newcomers is a collection of fifteen of his best and most influential essays, available for the first time in one volume. In accessible and often witty prose, Axtell describes the major encounters between Indians and Europeans--first contacts, communications, epidemics, trade and gift-giving, social and sexual mingling, work, cultural and religious conversions, military clashes--and probes their short- and long-term consequences for both cultures. The result is a book that shows how encounters between Indians and Europeans ultimately led to the birth of a distinctly American identity. Natives and Newcomers is an essential text for undergraduate and graduate courses in Colonial American history and Native American history.

Excerpt

College textbooks and lecturers like to tell us that when Columbus and his crew splashed ashore on the beach at Guanahaní in October 1492, the “Old World” of Europe, Asia, and Africa met and was bound irrevocably to the (equally old) “New World” of the Americas. Of course, it was not “worlds” that met, except metaphorically, but people from those distant and diverse geographies, societies, and cultures. Nor, for all the powerful symbolism of that first meeting, did the Columbian or American “Encounter” (as Quincentenary organizers aptly dubbed it) occur all at once or once and for all. It continued to happen and was reconfigured every time natives and newcomers encountered each other—gladly, begrudgingly, or angrily—anywhere in North, South, or Central America during the hemisphere's variously long colonial periods. Some would argue that the Encounter is still alive and not particularly well today, more than five hundred years after Columbus's fortuitous and fateful find in the Caribbean.

For the past thirty years, I have tried to take the measure of the Encounter between Indians and Europeans in colonial North America and to probe its meaning for the emerging history of the United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada. In doing so, I early recognized that the European focus of colonial ambition and endeavor was not just the thirteen English mainland colonies but the whole continent, whose immensity, infinitely varied geographical features, and particularly its myriad, disunited native polities and peoples constituted the largest and most persistent obstacles the colonists had to overcome. This meant that my courses on exploration and colonization had to include and often feature Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Russian actors, as well as the familiar English. This in turn obliged me to begin the story not in 1607 at Jamestown or even 1584 on Roanoke Island, but in Europe's medieval exploration and exploitation of Asia, Africa, the Near East, the Mediterranean and its islands, and the eastern Atlantic islands; even the main chapters on North America had to attend to the sixteenth century as fully and carefully as to the two that followed.

Of equal importance was treating the various Indian and European participants with moral and methodological parity. I wanted not only to demonstrate that the cultural changes wrought by the Encounter were mutual, twoway if not always equal, but to treat all the contestants fairly, with as little . . .

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