Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast

Article excerpt

The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast. By Jessica Yirush Stem. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 250. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3148-6; cloth, $85.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-3147-9.)

In her well-written and richly documented book, Jessica Yirush Stem examines the complex economic and political relationships of British colonists and American Indians in the Southeast. Covering approximately the period between the 1660s and 1760s, The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast adds to a growing body of literature on the specifics of the Indian trade in the colonial South and challenges prevailing scholarly notions of the directionality and meaning of British-Native gift exchange, commodity production, and consumption. Stem interrogates the idea that Native peoples were exclusively receivers of British economic culture, trying haplessly to interface with an emerging Atlantic market economy from a kin-based and tributary system. She illustrates the multitude of ways that Native Americans and British colonists cooperated, collaborated, and adapted to one another's political economy to serve their material needs. Stem argues that shifting power dynamics more so than cultural dissimilarities were the sources of historical fissures and tensions between indigenous and colonial southeastemers.

The Lives in Objects is at its best when describing and providing examples of colonial-era cultural interactions among various Native and British peoples. From Tomochichi, the leader of the Yamacraw Creek Indians, ambivalently touring a kersey wool production site in Godaiming, Surrey, England, to the Indian agent Thomas Naime's analysis of Creek and Chickasaw political allegiances based on trade competition, Stem provides a myriad of documentary examples with vivid descriptions of observed cultural behaviors and marketand self-driven choices across time and space. In this way, her argument for recognizing the nuanced market-based decisions and individual cultural choices of Natives and Europeans is well supported.

Pulling back the curtain on specific narratives and historical figures of the Indian trade, the volume makes its contribution to the craft in its depiction of the common men and women engaged in the period's backwoods commerce. …

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