Academic journal article Teaching History: A Journal of Methods

Masters of the Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America

Academic journal article Teaching History: A Journal of Methods

Masters of the Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America

Article excerpt

Michael A. McDonnell. Masters of the Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America. New York: Hill & Wang, 2015. Pp. 402. Cloth, $35.

In the quarter century since the publication of Richard White's seminal The Middle Ground (1991), historians studying colonial North American history have been rewriting the story of Indian-European relationships, largely liberated from the idea of imperial Europeans dominating over-matched Indians reeling from infectious diseases and reduced to dependency by white traders peddling guns and alcohol. While Michael McDonnell's Masters of the Empire joins this historiographical tradition, like all effective monographs, it pushes the field in new directions, arguing for the centrality of a group of Algonquian-speaking Indian groups he refers to collectively as the Anishinaabeg, to the "making of America."

McDonnell draws on an impressive array of French and English primary sources, as well as on much of the outstanding recent work in this field to present a persuasive story of Indian peoples in the northern and western Great Lakes driving imperial events and conflicts far more than the French and English traders, missionaries, and settlers we have until recently been used to. For McDonnell, the arrival of Europeans, while certainly significant, did not fundamentally reorder Indian life in the Great Lakes but instead complicated existing trade networks and rivalries by creating a demand for furs--and by the introduction of guns and of the various Europeans who brought the guns--to trade.

The focus of this study is the Straits of Michilimackinac, the area where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, just miles from the eastern end of Lake Superior. In this region, the Anishinaabeg, comprised of the Ottawa, Potawatomi, Chippewa, Algonquin, Nippising, and Mississauga Indians, in the seventeenth century drew the newly arrived French into the region's rivalries that had been exacerbated by the introduction of firearms by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. The gun trade, along with infectious diseases, pushed Indians from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River (and beyond) into a cycle of warfare and power politics that, in turn, compelled Europeans to ally with one group or another in an ever-shifting diplomatic landscape that mirrored the balance of power politics Europeans were used to at home. …

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