The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760

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The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760. Edited by Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. Pp. xxxix, 369. Preface, introduction, notes, bibliography, contributors, index. $50.00.)

Scholarly efforts to trace the origins of southern distinctiveness have tended to overlook one of the most dynamic and formative periods in the region's history: the era from the mid-sixteenth through mid-eighteenth centuries. This period was one of critical importance to the hundreds of evolving Indian societies that stretched from Chesapeake Bay to East Texas, as well as to the Spanish, French, and English colonial regimes that competed for control of that broad portion of North America. While a dearth of accessible historical sources has tended to discourage scholars from delving into the details of this era, Charles Hudson-the eminent anthropologist best known for his work on Mississippian chiefdoms and the Hernando de Soto expedition-knows as much as anyone about the merits of rising to such a challenge. In 1998, Hudson drew together a group of his colleagues and former students for a symposium dedicated to the myriad social, political, economic, and demographic changes experienced by the South's Indian groups as they joined colonial Europeans in an expanding "modern world-system." The fruits of this symposium have been compiled into a book that not only offers some of the latest research on the archaeology and ethnohistory of the early colonial South but also challenges some persistent assumptions and speculation.

As in any compilation, the essays in this volume vary significantly in focus and quality. They cover a wide range of sub-regions (e.g. Virginia, the North Carolina piedmont, the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, and the Florida peninsula) and Indian polities (e.g. Shawnee, Creek, Cherokee, Caddo, and Tunica) and discuss an equally wide range of historic and geographic themes (e.g. trade, political coalescence, and demographic decline). Five of the essays concentrate on mapping indigenous population movements in an attempt to explain the disparities between the records left by sixteenth-century explorers and chroniclers and the more familiar accounts of the late colonial period. While each of these essays offers invaluable points of departure for further research, the average reader will probably come away somewhat unsatisfied with their sketchy and (necessarily) qualified conclusions.

A few of the compilation's essays, though, read less like conference papers than like confident and fully formed articles. …