American Colonies

By Theilmann, John M. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, July 2004 | Go to article overview

American Colonies


Theilmann, John M., South Carolina Historical Magazine


American Colonies. By Alan Taylor. (New York: Penguin Books, 2001. Pp. xvii, 526; $16.00, paper).

Oh no, not another colonial history textbook might be the response on learning of American Colonies. The natural question is, what sets off this one from others in the field? Taylor's work is the opening entry in Penguin's new History of the United States Series, a series that is trying to distinguish itself from other history textbooks.

Alan Taylor, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, places his work into what is coming to be called the "borderlands approach" to American history. He eschews the traditional focus on the development of the English colonies in North America for a broader focus that encompasses all of North America and the West Indies (and Hawaii as well). This approach brings a different group of actors on stage as well as examining geographic regions only tangentially touched upon in more conventional treatments of colonial America. This approach may not be to everyone's liking, but it has merit in emphasizing a broad-based perspective to colonial America instead of treating the English colonies in isolation.

The first section, labeled "Encounters," introduces the first encounters with the New World in five chapters. In what is becoming a standard approach, Taylor begins with the initial peopling of North America from circa 13,000 B.C. to 1492 A.D. He then works through the first impact of the Europeans on the native people, followed by two chapters dealing with the early development of Spanish America. The fifth chapter describes the French colonization of Canada and the relationship of French Canada to the Iroquois tribes.

The next seven chapters make up a section on the colonization of English America in the seventeenth century. Two chapters are devoted to Virginia and the Chesapeake and two to Puritan New England and the relationship of Puritans and Native Americans. One chapter then details the colonization of the West Indies, providing a nice segue into a chapter dealing with the Carolinas. Reflecting the modern trend, Taylor emphasizes the close ties in attitudes and developmental patterns of West Indian colonies such as Barbados and South Carolina. The section concludes with a chapter dealing with the Middle colonies, especially New Netherlands/ New York and Pennsylvania.

The third section of seven chapters, labeled "Empires," chronicles developments in the eighteenth century. …

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