The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America

By James Axtell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN The Indian Impact on English Colonial Culture

No STUDY OF ACCULTURATION IN COLONIAL AMERICA WOULD BE COMplete without giving equal consideration to the question of how English culture was altered by its contacts with native America. The Society of Colonial Wars conference did not allow time to do justice to that topic as well as its obverse, so I waited for an opportune moment to essay it, which came at the May 1980 colloquium of the Institute of Early American History and Culture. Deadlines are the elixir of scholarly life, I find, because they furnish impeccable excuses to stop researching and to begin writing. The essay that follows was written to that deadline.

However, I had another long-standing reason for writing it: my initial enchantment and then growing disappointment with A. Irving Hallowell "The Backwash of the Frontier: The Impact of the Indian on American Culture" ( 1957). I have the greatest respect for Hallowell's work--his cultural and psychological sensitivity, his focus on people rather than abstractions, his surehandedness with historical materials--and I still admire the ethnological assumptions that informed his look at the transcultural traffic on the other side of one of America's oldest and longest streets. But his essay and many others like it (including an earlier paper of my own) are unsatisfying largely because they fail to assess the ways in which Anglo-American culture used or adapted the Indian artifacts and traits the authors so lovingly enumerate. While most of these (predominantly anthropological)

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