Native American Histories in North America

Susan Sleeper-Smith

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Native American Histories in North America

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The involvement of Indian activists in the public protests of the 1960s and 1970s offered dramatic evidence about the persistence of Indians. Both popular and scholarly perceptions of Indians changed, and this shaped the evolution of a new Indian history. Robert F. Berkhofer, a well-known scholar, called for historians to focus on issues of persistence and not demise. His call to write a new Indian history paralleled a growing scholarly emphasis on community studies, which looked at history from the bottom up. These community studies generally focused on the colonial period, and most colonial historians tended to focus on New England. Thus, it was this region initially that attracted the greatest amount of research attention. But most Indians live in the West, and their activism made it obvious that historians needed to focus on that region. With the work of scholars like Howard Lamar, a Western history emerged that more fully focused on Indian agency. Western history took a second dramatic transformation in a 1990s movement that advocated a new Western history and incorporated Hispanics, Latinas, and women as well as Indians. This new direction included a new geographical emphasis that focused on borderlands where European empires interacted with Indians. The year 1992 signaled the emergence of the Southwest as part of the new Western history when David J. Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America (Weber 1992, cited under Southwest), won the Western History Association book prize and Ramón Gutiérrez won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians for When Jesus Came, The Corn Mothers Went Away (Gutiérrez 1991 cited under Southwest). Within the decade, understanding the Southwest became integral to understanding Indian history and the West. An increased emphasis on science in the last decades of the 20th century brought an increased awareness of how biological developments affected the outcomes of encounters between Indians and Europeans. This direction appealed to many historians, for it appeared to objectively explain the triumph of Europe without reference to human behavior. Historians critical of this deterministic approach triumphed the new field of environmental history, which came to the fore with William Cronon’s Changes in the Land (Cronon 2003, cited under Biology and Conquest) and now produces some of the most innovative work in the field of Atlantic history, with work on North America as well as Mexico and the Caribbean. Atlantic history initially focused on interaction with the English, but increasingly, other European powers became crucial to a more nuanced understanding of imperial and colonizing processes. By the 1990s, Spain, France, the Dutch, and the Swedes garnered increased scholarly attention.

Article.  11931 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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