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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Facing East from Indian Country (2003) by Daniel Richter

This map of Colonial North America prior to the defeat of the French in the 18th century shows the high point for Native Americans, when the exercised control of an large part of the American interior and managed to play one power off one another.

Book Review
Facing East from Indian Country (2003)
 by Daniel Richter


  Daniel Richter is the pre-eminent historian in the area of "Early American Studies" or "Native American History," if you will.  You could call him a revisionist, but his work is more of a narrative synthesis of existing sources than a radical rethinking of the field.   Richter's concern is telling the early history of America from the perspective of Native actors.  He is forthright both acknowledging the limits in the existing sources and being creative in terms of re-creating the perspectives of historical figures who lack their own voice.

 One of Richter's major themes in this and other books is that the idea that European settlers simply rolled over the helpless Native peoples is simply untrue.    The Native peoples suffered hugely from European diseases that arrived before the Europeans themselves, so that when English settlers arrived in North America "history" was already happening.  The fact that neither the English or scholars for several centuries afterwards were willfully ignorant about this history doesn't mean that it didn't happen.

  Things didn't really start to fall apart for Native tribes east of the Mississippi till the defeat of the French in the French Indian War.  Prior to that, after they recovered from the major epidemics of the 17th century, the 18th was a time of relative prosperity and success.   Any reader will come away with the strong impression that even if it didn't work, Native peoples tried many different tactics in an attempt to cope with changing conditions brought about contact with Europeans.  They were also integrated into the economic system of Europe and its North American colonies in a way that is rarely appreciated.


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