Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Rites of Assent

Title: The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America (New York: Routledge, 1993)

Author: Sacvan Bercovitch, who admits in the preface that he was actually named after Sacco and Vanzetti! So awesome! Although the executed anarchists get no further mention in the book, the theme of dissent, coupled with the general awesomeness of the name, mean that they get pride of place in this entry. Bercovitch retired from teaching at Harvard U. in 2001, after a career including stints at Brandeis, UCSD, Princeton, and Columbia. Before and after retiring, he's won any number of Lifetime Achievement Awards, including the Bode-Pearson Prize for Lifetime Achievement in American Studies. Books mostly revolve around Puritanism and its place in the cultural imaginary: The Puritan Origins of the American Self, 1975; The American Jeremiad, 1978; The Office of The Scarlet Letter, 1991.

My review: This book is actually a collection of essays, published 1972-1991. The overarching story here is the way in which American official ideology establishes consensus, and has done so ever since the days of the Puritans.

The series of essays moves in chronological order. Bercovitch believes that after the Puritans, any belief in America also had to incorporate a belief in expansion and mission. The major contributions of the Puritans to the official American mindset, he writes, are "the preposition 'into'" (aka, the idea of progress), conceptual vagueness as to the nature of the community covenant, and the justification of imperialism on the continent (related to the first). Jonathan Edwards took the concepts of the Puritans and expanded them to a broader audience, modernizing and commercializing the message.

Meanwhile, after the Revolution, any concept of "dissent" or "rebellion" from this official ideology was also official-ized, meaning that revolution was state policy. Therefore, any threat of more "deep" or threatening revolutions, such as those perpetrated in France, could be submerged in the official fiction of omnipresent "American revolution." Thus, the individual and the nation emerge aligned.

Bercovitch sees this absorption of dissent as an immensely effective alternative for nation-building. He uses Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) as an example of how this plays out, literarily speaking: Hester eventually capitulates to the voice of the community and replaces her letter after casting it away. She's unable to find happiness outside the community, even if that would have meant freedom, and eventually returns. Bercovitch finds the ambiguity of Letter to be, in and of itself, somewhat smothering - if you can choose any meaning you want from the book, "its ambiguity is a function of prescriptiveness" (211) - the reader never ends up choosing, and therefore never ends up rebelling. Thus, American freedom of choice smothers all who would oppose. (Reminds me a bit of the Thomas Frank, Conquest of Cool, thesis - or perhaps it's vice versa.)

Reviews of others: In American Literature, Kenneth Price wished that Bercovitch had engaged with his critics while putting together this book, and pointed out that Bercovitch's idea of American ideological hegemony aligns itself too much with concepts of American exceptionalism. Price also writes that perhaps Bercovitch doesn't find an oppositional tradition within American thought because he's only looking at New Englanders - what about Rudolfo Anaya, or Harriet Jacobs, even Edith Wharton? Interesting. In the Journal of American History, James Hoopes wrote that Bercovitch's argument is a "greased pig" - if there's no such thing as radical dissent or even analysis that can step outside of the American tradition, then how could Bercovitch himself be analyzing? Hoopes doesn't buy the argument that SB's Canadian, Jewish, radical roots could give him enough of an oppositional positionality to make the switch happen.

Words: "chiliastic" ("of, pertaining to, or holding the doctrine of the millennium"); "apodictic" ("of clear demonstration; established on incontrovertible evidence").

Books to follow up on: Primary: Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826); J. Fenimore Cooper, The Crater; Or, Vulcan's Peak (A Tale of the Pacific) (1847).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Whither American Studies?

Or should it be "Whence American Studies"? A special group post about seven essays navelgazing the field, spread over several decades. Listed here chronologically, for reasons which shall become clear.

Susman, Warren. “History and the American Intellectual: Uses of a Usable Past.” American Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2, Part 2: Supplement. (Summer, 1964), pp. 243-263.

Warren Susman died in 1985 when he was only 56, of a heart attack, while commenting on a paper at a conference. Yike! At the time of his death, he was teaching at Rutgers. His essays were collected that year in Culture as History, which I will be reading but haven't yet. Other books include one called Herbert Hoover and the Crisis of American Capitalism and one called Culture and Commitment, 1929-1945, both paperbacked in 1973.

This essay puts forth a chronology of the ways in which historians have used mythic and ideological characterizations of the past, creating stories or narratives in order to justify future actions. (See Bercovitch on this, too.) Susman points particularly to Turner's frontier thesis as an example of ideological history which announced new directions for the society. 1890-1940 was a period in which historical awareness, wielded by individuals "removed from the seats of power", was seen as a tool for creating better futures (it seems like he approves of this period?) However, since 1940, historians have been too interested in creating myths or narratives, which do not assume that human problems could be solved by an analysis of the past. It seems that Susman wants a new public history committed to problem-solving.

Wise, Gene. "’Paradigm Dramas’ in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement.” American Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3. (1979), pp. 293-337.

Although Gene Wise has his name on a prize given by the ASA for the best student paper, along with Warren Susman's, so I know he was important, he is not very evident on Google. There should be a permanently cached area on the ASA's site with biographies of these luminaries. I couldn't even find books of his on Amazon.

Regardless, this essay describes several "eras" in the history of American Studies, as distinguished by episodes he calls "paradigms." First is the era of Vernon Parrington, who wrote Main Currents in American Thought in 1927 with very little institutional support and, Wise says, kicked off the tradition of American Studies thinkers who, "driven by concentrated fury," try to create order with the "materials of American experience." We then move on to Perry Miller, author of Errand into the Wilderness (1956), who, while he had plenty of institutional support, also tried to "think through America" - in his case, from the standpoint of Puritanism.

While Miller was in graduate school, various other schools began to offer interdisciplinary programs, including Harvard and GWU. Harvard was the first to award a PhD in Am Civ - to Henry Nash Smith. The 1950s began to look like a "golden age", because of the flush of cash influxed into the field from sources like the Carnegie Corporation, But, Wise says, we can't forget that this cash was dirty money, and in order to get it we had to reinforce some kind of status quo. Here the myth-and-symbol school flourished.

During the 1960s, of course, criticisms arose, culminating with Bruce Kuklick's essay (below) which pretty much dismantled myth-and-symbol as a viable category of analysis. Wise uses Robert Merideth, who taught a course called "Culture Therapy 202" at Miami U in the late 60s, as the representative actor from this time period - Merideth saw the role of teacher as an adversarial one, and viewed AMS as a discipline that must "save" people from the culture.

Then we experience...Fragmentation. Wise views the discipline as a growing one, but believes that other, "legitimate" departments have begun to take over AMS' territory (American lit, social history) and wonders what the future will be like.

Kuklick, Bruce. “Myth and Symbol in American Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 4. (Oct., 1972), pp. 435-450.

Kuklick is on the faculty at UPenn, in the history department. He's interested in political, cultural, intellectual, and diplomatic history of the US (well, what else is there? he doesn't do environmental history, I guess). He's written nine books, including Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War, from Kennan to Kissinger (2007) and To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976 (1991 - that one's about baseball!)

This essay pretty much sounded the death knell of the myth and symbol school. Kuklick points out that conceiving of such a thing as a "myth" borders on accepting the idea of a Platonic "truth" - invests the "myth" with a life of its own, outside the minds of each person who believes in it. Moreover, myth and symbol indulges in the "what you mean, we?" fallacy - can a scholar really describe the function of a myth as it works for each and every person in the United States? and if not, which people are we talking about? Finally, who determines which works hold this mystical "myth" inside of them? Why pick Moby-Dick over any other novel? Just because you like it and think it's good? That's no way to operate, says Kuklick, referring specifically to Leo Marx and his Machine in the Garden, but also pretty much indicting the whole complex of ideas surrounding myth-and-symbol. Kuklick admits that he doesn't have another idea as to what American Studies should do to get around the problem.

Lears, TJ Jackson. “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities.” The American Historical Review, Vol. 90, No. 3. (Jun., 1985), pp. 567-593.

Lears, on the faculty at Rutgers, wrote No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (1981), on my list for later, as well as Fables of Abundance: a Cultural History of Advertising in America (1994) and Something for Nothing: Luck in America (2003).

This particular essay looks at the ideas of Antonio Gramsci and asks whether they are applicable to American Studies' attempt to describe the functioning of culture. Lears likes Gramsci's reimagining of Marxian ideas of culture because it offers more wiggle room for the human element - rather than conceiving of culture as simply the false consciousness that the ruling class uses to convince everyone else to fall in line (the base/superstructure argument), Gramsci believes that each person renegotiates his/her relationship to the culture through an ongoing process. Occasionally, a person may act in a culturally "acceptable" way, even while thinking something different, or vice-versa. Lears argues that this works well in American culture, and believes that we should focus on studying language in order to understand these individual processes better. (Picture is of Gramsci, Lears' "wily Sardinian", not of Lears.)

Denning, Michael. "’The Special American Conditions’: Marxism and American Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3. (1986), pp. 356-380.

Denning, in the Yale American Studies department, writes on labor and culture in the US. His books include Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (2004), The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (on my list; 1997), Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working Class Culture in America (1987), and Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller (1987).

Following Lears, this is another essay about Marx's relevance in the study of America. Why, Denning asks, has marxist (he lowercases it) studies not made a mark (ha) on American Studies? First, theorists tend to focus on Europe, even American theorists. Second, since American Studies came of age during the Cold War, its "totalizing" explanations of American culture could be seen as an alternative to marxist understandings. (Here Denning cites Daniel Boorstin, who testified in front of HUAC, as an example of this school of American Studies.) However, Denning claims, certain American studies writers have been working in marxist ways without explicitly acknowledging their debts to that tradition. A complete revision of the understanding of America would have to set aside "exceptionalism" - only once this is done can marxism be seen to be relevant.

Kerber, Linda. “Diversity and the Transformation of American Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Sep., 1989), pp. 415-431.

Kerber is in the history department at the University of Iowa. She specializes in gender, citizenship, and legal history. Her books include No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1998); Toward an Intellectual History of Women (1997); Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1980); and Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (1970).

This piece is actually an address to the ASA, given when Kerber was president. It's a look back at the places where American Studies has had "gaps", including histories of race, class and gender, but also takes care to point out that scholars *have* been working in those areas all along. Kerber calls for more work in the areas of science and technology (yay). In general, she calls on the ASA to move beyond the "constraints of cold war ideology" to study the workings of power in American society.

Lipsitz, George. “Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4. (Dec., 1990), pp. 615-636.

Lipsitz is the chair of the AMS department at UC/Santa Cruz, and got his PhD from the University of Wisconsin's history department. He's into race, culture, and social identity, as well as urban history and social movements. Books include American Studies in a Moment of Danger (2001; focuses on the effect of globalization on the idea of "the nation" and thus on American Studies as a whole), as well as The Possessive Investment in Whiteness (on my list; 1998) and Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s (1994).

In this piece, Lipsitz calls for a type of American studies that could be flexible enough to look at culture in all of its permutations; resists "hypostatization into a method"; recognizes the way that nationhood plays a role in culture; and, interestingly, "understands that struggles over meaning are inevitably struggles over resources" (621). As of now, Lipsitz says, the most sophisticated cultural commentators in America are not academics but artists, writers, and musicians (David Byrne! Tracy Chapman?) This is partially because American studies has not really got on board with European cultural studies, clinging to questions of "what is American?", to the detriment of more interesting open questions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Slavery, American Freedom

Title: American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975)

Author: Edmund S. Morgan, professor emeritus of the Yale history department. Studied under Perry Miller at Harvard. Teacher of John Demos. Winner of many awards for his books on colonial and early Republican history, and for his life work in general, including the National Humanities Medal in 2000 and a Pulitzer "special citation" in 2006 (is that like an Oscar lifetime achievement award? I think so). Other notable books (he wrote a bunch) are The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1955); The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956); and Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988), which won the Bancroft Prize. Morgan has also written biographies of Ezra Stiles, Roger Williams, and Benjamin Franklin.

My Review: This book attempts to answer the paradox embodied in its title: how could a society founded on the ideals of human freedom accept the blatant violation of that ideals in its very midst? (Morgan sees this as the fundamental paradox of America as a whole.) In order to answer the question, Morgan looks at the hundred years during which Virginia existed previous to the beginning of wholesale African slavery, describing the social and labor conditions of the colony.

The Jamestown colony, he writes, was founded with a great need for labor - indeed, those who became rich at the outset were those who could manage to marshal the greatest number of servants, not those who had the most land or the most capital. The upper classes of Britain looked at Virginia as perfect place to offload the lazy, unproductive classes of people who were unemployed in the home country. These people would accept contracts to come to Virginia as servants and serve a certain term to pay for their passage. Once in the colony, excuses would be made to extend their term, and once they were set free, there was very little hope for the American Dream - land was difficult to work if you were doing it on a small scale; land was only available on the dangerous, Indian-proximate frontier; and women were scarce, meaning family life for these "small" ex-servants was nonexistent. More than anything, though, these servants usually just died so early in life (as did most people in Virginia) that they didn't have a chance to ask for their rightful place in Virginia's economic order.

For Morgan, this short life expectancy is one of the major reasons why Virginia's planters saw it as economically more advantageous to import English servants, rather than African slaves - why pay the higher price for a slave when s/he was likely to die soon, leaving a planter without having exploited the full "term" of their labor (that is, their lifetime)? There were some Africans in the colony before the end of the seventeenth century, but Morgan says that they were unaccompanied by the later racism they experienced. They worked alongside white servants, and intermarried with whites.

When life expectancy began to go up, and events such as Bacon's Rebellion convinced the upper classes that the lower classes were indeed dangerous, slavery began to look like a better option. With a plantation of African slaves, control would be easier and economic advantage easier to extract. In a story familiar from such books as Roediger's Wages of Whiteness, the white lower classes were pacified with minor economic advances, begrudging cession of political rights, and the knowledge that they, at least, were "better" than the Indians and black people living alongside them in the South. Meanwhile, the upper classes could (mostly) rest safe in their beds, knowing that the poor people who supported their wealth were enslaved and controllable. (The "mostly" refers to the fear a lot of them retained of slave rebellions, which were actually rare.) Voila - slavery and freedom, side by side.

Souvenir from the 1907 Jamestown Exposition ("Meet Me On The War Path"!)

Reviews: The book won the Francis Parkman Prize, as well as others. In the Journal of American History, Russell Menard wrote that the book was "graceful, learned and witty" (it is that) and loves it, mostly, except when he worries that by attributing all of English racism to economic need, Morgan gives short shrift to any possible other explanation - it's almost mechanical, an account which Menard compares unfavorably to Winthrop Jordan's more subtle work (presumably White over Black [1968] though Menard doesn't specify). Menard also wants more evidence about the decline in mortality, a point at which I found myself confused as well, and wants more drawn-out analyses of the difference in prices between slaves and servants. In the Journal of Social History, Lois Green Carr said that she liked the book, too, but thought that actually servants had more opportunity when "graduated" from service than Morgan had it, and that those who joined Bacon's Rebellion were not actually reacting from stringent conditions for freedmen at the time - that things were status quo for them, until about the 1680s.

Words: "feeoffee" ("a person invested with a fief")

Poster for Terence Malick's 2005 film "The New World," with Colin Farrell as John Smith - a film I have to admit I found myself embarrassingly swept away by, with a good representation of the dirtiness and desperation of the Jamestown settlement, and a really romantic one of the nobility of the Indian.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Colonial Era Timeline

The time has come, the Walrus said, to start making timelines.

Pre-Revolutionary America - Key Events

1585-1587 - Various Foundings of Roanoke Colony (Morgan)
1590 - Publication of Thomas Hariot's Briefe and True Report
1607 - Founding of Jamestown Settlement (Morgan)
1620 - Founding of Plimouth Plantation (Demos; Karlsen)
1638 - Anne Hutchinson exiled from Puritan church, colony
1639 - Birth of Increase Mather (Bercovitch)
1649 - King Charles I, enemy of the Puritans, executed; eyes of the world turn away from American colonies (or so they perceive) (Miller)
1662 - Halfway Covenant proclaimed, admitting to the church a wider array of members
1663 - Birth of Cotton Mather (Bercovitch; Miller)

1675-6 - King Philip's War (Young Cotton Mather sees Philip's head on a stick) (Lepore; White)
1676 - Mary Rowlandson abducted in Lancaster, MA, by Nashaway Indians (Lepore; Kolodny)
1676 - Bacon's Rebellion (Morgan)
1679 - Synod, examining questions of "why the land suffers" - the angst of the Puritan elders (Miller)
1682 - Rowlandson publishes The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, forward by Cotton Mather1690-1730ish - African slavery takes hold on a broad scale in Virginia (Morgan)
1691-2 - Plymouth Colony, others absorbed by Massachusetts Bay Colony
1692-3 - Salem Witch Trials (Karlsen)
1697 - Fast day of atonement for the witch trials ("Tragedy, caused by Satan and his works among us")
1703 - Jonathan Edwards born (Bercovitch)
1706 - Ben Franklin born
1723 - Death of Increase Mather (damn, he was old) (Bercovitch)1728 - Death of Cotton Mather (not so old) (Bercovitch)
1732 - George Washington born
1733-4 - Great Awakening begins in Northampton; properly takes place 1739-40 (Bercovitch)
1743 - Thomas Jefferson born
1756-63 - Seven Years' War (Winston Churchill called it the "first world war") (White)
1763 - Cession of Canada to the British (Indians felt betrayed by French; Puritans felt their mission justified) (White; Bercovitch)
1775 - Thomas Paine's Common Sense published in England

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Little Commonwealth

The current-day Plimouth Plantation, open for visitors.

Title: A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970)

Author: John Demos, of Yale U's history dept (and teacher of my undergrad colonial history course - I will always remember the lecture in which he described the literal darkness of colonial life and its effect on personal habits and worldview). Other books include Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982); Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and the Life Course (1986); and The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1994).

Brief review: Demos' book recovers the "everyday" experiences of colonists at Plymouth, using legal records, material culture, and the life-cycle theories of Erik Erikson to describe how the cultural expectations of the colonists shaped life on the individual, family, and colony-wide level.

Demos sees the conditional structural needs of the colony as underlying factors in the personality formation of the colonists. Thus, his understanding of the major motivation of the Puritan system of child-rearing (see Calvert), which put emphasis on control and containment: Puritans, Demos says, were obsessed by the need to put the lid on human tendencies toward aggression, which would be incredibly dangerous in a small and tight-knit community. Adolescence, on the other hand, was not particularly a time of sturm und drang, because Puritan teenagers were not trying to figure out what to do with their lives - there was a relatively small set of things that one could be "called" to do, and there was a fluid "range of gradations" that the culture used to assess adulthood, depending on the conditions of the family, the inheritance question, and the issue of marriage (147). These sections show the influence of Phillipe Aries' Centuries of Childhood, once again.

Demos describes how the life of the family, at this time, was seen as a "building block" of society, rather than a "bulwark" against it (183). The family, he points out, acted as school, business, jail, church, and vocational institute, all of which were functions later given over to the state. In this time, Puritan families were integrated into the intentions of the state, serving as, get it?, "a little commonwealth" in each home.

A historical "interpreter" at Plimouth Plantation. At one point in this book's history, it was intended to end up as a pamphlet for the plantation's visitors.

Robert Middlekauff, in the Journal of American History, wrote that Demos' mixed bag of methods resulted in a "superb" book (this was a funny review, which seemed like it was going to denigrate the book by calling Demos' scholarship "self-conscious", then did an about-face toward approval). Middlekauff's only serious contention was that Demos should have expanded his study to other colonies besides Plymouth, a move which would have occasioned more inclusion of matters religious. A review very convenient for my purposes was Helena Wall's overview of family history's twists and turns since the publication of Demos' book, which was published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2000. Turns out A Little Commonwealth had, at that point, been in print steadily ever since 1970, and had started out as a grad school seminar paper. Wall sees Demos' synthetic approach and ability to relate family structure to the general mores and structures of society as key to the work's success, and identifies this book as the beginning of an "explosion" of gender and family histories. Work still to be done in the area of colonial family/gender history: incorporation of analyses of race; family histories of the lower/dependent classes; histories of professors of other, non-Puritan religions.

Words: "intestate" ("of a person, not having made a will")

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Middle Ground

"The the first attempt at delineating the country of the Great Lakes. Based wholly on Indian reports, the map accompanied a work by Samuel de Champlain, Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France, which was published in Paris in 1632." Caption from this site...

Title: The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)

Author: Richard White, now holding an endowed professorship at Stanford. White is one of the major architects of the new environmental and Western histories (see also William Cronon, Patricia Limerick, Hal Rothman, Ramon Gutierrez). The Western approach embodied in his work re-visions the West as a land where various groups of people interacted, not simply the empty spot where Anglo-Americans exercised their growing dominance, as described in nineteenth-century historian Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier thesis".

White is also author of
The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos (1983); "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A History of the American West (1991), which I've never read but always wanted to, and which apparently never uses the word "frontier"; The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (1996), which we read in a Landscape class and which is notably shorter than Middle Ground; and Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories (1998).

Tecumseh, portrait uncited anywhere I could find (but I included it because of the prominence of the medal on his chest and the epaulets of his uniform). White wrote in his intro that he initially intended to write a book about Tecumseh's story, but decided that the back-story of Indian interaction with Europeans in the area was all the more interesting.

My short review: White dives into the complex, sometimes deeply confusing territory of the relationships between various Indian groups and the French, English, and American colonizers of the upper Midwest during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and emerges with a coherent narrative of the ways that cultural contact resulted in what he calls "the middle ground."

The book is not really assignable to undergrads, but (or maybe because) its underlying message is that stuff back then was more complex than we think it was. This complexity accounts for the occasional Biblically byzantine prose, describing the successions of various chiefs and French commanding officers. (I was only willing to forgive White the 525-page length of the book because he, quite endearingly, called Middle Ground "the Tristam Shandy of Indian history" in the foreword.) But all of this depth is definitely necessary, and definitely serves his point well: in a land of fragmented Indian groups, contacted by equally fragmented French traders, Jesuits, and travelers, people created a culture based on individual, face-to-face interactions, and it was a much more flexible and mutable one than has been described.

Particularly interesting examples of French and Indian contact/conflict come under the cultural situations of gift-giving, order-giving, murder, and sex. Gifts were used by Indian groups as ways to establish alliance; the French initially resented this, but eventually saw their efficacy; the British never wholeheartedly capitulated to what they saw as "begging Indians" and their empire suffered as a result. The maintenance of authority was understood differently by the Europeans and the Indians - Euros thought that because somebody was a chief, that meant that they could control all of their people, while Indian authority was much more conditional. French people in the country (the pays d'en haut) eventually learned this and worked around it, but their imperial commanders never seemed to understand; and the British saw the Indian lack of hierarchy as an emblem of their less-developed society. Murder was a situation which the Indians dealt with by "raising" or "covering" the dead (ie, giving the bereaved family a slave to replace the lost person, or goods to make up for his/her loss), while the Europeans believed in an eye for an eye. White describes how various instances of murder forced the French and Indians to create solutions which satisfied both sides of the equation, and how the British and American interactions were far less flexible. Finally, sex in the backcountry was an example of the literal "middle ground" - the birth of various metis (half-French, half-Indian) children served to help trade and establish ties between communities of the different nations.

All of this cultural exchange was possible and necessary because the French "needed" the Indians - or at least, they needed the Indians not to kill them, and to trap beaver for them, and not to betray them to the English during imperial wars. Once the British came into power, and once the Americans started colonizing the back-country, this "need" went away and "Indian-hating" became more common. Against this backdrop, the story told by Jill Lepore of the interactions between Indians and English in Massachusetts takes on added poignancy. (Or does it? The story White tells makes it pretty clear that the French weren't inherently more tender-hearted or kind, but simply in dire-r straits, which forced them to interact on a more human level with the Indians...if they had lived in tight quarters with Indians and needed land for domesticated animals and seen no need to patronize Indians to maintain trading relationships, as was the case in MA, they might not have been so open to relating in the way they did.)

"The Black Robe", 1991 movie about a Jesuit priest in the pays d'en haut - haven't seen it yet, but intend to. Check out the praise: "Packs twice the punch of Dances with Wolves."

Reviews of Others: Well, this book won the Francis Parkman Prize and was a Pulitzer nominee, so there's that. In the Journal of American History, Robert Berkhofer Jr (author of The White Man's Indian), wrote that the book was praiseworthy for its synthesis, but worried that White had tried too hard to maintain his narrative scenario by omitting mention of what happened after the end of the War of 1812 (how can this be a "middle ground" if it's constantly shifting westward because of the actions of faraway imperial nations?) Rebecca Kugel, in the American Indian Quarterly, said much more about the patriarchal family relationship between French and Algonquins than I did in the above review (and it's helpful for me to remember that the French saw this relationship as one of authority, while the Algonquins thought a "father" should provide for and mediate between his "children" - and trouble came about when the French violated this compact, which they might not have completely understood). Kugel thought that White might have shortchanged the British and American eras in comparison to the French (what did she want, the Gravity's Rainbow of Indian history?)

Words: "phratry" ("
any of various analogous clans or kinship divisions found in other societies; [esp. in Anthropol.] a descent group or kinship group in some tribal societies); "moiety" ("a half, one of two equal parts"); "stroud" ("a blanket manufactured for barter or sale in trading with the North American Indians" - White writes that the British, for a time, had a trade advantage over the French because of their superior supply of scarlet strouds).

Books to follow up on: Secondary: Greg Dening, Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land, Marquesas, 1774-1880 (1980).