This weekend historians of the early American republic gathered together in Philadelphia for the thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Gabriel Loiacono, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, was working the conference floor as a correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Gabe is writing a book about welfare in early republican Rhode Island.
What follows is Gabe's report on two panels on Native American history:
The first, "Facing East from Miami Country," delved into native intra-tribal politics as well as native-white contacts in the Ohio River Valley after 1800. Full disclosure: I had to duck out before the third paper and comments of this panel, which is my loss and yours, dear reader.
The second, "Settler Colonialism: A Framework for Interrogating the Early Republic's Frontiers," used the "settler colonialism" framework to analyze settler-native contacts in many times and places: Iroquoia in 1779 and 1879, Hawaii in the 1820s and 1950s, Oregon in the 1840s, and even underground in native burial sites throughout the early republic. The settler colonialism framework, which drew some criticism and defense from the audience, is a transnational framework, that has been applied around the world, not just in the Americas. It describes the long process by which settlers imagine, invade, claim, and make myths about lands that they settle. It provides a unifying concept with which to compare this process in different times and places. It was described by more than one panelist as being genocidal and yet including a myth-making stage in which genocide was un-remembered.
The presence of this genocidal aspect brought my mind back to the first panel, "Facing East from Miami Country." James Buss's paper, "Imagined Worlds and Archiveal Realities: (Re) Reading Myaamia History in the Archive," showed how white debt claims against Miami people could be used to reconstruct an earlier period in which white settlers were employees of Miamis, building houses and performing other services. Where does this patron-client relationship fit into the settler colonialism framework?
Margot Minardi's "Plea for Oregon," and Noelani Arista's "The Isle shall wait for his law" both focused on the imagining part of settler colonialism. Margo Minardi focused both on American emigrants' plea for the United States to extend its governance to Oregon and also on her own plea for scholars to work more on Oregon in the 1840s. (That's a tip for you new grad students out there). Noelani Arista's paper drove its point home well in just the first few sentences, quoting James Michener's 1959 novel Hawaii, and making it clear how long the colonialist myths around Hawaii have persisted. Judy Kertesz's "To discover the antiquities of Our Continent" made many connections, between colonialism across horizontal space and colonialism across vertical space (mining and digging up native graves). It also drew in industrial history, the mining of salt petre, slavery, and settler colonialism. Patrick Bottiger's "Misremembering Tippecanoe," from the first panel, and Dean Bruno's "Barbarians in 1779, Civilization in 1879," from the second, about American expeditions against Tenskwatawa's Prophetstown and the Cayuga nation, respectively, both fit nicely in the "settler colonialism" framework, as both dealt extensively with the "myth-making" stage of that process. All of this focus on myth-making led Judy Kertesz and commentator Christina Snyder both to ask the question that I shall leave you readers with: if settler colonialism and its final stage of myth-making are accurate ways of understanding American colonization, expansion, etcetera, what exactly does this mean for us as historians and Americans in the present day?