American Colonies: “Introduction” & “Natives”

I appreciated the balanced historical approach laid out in Taylor’s introduction. While noting the over-simplification of the conventional histories, he suggests in his introduction that a “comparative perspective” including the Natives, Africans, and non-British colonialists better explains the dynamic cultures and events of the American colonies (xv). Even so, he does not neglect the British colonialists. Rather, he notes their significance and frames their history within a greater geographical and cultural context. America, after all, was not confined to the Atlantic coast. Nor were its customs restricted to those of the British. Such an approach, I think, appropriately treats the British colonies while justly advocating for those often overlooked.

In his account of the Native Americans, I was particularly struck by Taylor’s incorporation of American environmental history. He lists environmental history in the introduction as a “line. . . of scholarship” American Colonies employs, but I didn’t think that he would weave both the cultural and environmental history together so seamlessly (xiv). Presented together, the two—the Native Americans and the American landscape –seem inseparable. As when drought forced the Anasazi and the Hohokam to relocate or extinction led the Peleo-Indians to invent the atlatyl, the Natives’ dynamic history resulted from the responses of the environment. Considering the active role the land played in the Natives’ history, I wonder to what extent their past experiences shaped their religious beliefs and vice-versa.

Reading Taylor, I was surprised by his style. His prose reads smoothly, and though he structures the chapter like a narrative, he still seamlessly incorporates facts and figures without much digression. Although I enjoyed the lucidity of his narrative style, I wish he had listed further explanations or evidence for certain claims—perhaps via footnote. Granted, Taylor admitted that his claims were “highly speculative” and the evidence “fragmentary and limited,” but further explanation about the speculation of, or evidence for, certain claims would have been helpful (4). Nevertheless, Taylor presented what I believe to be a prudent historical approach and an informative narrative history. I look forward to reading his interpretation of the early European colonies.