Week One Reading

The introduction put some of my worries to rest, since many historical resources from previous classes I have taken have bordered on ethnocentrism. Taylor notes that the text will explore perspectives that have often gone unacknowledged in mainstream historical narratives such as those of women (“inconsequential helpmates,”) Natives (“unchanging objects of colonists’ fears and aggressions,”) and African slaves (“unfortunate aberrations in a fundamentally upbeat story”) (x). By acknowledging the faults in historiography in the earlier part of the twentieth century, Taylor shows that he will be offering a more inclusive and complete narrative of the story of colonial America.

I found chapter 1 to offer a wealth of information regarding Natives that was never presented to me in previous history courses. A notable fact that the reading shed light upon was the disparity between myth (that Native Americans were passionate conservationists) and reality (that their motives for minimizing ecological destruction came from animism) (19).

The topic of development also opened my eyes to the real reason behind the natives’ lack of mechanistic development. I had never thought to attribute the lack of societal development as seen in the “Old World” to animism. While I never subscribed to the idea that they were a “primitive people,” I was not aware that it was animism that “discouraged the sort of mechanistic development practiced by Europeans” (19-20). From the reading I came to see the Native Americans’ lack of technological development as a sign of restraint rather than one of inferiority. If they had desired to develop in ways the Old World did, they surely would have had the intellectual capacity to do so. Unfortunately, colonists chose to see the difference in technological development as an indicator of inferiority as opposed to one simply due to a stark difference of cultures.