The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History

“American Indians were central to every century of U.S. historical development,” argues Yale historian Blackhawk (Violence over the Land) in this sweeping study. He begins with the arrival of Spanish explorers in Mexico and Florida in the 16th century, before shifting to French and British colonization efforts in the Northeast and the Ohio River Valley. In both instances, Native communities endured extreme violence and devastating epidemics, while employing fluid survival strategies (fighting, relocating, converting to Christianity, trading, intermarrying) that influenced imperial ambitions and behavior. Blackhawk also makes a persuasive case that in the wake of the Seven Years’ War and the expulsion of French forces from the interior of North America, “the growing allegiances between British and Indian leaders became valuable fodder in colonists’ critiques of their monarch,” helping to lead to the Revolutionary War. In Blackhawk’s telling, “Indian affairs” remained a potent political and social issue through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the New Deal and Cold War eras, as the removal of more than 75,000 Native children to federally funded boarding schools between the 1870s and 1920s and the dispossession of nearly a hundred million acres of reservation land during the same time period gave rise to a new generation of activists whose efforts to regain Native autonomy reshaped U.S. law and culture. Striking a masterful balance between the big picture and crystal-clear snapshots of key people and events, this is a vital new understanding of American history. (Apr.)