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H-SHEAR FORUM ON DANIEL WALKER HOWE'S _WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT_ Scroll to the bottom for a complete list of previous installments. NEXT MONDAY: Manisha Sinha on Race, Slavery, and African American History TODAY: James Taylor Carson on Native American History Commenting on how surveys of nineteenth century United States history treat the experiences of native peoples can often be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Books of grand sweep tend to rely on literature that has already had its day in the sun and are rarely, if ever, in command of just where the study of Native North America sits in terms of questions being asked and methods being used--none of which, however, can be said about Daniel Walker Howe's breathtaking book. Howe's book works in two distinct ways. At its most basic Howe's thesis posits that the unfolding of American history witnessed not the birth of democracy but rather the hard-edged extension of a world dominated by white men who sought to use all available means to preserve their place at the top of a sprawling social heap. For Native Americans, Howe's sensitive and nuanced discussions of their history enables him to reach conclusions that have often been beyond the grasp of comparable works of synthesis. One of the tropes against which students of native history write involves the inability of outsiders to understand first peoples as historical peoples. Discussions, for instance, of native lives tend to privilege the romantic notion of a primordial culture that can only have been tainted by the passage of time and regular contact with non- native peoples. Howe sets aside the conceit almost immediately when he writes, "Many misconceptions regarding the American Indian of this [precontact] period remain prevalent. Their societies were not static. ... They evolved and changed" (p. 26). Howe deftly builds upon recent scholarship as well to depict native societies in the early nineteenth century as cosmopolitan, articulate, and engaged with broader trends in American society. Rather than pitting so-called progressives who embraced the market economy, English language proficiency, and even Christianity against conservatives who remained devoted to ancient ways, Howe's discussion reveals that life in the first nations was as complicated and at times confusing as life in the broader nation. Howe's sensitive approach to cultural issues enables him to draw upon recent scholarship to revise out of date interpretations of native factionalism. Survey texts have tended, for example, to depict the Cherokee's New Echota treaty as a pact hatched by self-aggrandizing "mixed blood" Cherokees against the interests of the "full blood conservatives" who were led by the wealthy slaveowner John Ross. Howe, however, explains how Ross enjoyed the support of a broad spectrum of plantation owners, small farmers, and cultural conservatives while the treaty party sought to make what they took to be the best of an awful situation be negotiating removal rather than being forced out of their homeland with no say in the expulsion they believed was inevitable. By undermining the traditional narrative of racial factionalism and duplicitous behavior he transforms a story often told in terms of impossible nobility and depraved greed into one of human characters, needs, and impulses. Government rhetoric, nevertheless, enabled federal and state governments to undertake a number of measures that dispossessed first peoples, denied them access to the rights necessary to participate in U.S. society, and undid their claims to sovereignty under the pretext of saving such people from their inevitable extinction. Howe sees such talk for what it was and decisively cuts the narrative of U.S. history to the quick. The War of 1812, what Howe rightly notes was a catastrophe for first peoples, the opening of the Old Southwest to invasion, and the expulsion of various nations on the Trails of Tears involved the reproduction of a social order premised on white male supremacy. As Howe concludes, "'Manifest Destiny' served as both a label and a justification for policies that might otherwise have simply been called American expansion or imperialism" (p. 703). The first peoples who populate the pages of _What God Hath Wrought_ certainly suffered from any number of actions taken by the citizens and governments of the United States of America but they are never just passive victims. Indeed, themes like agency and victimhood are relics of a passing phase in native historiography, and Howe's treatment of culture, factionalism, and politics points towards next steps U.S. historians might wish to take. At the same time, however, he casts first peoples in a way that might also bear future reconsideration and revision by students of Native North America. The first peoples in _What Hath God Wrought_ are Native Americans--a racial minority that happened to inhabit lands claimed by the United States and who had to adapt culturally and politically to the expansion of American society. They are not, in contrast, insiders like the African Americans in the book who clearly belong to American society in ways that native peoples did not. In part this reflects free and enslaved African Americans' position at the center of many political, religious, and cultural debates, but one of Howe's strengths is that he acknowledges that Native Americans were important players in such debates as well. No matter the economic or cultural integration first peoples achieved in the nation, however, in Howe's hands they never quite count as one of the nation's founding peoples. Instead, they are always on the border fighting to preserve their nations and their lives only to be expelled or confined like prisoners in a vast armed camp. Perhaps the somewhat awkward fit of Howe's native narrative within a far more cohesive black/white narrative attests to the lasting power of the political order and racial ideologies that white men created, and against which Howe struggles to write, to consign the people they called Indians to the margins of the land they claimed and the ideas they used to justify their nation's mission. In the end, Howe counsels that no one story can be the nation's story. But what makes _What Hath God Wrought_ remarkable is that it successfully does what a great work of synthesis ought to do--it distills the broad sweep of multiple fields of inquiry into a comprehensible narrative of the past that speaks to our present-day concerns. In so doing, Howe raises significant questions about the place of multiculturalism in United States history and the ways in which our memories of the past condition our ability to reimagine it. James Taylor Carson Queen's University Kingston, Ontario, Canada ***** Catch up on previous parts of Howe Forum: INTRODUCTION (Oct. 27) http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-SHEAR&month=0810&week=d&msg=/eKgyeicCgpYSkmSDVdJng JAMES HUSTON ON ECONOMIC HISTORY (Oct. 27) http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-SHEAR&month=0810&week=d&msg=xC7PayA4egD0XIRVNPkdcA MICHAEL A. MORRISON ON POLITICAL HISTORY (Nov. 3) http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-SHEAR&month=0811&week=a&msg=7lyPqVnVCIx6iIXmEMx2ig DAVID M. HENKIN ON THE "COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION" (Nov. 10) http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-SHEAR&month=0811&week=b&msg=1vGEslA6v7PF6F6yHB3tew MARY P. RYAN ON WOMEN AND GENDER (Nov. 17) http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-SHEAR&month=0811&week=c&msg=z155z8gznJ6g8419lSHctQ