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Nov182012

Abstract - R. David Edmunds, “Native Americans, New Voices: American Indian History, 1895-1995,” American Historical Review 100 (1995): 717-740

R. David Edmunds’ article, “Native Americans, New Voices: American Indian History, 1895-1995” chronicles the waning and waxing interest in Native American studies among historians, in connection with articles published in the journal American Historical Review. Edmunds asserts that when the journal began publication in 1895, the Native American population was below 250,000 individuals and many historians shared a widespread belief that the end of the physical frontier and the expectation of assimilation meant that Native American populations were no longer considered an important part of the American historical landscape, except when studying them in opposition to early Euro-American actions on the frontier. Their own culture was largely ignored, in what Edmunds refers to as “the supporting cast in a drama whose plot and leading roles were European.”[1] Little or no attempt was made to study Native Americans within the context of their own cultural idiom.

          One reason for this neglect was the relegation of all non-white, non-male, and non-European individuals to marginalized status. Another was the reluctance or refusal by the historical community to accept oral history and tradition as valid sources for information. As Edmunds points out, the failure of historians to collect and curate oral history traditions from Native individuals who directly participated in early nineteenth century events, or from their immediate descendants, has resulted in a great loss of knowledge about Native perspectives of that time period. In the early- to mid-twentieth century, the continuing marginalization of Native perspectives and the belief that Native history was unworthy of serious academic study helped continue the trend of publishing few Native-centric articles in the Review.

          The first major shift in interest in Native American studies, Edmunds notes, coincided with the broader Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. As a subset of that movement, the Red Power movement and the American Indian Movement raised popular and political interest in Native American culture and history. In response, “history departments across the United States rushed to add undergraduate Native American history courses to their curricula.”[2] This led to a corresponding change in methodology for Native American studies, which shifted from a Euro-centric view to a Native-centric view. In recent decades, this has led to an expansion in Native history, including much more focus on pre-Columbian cultures.          All the new investigation into Native history has resulted in a shift in understanding of how Europeans were able to invade and conquer the Americas, including the realization that portmanteau biota waged previously overlooked germ warfare on the indigenous population that severely reduced their numbers in the years between first European contact and the colonization and expansion of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

          Edmunds, the Anne and Chester Watson Chair in History at University of Texas, Dallas, gives a good overview of the history of Native American articles presented in the American Historical Review. He also does a good job of presenting the argument and conflict over the differing perspectives in Euro-centric historiography and Native-centric historiography that still permeates the topic of Native American history. This article is almost an annotated bibliography of journal articles on the topic in the Review, from its inception to the time of Edmunds’ article. Beyond that, however, Edmunds’ essay lends little to the dialogue and to the broader scholarship of Native American studies. It is essentially a very well-written laundry list of articles and an explanation of how this small cross section of historiographic scholarship fits into the greater pattern of Native American studies.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Edmunds, R. David. “Native Americans, New Voices: American Indian History, 1895-1995.”  American Historical Review 100 (1995): 717-740.

 


[1] R. David Edmunds, “Native Americans, New Voices: American Indian History, 1895-1995,” American Historical      Review 100 (1995): 717-740.720

[2] Ibid, 724

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