james o’neil spady on native american agency


A recent historiographical review article has been published, which outlines recent approaches to native agency.

From the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 10, 2 (2009):

Among the research into the history of North America of interest to readers of The Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History are studies analyzing American Indian agency in the teeth of empire—how they endured colonization, adapted to new relations of power, and reconstructed colonial knowledge to find meaning and pursue their own purposes. Each of the works under review addresses such themes. Each contributes significantly to under-attended topics through careful study of local archives. They apply appropriately-adapted theory to develop fresh arguments about the relations of power between imperial and indigenous agency and should therefore make useful reading for scholars in Native American Studies and Colonial/Postcolonial Studies.

The three works under review proceed not only from different archival sources but from different theoretical frameworks as well. Comanche Empire centers on trade and world systems theory, Violence over the Land emphasizes violence and the State, and To Live Upon Hope focuses on discourse and practice in Christian missions. Each of these approaches has benefits and collectively these works—in dialogue with prominent work in Colonial/Postcolonial Studies—enable a discussion of the continuing search for a narrative to upend the older emphasis on European agency and Native American assimilation. Ultimately, these works suggest that a historiographic return to Native Americans will restore the full and complex agency of Indians in the history of North America and will require understanding the varied and contested power dynamics of imperialism and colonization.


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