nancy hagedorn on the reconceptualization of european-native relations in colonial northeast america


Nancy Hagedorn, ‘Atlantic History and the Reconceptualization of European-Native Relations in the Colonial Northeast’, H-Net Review, 2010.

Evan Haefeli, Kevin Sweeney. Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. Native Americans of the Northeast: Culture, History, and the Contemporary Series. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Illustrations, maps. xv + 376 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55849-503-6; $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55849-419-0.

Donna Merwick. The Shame and the Sorrow: Dutch Amerindian Encounters in New Netherland. Early American Studies Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Maps. ix + 332 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-3928-7.

Paul Otto. The Dutch-Munsee Encounter: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley. European Expansion & Global Interaction Series. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006. Illustrations, maps. xv + 225 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57181-672-6.

As Atlantic history has emerged as a legitimate and popular alternative to older, more traditional forms of imperial and colonial history during the past twenty years, it has influenced the conceptualization, study, and interpretation of virtually all aspects of the early modern history of the regions and peoples surrounding the Atlantic basin. Alison Games has recently noted that “Atlantic perspectives deepen our understanding of transformations over a period of several centuries, cast old problems in an entirely new light, and illuminate connections hitherto obscured.” The three works under review here, considered collectively, illustrate some of the recent trends in Atlantic history and history more generally as they apply to cultural interaction in early northeastern North America. Specifically, they illustrate the benefits of the intersection of Atlantic history with the new frontier history and cultural history, and their combined approaches and perspectives signal the emergence of a new, more richly textured and realistic image of early America and its peoples.

While this review essay is not the place to trace in detail the nature and consequences of these developments, it nevertheless seems appropriate to highlight several trends that have had an obvious impact on these recent reinterpretations of the early history of intercultural relations in the colonial Northeast, the common focus of the three works under review. Although Atlantic history has attracted its share of both critics and supporters, the latter of whom rarely agree completely on its definition and contours, several tendencies in Atlantic studies have emerged as common characteristics of the field: Atlantic history demands that even seemingly local, small-scale events and developments be placed within broader transatlantic and transnational contexts; Atlantic history encourages explicitly comparative approaches and discourages uncritical notions of nationalism and exceptionalism; Atlantic history highlights the confrontations and connections between peoples who inhabited the regions bordering the Atlantic; and Atlantic history encourages consideration of any phenomenon or development from multiple perspectives–ideally with some sense of balance and impartiality.

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