cory willmott on visual appearance and identity in c19 algonquian-settler relations


Cory Willmott, ‘Beavers and Sheep: Visual Appearance and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Algonquian-Anglo Relations’, History and Anthropology iFirst (2013).

 Differences between Great Lakes Algonquians and their colonizers in the meanings and values of dress were not simply a matter of different symbolic meanings for the coded elements. Rather, for Algonquians, the whole realm of the visual played a lesser role in the construction, maintenance and negotiation of identities than it did for the colonizers. Whereas nineteenth-century British and Americans “read” dress to ascertain identities, including moral character, occupation and class, with a few notable exceptions, Great Lakes Algonquians relied instead upon behaviour as a primary indicator of identity. The meanings and values humans attribute to dress are linked to the economic and social structures of their production and distribution. These structures provide the basis for the modes of perception through which people conceive “selves” located in their physical and cognitive environments. For humans, as corporeal beings with subsistence needs, human–animal relations play a major role in these processes.

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