A different landscape: Nathan Braccio, Parallel Landscapes: Algonquian and English Spatial Understandings of New England, 1500-1700, PhD dissertation, University of Connecticut, 2020

13May20

Abstract: Between 1500 and 1700 English and Algonquians in New England possessed different spatial epistemologies that caused them to experience and describe the landscape in distinct ways. For example, where colonists saw a dangerous swamp, Algonquians saw a productive landscape with spiritual significance that served as a haven in times of war. This dissertation argues that English settlers and Algonquians’ distinct spatial understandings and experiences amounted to parallel landscapes. While those landscapes existed simultaneously and separately, the encounter between cultures caused them to shift. Specifically, Algonquians impacted how the English interacted with the landscape in New England. Algonquians taught colonists how to navigate forests and swamps and helped them survive its harsh winters. New England had been marked and made through Algonquian action, and bewildered the English, who were denied familiar features on the landscape.

This dissertation asserts that Algonquian knowledge of the landscape represented a powerful and persistent alternative to English surveying and mapmaking in New England. When English colonists and explorers recognized the unsuitability of their techniques for understanding New England’s unfamiliar landscape, they tried to appropriate Indigenous knowledge and maps. Algonquian sachems (community leaders), used this as an opportunity to manipulate and benefit from their new English neighbors. However, the English constantly felt insecure in their dependence of Indigenous people and, beginning in the late 1630s, they began to remake and mark the landscape in a way they understood. Algonquians adapted, remaining important knowledge providers even in a place no longer entirely of their making.



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