Covering a wide variety of topics, and using an array of approaches, the authors of these compiled essays analyze earlier written sources of information, created primarily by male Europeans, in order to reconstruct interactions between American Indians and Europeans from the indian viewpoint. The essays also consider oral evidence, along with material evidence uncovered by archeological investigations, about the way American Indians used European trade goods. Folklore and oral histories preserve native memories of how European ideas and practices were accepted, rejected, or—most often—modified and assimilated by the tribes.
American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500- 1850 assesses the impact of European diseases and trade relations in transforming American Indian demography, religion, methods of warfare, and gender roles. American Indians are portrayed as active participants in the cultural exchanges, deciding for themselves how to react to white influences. The range of studies is continent wide, covering tribes from the East Coast to California. In addition to contact with the English, some writers describe reactions to French activity in Canada and Louisiana, and to Spanish missions in the Southwest.
Although the authors clearly identify with their native subjects, the essays do not glorify American Indians or replace legends of heroic frontiersmen by myths of idealized natives. Some articles note racist native beliefs about superiority to blacks and whites, tribal participation in slavery, as well as Iroquois cannibalism during wars fought for revenge against other tribes.
Editors Peter C. Mancall and James H. Merrell have compiled an excellent collection of outstanding articles that should prove rewarding to anyone interested in sampling the depth and diversity of contemporary scholarship concerning American Indians.