Rethinking Encounters

Explore essays on the agency of Indigenous women in early encounters, the problematic nature of "historical firstings," how Indigenous communities were first weakened by colonization and then experienced disease (not the other way around), and how Europeans were unable to imagine that the land they encountered was already settled territory.

About This Issue

This issue of The American Historian (Part 1 of our U.S. History at 250 series) features four essays on rethinking encounters between Europeans and Indigenous groups. One essay encourages historians to focus on the agency Indigenous peoples had during initial encounters and to pay especially close attention to the leadership role indigenous women played in those encounters. Another essay focuses on how the problematic nature of  “historical firstings”–for example, where the first Spanish or French colonies were built–often leaves out the crucial role Indigenous groups played in these settlements. The essay also discusses how the use of digital humanities can help bring these forgotten histories to life. A third essay talks about colonization and disease in Indigenous North America and demonstrates that the common notion that disease “spread like wildfire” among Indigenous groups is incorrect. Instead, the colonization process was initially much more destructive to Native groups, who, as a result of their weakened state due to European colonization, then experienced disease. The final essay discusses how early European settlers of the Northwest Territory were unable to imagine that the area was homeland to a multitude of sovereign Indigenous nations. As such, they viewed the territory as unsettled wilderness, ready to be “settled” by Europeans, thus displacing Indigenous groups who had lived there for centuries. 

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