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In Across a Great Divide, editors Laura L. Scheiber and Mark D. Mitchell bring together essays that attempt to bridge the "great divide" between history and prehistory and challenge previous narratives of colonial history and discourse. The collection of essays, based on a symposium at the 2007 Amerind Foundation, provides archeological contributions to the effort of "decolonizing" the history of Native Americans. The contributors focus on a variety of methodologies in case studies that span the five-hundred-year time frame and the continent.
Scheiber and Mitchell argue that archaeology provides analytical tools and perspectives necessary for challenging the accepted metanarrative of indigenous-colonial contact, that of European dominance and Native victimization. The various case studies examine elements of change and continuity before and during Native interactions with Europeans and their material goods. The archaeology [End Page 257] of the case studies provides a long-term perspective, providing an examination of Native cultures before European contact and through which local diversity and Native agency is more fully understood.
The essays include an examination of Apalachee actions before and after their encounter with Pánfilo de Narváez, focusing on how time, gender, status, and context influenced individual actions; a reexamination of the Jamestown colony with particular interest in the actions of the Algonquian, Monacan, and Iroquoian peoples of eastern Virginia; and an examination of Creek factionalism in 1813-14 as a continuation of changes in Creek moral economies that predate the Creek War. Other case studies examine Seneca communities and autonomy; the development of the nineteenth-century Nativist movement led by Tenskawatawa; and changes in technology as indications of social adaptation and continuity among the Wichita and Shoshone. There are studies of the development of collective identities among the Diné in the American Southwest and in reaction to religious colonialism among the Yup'ik in Alaska. A study of Pueblo demographics before 1825 challenges the widely held thought that Native population decline was inevitable; and a study of Indigenous foodways in western North America brings to the forefront the local diversity in Native reactions and adaptations to colonization. Each study provides a new perspective on the traditionally held beliefs of what happened when Europeans showed up.
The variety in approaches and case studies provides an excellent example of how archaeology can contribute to the study of colonial history. The essays are well written and most are easy for the lay archaeologist to understand, though a few require a previous knowledge of archaeological terms and concepts. The authors use a combination of archaeological reports and secondary sources, which for the size and scope of the volume works well. While the essays do not offer bibliographies, there is a combined list of the references cited at the end of the volume. However, the combined list is problematic when identifying sources on a particular case study. Overall, the book is well organized and researched. [End Page 258]
By crossing divides between disciplines, interpretations, culture, scale, and politics, Across a Great Divide strives to present a more complete picture of Native American history during the colonial period. The editors and contributors successfully argue that the outcomes of European-Native encounters were greatly influenced by Native actions, not just those of the "dominant" culture. In doing so, they have emphasized Native agency, an element that is often lacking in more traditional views of the colonial American meta-narrative. The volume also raises new questions and new directions of enquiry for both archaeologists and historians to follow, urging the disciplines to work together to create a new colonial discourse.
Tamara Levi teaches history at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Florida. She is currently researching the use of rations by colonial governments in their indigenous policies.