- Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663–1880 by Phillip H. Round
In Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663–1880, Phillip H. Round contends with what he calls the “staying power of an ideology of book conquest,” an ideology that still resonates in critical approaches to print history (22). The first extended study of the book in Indian Country, Removable Type sits at the intersection of two timelines—the development of print and the relations between the US and American Indian nations—and looks beyond the critical paradigm of book as technology of conquest to Native uses of print and literacy. Turning from proscriptive notions of “native literacy” to “syncretic literary practices,” Round moves past the “book-as-object” in colonial America to consider the book as supplement (13). Round approaches print through traditional protocols of oral and graphic communication, arguing that Native authors worked to establish intersubjective authorial presences, preserve cultural traditions, and participate in legal and political spheres. Occurring alongside a government-sponsored removal policy and in the face of discriminatory ethnographic and literary representations, Native uses of print and scribal production speak to the anxieties and diverse motivations underwriting cultural contact and political development in early America.
Round begins with an account of a literacy- and codex-based conversion project in the New World. However, “the coming of the book to Indian Country was a dialogic process,” and Round describes translation and print production as bicultural communicative undertakings (22). Calling the patterns of emendation that emerge in the republication of Bibles and tracts “Indian print,” Round maps readings of the physical features of texts—ornamentation, binding, typography—onto the cultural contexts within which they were produced (35).
He continues by exploring the syncretic literary and performative practices Native authors employed to gain political and cultural traction in the developing public sphere of the eighteenth century. As the work of Samson Occom indicates, print and scribal material practices were of increasing importance, particularly to Native Christian communities. Round discusses literacy education in relation to Euro-American conversion goals, but he also considers scenes of reading and writing in terms of their usefulness to Native readers and writers, for whom literacy could be a diplomatic strategy or a way of achieving power within Native communities.
Moving into the nineteenth century, Round notes that the material properties of the book could further colonial imperatives for Euro-Americans who viewed the codex as a model of [End Page 176] order. But many Native communities remained committed to local, vernacular renditions in print. In the backcountry, where mission presses were subject to the contingencies of local politics and available resources, “Books ‘arrived,’ were accepted or rejected on Indian terms, and were then incorporated into the lives of community members” (96). Native reactions to books varied from regarding literacy as the means of negotiating political economies, to viewing books as objects with magical power, to wholesale rejection.
The second half of the book engages critical concepts challenged or expanded by Round’s history, beginning with Indian publics and theories of publicity. Round departs from influential formulations of public discourse, arguing that communication transformations and protocols within tribal communities promoted a different sense of discursive space. From manuscript records of Native diplomacy along the Ohio River Valley to revitalization publics, Round tracks the development of indigenous speaking subjects within emerging public spheres. In Hendrick Aupaumut’s manuscript, for instance, Round locates moments at which Ohio River Valley public debate exceeded the format of print: Aupaumut’s lines, dashes, brackets, and white spaces mark gestures, expanses of time, and ceremonial practices.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 transformed the communicative relationship between Indian nations and the United States. Round considers this in relation to the Cherokee, who generated the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper; memorials or petitions to the US government; and the diverse products of a print constitutionalism. The nationalist thrust of these textual performances suggests that the tools of literacy became a means...