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  • The Native SouthAn Account of Recent Historiography
  • Claudio Saunt (bio)

Over the past decade, the historiography of the Native South has seemingly grown as fast as the cul-de-sacs enveloping Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, and other Southern cities. Unlike the housing bubble, however, the boom in Southern Indian historiography is unlikely to slow anytime soon. Much of the recent work addresses basic questions about Indians' political evolution, economic practices, and social organization and has only begun to lay the groundwork for further research. The impressive body of scholarship produced over the past decade highlights how far we have come but also shows how much remains to be done.

Rather than offering a comprehensive survey of the literature, what follows is an idiosyncratic accounting of scholarship over the previous ten years or so. I have highlighted several fast-growing and promising areas of research. In places, I offer a gentle critique of the literature. Along the way, I suggest areas of future inquiry.

"Tribal" Studies

A complete list of recent book-length publications on Southern Indians would be truly impressive for both the quantity and quality of the entries, and it would also reveal past and future trends. Such a list of tribal studies, as the historiographical tradition is known, would take up half of the pages of this review, so instead I have compiled a shorter, selective inventory of books on the Creeks and Cherokees, in order to assess the current course of the field.

A selective list of recent books on the Creeks and Cherokees might include, in chronological order, Joel Martin's Sacred Revolt in 1991; M. Thomas Hatley, [End Page 45] Dividing Paths; William G. McLoughlin, After the Trail of Tears; Kathryn Braund, Deerskins and Duffels; Sarah H. Hill, Weaving New Worlds; Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women; my own book, published in 1999, A New Order of Things; John Oliphant, Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756–63; Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country; Andrew Denson, Demanding the Cherokee Nation; Steven C. Hahn, The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763; Andrew K. Frank, Creeks and Southerners; and in 2005 Julie Anne Sweet, Negotiating with Georgia.1

Three observations emerge from the list. First, it is high time to focus on Southern Indian peoples other than the Creeks and Cherokees. More than even the Cherokees, the Creeks have received the attention of current scholars, for at least two reasons. First, a rich and relatively unexamined documentary record of their history exists in Spanish- and English-language archives. Second, for generations they had been ignored in favor of the Cherokees, who beginning at least as early as the nineteenth century had captured the public's attention, sympathy, and, at times, ire—so much so that most Americans associate Indian removal with the Cherokees alone.2

It is no longer the Creeks whom historians overlook. A list of recent publications on the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles would be noticeably shorter than the one above. And the shortest list would enumerate those books on Indians other than the so-called Five Tribes: the Westos, Tuscaroras, Yamasees, the petites nations of the Lower Mississippi Valley, the Natchez, and so on. The documentation on those peoples is sparser but not prohibitively so, as works by Eric Bowne, Steven J. Oatis, and William L. Ramsey illustrate.3

If we shift our attention to Southern Indians other than the Creeks and Cherokees, and shift even further to consider the lives of Native peoples who did not belong to the Five Tribes, then it will be useful to draw another observation from the list above: it is time to move beyond tribal studies. By dividing our subject matter by nation, we recognize the inherent sovereignty and unique history of each one; we map the Native South in a way that conveniently allows us to identify missing pieces; and we clearly delimit our subject so as to facilitate archival research. But tribal studies have their limitations. As several scholars have recently shown, unified Indian nations were relatively recent innovations in the nineteenth-century Southeast. Joshua Piker has followed that observation to its logical conclusion by writing a history of a single town rather [End Page 46...


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