- California Indians and Their Environment: An Introduction
What is a guidebook? A superficial survey of complex realities? A shield against social engagement for the mere tourist, the traveling dilettante who wants exotic people and things retail and user friendly?1 Or, perhaps, as with Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish’s contribution to the California Natural History Guides series, California Indians and Their Environment, a guidebook is an introduction to the most up-to-date, creditable research on its topic.2 I present this distinction so starkly in order to trouble it, for tourist guides are reference works—catalogs of important sights, transportation services, and important phone numbers—and reference works are guides, telling us what to see and how to think about it. This similarity should come as no surprise. Popular and scholarly studies of culture have been uneasy rivals ever since they branched off from the same root during the professionalization of knowledge in the late nineteenth century. But the politics of that rivalry continue to be heated and unhelpful in understanding what it is about culture that attracts both scholars and tourists.
In light of the century-old estrangement between professional and amateur students of culture, it is something of a misrepresentation to call this book, an essay on pre-contact life in California and a scientific listing of the animal, plant, [End Page 159] and mineral resources then used by indigenous peoples, a guidebook in the usual sense. Lightfoot and Parrish offer the reader only a few hints on how to visit the contemporary indigenous peoples of California or see the remnants of pre-contact life: two pages on cultural centers and celebrations (257–58). They do not discuss the casinos that are the most visible sign of the state’s Native residents today. And yet this book shares the aims of many twentieth-century travel guides: to reveal what is hidden, to valorize what has been ignored or denigrated, and to transform the reader through an encounter with it. Ever since the early years of the last century, the concept of culture has contained a progressive politics oriented toward these aims, and it motivated (and continues to motivate, despite powerful critiques) much cultural anthropology, cultural history, cultural studies—and much tourism. The typical nineteenth-century American traveler went abroad, usually to Europe, in service to civilization. The twentieth-century tourist was far more likely to seek culture—particularly the customs, handicrafts, music, and dance of other peoples. Scholarship in the social sciences and humanities experienced a similar shift.3
In this essay, I argue that recognizing the affinity between guidebooks for tourists and guidebooks for scholars enriches our understanding of both. In closing, I offer another way to read California Indians and Their Environment—as an invitation to cultural studies scholars and historians to incorporate archaeology into their work while respecting that discipline’s distinctiveness and the inappropriateness of extending “America” too far back into the past. As the reader can tell, mine is not a book review in the traditional sense. For that, I urge readers to seek archaeology and natural history journals.
Both guidebooks and scholarly works seek to make what is hidden visible or what is inexplicable understandable. Guidebooks often tell us to abandon our preconceptions and learn the truth by reading their pages. Such rhetoric was particularly common in the early twentieth century, when a growing range of places began to compete with Europe and, as a result, had to make the case first against prevailing assumptions of their dullness or dangerousness. In 1932, the Mexican tourist magazine Real Mexico put that claim right in its title, and continued: “If Real Mexico can convince you that Mexico is not a lawless land where foreigners are not wanted, if Real Mexico can prove to you that the land below the Río Grande has beauty, climate and a history unsurpassed by any other country in the world, if Real Mexico ‘sells’ you a worthwhile country, then, and only then will it serve its purpose...