- Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663–1880 by Phillip H. Round
Removable Type, the winner of the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize in 2010, opens in the mid-nineteenth century in Rome, where seventeen-year-old Pablo Tac was writing a history of his people, the Quechnajuichom, in Spanish. Phillip Round’s brief but meticulous and engaging interpretation of Tac’s work establishes a high standard that he maintains throughout this history of the first two hundred years of print cultures in Indian Country. He grounds the study in the critical practices of American Indian literary nationalism and book history; Robert Warrior’s “intellectual sovereignty” and D. F. McKenzie’s “sociology of texts” are foundational concepts. With fresh readings of Samson Occom, Sequoyah, William Apess, and David Cusick, and equally compelling introductions to less familiar figures, such as Elias Johnson and George Sword, Removable Type joins Brooks 2008 and Konkle 2004 as books that have transformed early American Indian literary studies. By the end of Removable Type, the curious and unexpected story of Pablo Tac no longer appears unusual within the book histories Round recovers.
The first chapter begins with the production of Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up biblum God (1663) and the other volumes in Eliot’s Indian Library. This period sees the emergence of “Indian print”, which has, Round explains, the following distinguishing features: “literal translation, simplification, and a direct importation of ‘hard’ words from the English language to correct the supposed ‘defects’ of the Algonquian dialects” (35). James Printer, a Nipmuck and Christian convert, plays a prominent role in this era. He learned to set type at Harvard’s preparatory school and helped Eliot with the printing of the Algonquin language Bible. When King Philip’s War began in 1675, Printer joined Metacom and the Wampanoag leader’s allies and wrote two short pieces demanding ransoms for English hostages. Printer’s ransom notes are an early example, Round argues, of Native appropriation of writing for their own rather than immigrant English goals. This nascent stage of book history in Indian Country comes to an abrupt end with the war and the almost total destruction of Eliot’s books by unknown forces.
Round moves in Chapter 2 to Native reading and writing in the eighteenth century as a European American public culture emerged and the Great Awakening shaped “a cultural war over Native literacy” (52). Native writers such as the Mohegans Samson Occom and his son-in-law Joseph [End Page 125] Johnson worked in a context of increased colonial surveillance and regulation of Native communities and a temporary shift from Native language to English only instruction. Yet Occom still managed to create “a genuinely Native set of material practices that merged traditional performance with scribal and print media” (67), as Round demonstrates in his careful readings of the physical properties of A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul and a consideration of Occom’s unpublished sermons.
As Indian mission presses proliferated in the nineteenth century, literacy instruction in Indian Country shifted back to Native languages. Round expands the geographic scope of his study by examining the production of the mission presses at the Buffalo Creek settlement of Senecas in New York, the Shawanoe Mission in Kansas Territory, and the Lapwai Mission in what is now Idaho. Native people seized this new technology, Round asserts, to create a “native-centered book culture” (96). The assertion of Native autonomy in the use of writing and printing creates what Round calls in Chapter 4 the “Indian publics” that emerged in the conflict between American Indians who wanted to use writing and those who saw it as a serious threat to their communities. Round isolates this issue as a key conflict in Native politics and revitalization movements between 1790–1850. “Revitalizationist Indian publics” emerged in this period “in which books were at once the cause of and the solution for many a community...