- Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South by Alejandra Dubcovsky
Similar to other works examining the early American South, Alejandra Dubcovsky's study portrays a complex and dynamic region in which even powerful sociopolitical entities sought out cross-cultural exchanges. These narratives of a fluid and diverse region challenge popular notions of southern history that privilege simplistic images of the antebellum South. Rather than being marked by stark divisions between the white and black community, the South was a contested ground between decentralized indigenous groups, competing European nations, and imported enslaved Africans. Central to each group's autonomy and respective agenda was access to trade, communication, and knowledge. While other scholars have written about the historical events covered in the book, Dubcovsky seeks greater analytical meaning by utilizing a thematic approach focused on communication networks and knowledge as important gauges of power in the early South.
Following recent trends in early American scholarship, Dubcovsky employs a Native-centric framework, which aptly encapsulates the paramount position of Native peoples vis-à-vis Europeans. From the contact period to the early nineteenth century, Native communication networks and intra- and interindigenous geopolitics largely shaped early southern history. The survival and viability of early European colonial endeavors were dependent on relations with Native peoples.
Eschewing a traditional model that traces the growing strength of colonial footholds into more powerful entities, Dubcovsky uses a thematic approach that follows a rough chronological order. The book is divided into three major parts, with each section focusing on an aspect of knowledge creation and transmission. Dubcovsky begins by examining "what" information each party sought and desired. The first chapter establishes that Native peoples had preexisting and extensive information networks that survived European contact. The next chapter highlights how early colonial competition was determined by Native information, often bestowed to further indigenous objectives. Chapter 3 exposes the limitations of Spanish colonialism in Florida due to the inability of the Spanish to fully understand the causes and spread of important events such as the Timucua Rebellion in 1656. The book's second part focuses on "who" had knowledge and their efforts to spread it. Consequently, the fourth chapter traces the role of Indian agents, African slaves, English traders, Spanish missionaries, and others as they sought to understand the fluid conditions at the turn of the eighteenth century and the impact of the Indian slave trade. The fifth chapter illustrates how the Apalachicola peoples (later known as Creeks) drew strength from their extensive inter-Indian relationships and refusal to ally exclusively with either the Spanish or the British. Part 3 traces "how" historical actors operated information networks. As discussed in chapter 6, these connections, especially for the British, were [End Page 393] disrupted during the Yamasee War (1715-1717). The final chapter explores how indigenous and colonial powers adjusted their networks in the war's aftermath.
The book's framework incorporates recent historiographical arguments while providing a new perspective. The focus on information and communication allows Dubcovsky to bind the histories of the region's various peoples without being confined to physical or political boundaries and while accounting for the interplay between local and larger forces. She presents runaway slaves, indigenous figures, and European agents as major historical actors in a sophisticated information network untethered from the printing press and the Atlantic world but rather based on Native modes of communication. Dubcovsky argues that tracing these connections allows for a better understanding of how shifting power relations operated in the early South.
Dubcovsky's book excels in numerous areas. Her use of Spanish sources to shed light on Spain's relationship with the Apalachicolas (Creeks), as well as its diplomatic overtures to the Tawasa and Mobile peoples, is a welcomed addition to the field. Her use of information and communication as a central framework is largely convincing and helps explain how Native peoples played decisive roles in colonial competition, especially the 1565 Spanish-French conflict over Florida. However, in some areas, such as the expansion...