Spirits of the Air: Birds and American Indians in the South

Overview

Before the massive environmental change wrought by the European colonization of the South, hundreds of species of birds filled the region's flyways in immeasurable numbers. Before disease, war, and displacement altered the South's earliest human landscape, Native Americans hunted and ate birds and made tools and weapons from their beaks, bones, and talons. More significant to Shepard Krech III, Indians adorned themselves with feathers, invoked avian powers in ceremonies and dances, and incorporated bird imagery ...

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Overview

Before the massive environmental change wrought by the European colonization of the South, hundreds of species of birds filled the region's flyways in immeasurable numbers. Before disease, war, and displacement altered the South's earliest human landscape, Native Americans hunted and ate birds and made tools and weapons from their beaks, bones, and talons. More significant to Shepard Krech III, Indians adorned themselves with feathers, invoked avian powers in ceremonies and dances, and incorporated bird imagery on pottery, carvings, and jewelry.

Krech, a renowned authority on Native American interactions with nature, reveals as never before the omnipresence of birds in Native American life. From the time of the earliest known renderings of winged creatures in stone and earthworks through the nineteenth century, when Native southerners took part in decimating bird species with highly valued, fashionable plumage, Spirits of the Air examines the complex and changeable influences of birds on the Native American worldview.

We learn of birds for which places and people were named; birds common in iconography and oral traditions; birds important in ritual and healing; and birds feared for their links to witches and other malevolent forces. Still other birds had no meaning for Native Americans. Krech shows us these invisible animals too, enriching our understanding of both the Indian-bird dynamic and the incredible diversity of winged life once found in the South. A crowning work drawing on Krech's distinguished career in anthropology and natural history, Spirits of the Air recovers vanished worlds and shows us our own anew.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shepard Krech's insightful research into historical sources and his deep understanding of birds combine to entrance the reader with scientific insights, Native knowledge, and marvelous descriptions of the American South. This book brings a fresh and fascinating approach to environmental and ornithological history and will be of great interest to historians, indigenous peoples, and birders alike."—Carolyn Merchant, author of American Environmental History: An Introduction

"What a wonderful surprise this book is! With fabulous illustrations and insightful text, Spirits of the Air explores the deep connections between Native Americans of the South and the rich bird life that was so much a part of their environment and lives. For birders, the book provides a thought-provoking opportunity to move beyond identification and ponder our deeper and more universal relationship to these beautiful creatures that we so love and seek out."—Don and Lillian Stokes, authors of Stokes Field Guide to Birds

"This is a landmark work in at least two disciplines. With scholarship of the highest order, Shepard Krech delves into a curiously neglected topic and serves up a rich slice of cultural history, presented in a clear and engaging style. If you're at all interested in birds, Native Americans, or cultural connections to nature, you owe it to yourself to read this remarkable book."—Kenn Kaufman, author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

"Shepard Krech has provided us with a superbly researched and splendidly illustrated tour of Southeastern Indian ethno-ornithology. His bird's-eye taxonomic vision is sharpened by a lifetime of bird watching and a distinguished career as an ecological ethnohistorian. This is no rapid trip on an Audubon autobahn; rather Krech's route is a twisting and turning one with many enlightening detours that restore an appreciation of the past and continuing complex significance of birds in the consciousness of Southeast native peoples."—Raymond D. Fogelson, editor of Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 14, Southeast

"The American South has been blessed with a flurry of birds of every kind. In Spirits of the Air Shepard Krech exhaustively surveys for the first time the world of Southern Indians and their birds, and he does so from a variety of perspectives. Anthropologists, environmental historians, and birders will treasure this book, as will lay readers who will admire its beautiful design and charming illustrations."—Charles M. Hudson, author of The Southeastern Indians

"[A]n elegant case for the critical roles birds played in Native American life."—Archaeology Magazine

"[A] Kindle-defying handful, a heavy and handsome volume that sits solidly on the lap, a delight as much for the eye as for the mind . . . [A] book for the academic office or home library, both a ready reference for scholarly inquiry and a relaxing source of visual pleasure."—Common-Place

"Spirits of the Air: Birds and American Indians in the South is a momentous work. It is the first study of birds in a regional cultural zone of native America . . . Rarely does one find a book that combines such visual pleasure with such superb intellectual endeavor." —Journal of Southern History

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Shepard Krech III is a professor of anthropology and director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. He is a past president of the American Society for Ethnohistory and has been a fellow and trustee of the National Humanities Center. His many books include The Ecological Indian and Encyclopedia of World Environmental History.

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Table of Contents

Foreword, by Paul S. Sutter, xi
Preface, xiii
Birds and American Indians, 1
The Birds, 11
Subsistence, 35
Material Culture, 63
Imagery, 83
Descent and Power, 101
War and Peace, 119
Spirituality, 133
Bird Spirits and Spirit-Birds, 157
Sacred and Secular Narratives, 167
Human Impact on Birds, 175
Visible and Invisible Birds, 191
Afterword, 201
Notes, 205
Bibliography, 221
Index, 239

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