With this sweeping reinterpretation of early cultural encounters between the English and American natives, Joyce E. Chaplin thoroughly alters our historical view of the origins of English presumptions of racial superiority, and of the role science and technology played in shaping these notions. By placing the history of science and medicine at the very center of the story of early English colonization, Chaplin shows how contemporary European theories of nature and science dramatically influenced relations between the English and Indians within the formation of the British Empire.
In Chaplin's account of the earliest contacts, we find the Englishimpressed by the Indians' way with food, tools, and ironinclined to consider Indians as partners in the conquest and control of nature. Only when it came to the Indians' bodies, so susceptible to disease, were the English confident in their superiority. Chaplin traces the way in which this tentative notion of racial inferiority hardened and expanded to include the Indians' once admirable mental and technical capacities. Here we see how the English, beginning from a sense of bodily superiority, moved little by little toward the idea of their mastery over nature, America, and the Indiansand how this progression is inextricably linked to the impetus and rationale for empire.
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About the Author
Joyce E. Chaplin is Professor of History at Harvard University.
Table of Contents
List of Tables and Figures
Prologue: Noses, or the Tip of the Problem
PART I: Approaching America, 1500-1585
1. Transatlantic Background
2. Technology versus Idolatry?
PART II: Invading America, 1585-1660
3. No Magic Bullets: Archery, Ethnography, and Military Intelligence
4. Domesticating America
5. Death and the Birth of Race
PART III: Conquering America, 1640-1676
6. How Improvement Trumped Hybridity
7. Gender and the Artificial Indian Body
8. Matter and Manitou
What People are Saying About This
The range of sources that Chaplin employs is very impressive. Geographically, she ranges from the Arctic to South America. She is versed in the narratives of exploration, colonization, and European science. Subject Matter engages the material world and the cultural world and stresses complex and mutual influences. It is a cultural history, but the book is also much more. Read as an environmental history, the book is the most sophisticated demonstration of the centrality of gender to analysis of nature and the environment that I have yet seen. It is a book that I will be thinking about and recommending to others for quite some time.
Richard White, Stanford University