Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Studying Native American History in Textbooks & General Overviews

Detail The Common Council of Georgia Receiving the Indian Chiefs by Willem Verelst c. 1734 - 1735 (DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum - Colonial Williamsburg)

Native Americans and American History 
by Francis Flavin - US National Park Service

References, Textbooks, and General Overviews

Perhaps the most comprehensive and authoritative reference for Native American history is the
Handbook of North American Indian series published by the Smithsonian Institution under the
general editorship of William C. Sturtevant. This twenty-volume series describes the history,
culture, and language of the different Indian tribes of North America. Each volume focuses on
the tribes of a particular region, and there are separate volumes on Indian-White relations and Indian languages. Frank W. Porter III edits a fifty-volume series from Chelsea House Publishers
entitled The Indians of North America. Each book is authored by an established scholar, is about
one hundred pages in length, and includes photographs, drawings, and maps. Most volumes are
tribal histories, but there are volumes on thematic topics, too. These books are written for
secondary school students and are informative, easy-to-read introductions to Indian histories.

Useful survey textbooks include Roger Nichols, American Indians in U.S. History,
(Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2004); Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary
Survey of American Indian History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999); and R. David
Edmunds, Frederick E. Hoxie, and Neal Salisbury, The People: A History of Native America
(Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006). Philip Weeks’s “They Made Us Many Promises”: The
American Indian Experience from 1524 to the Present, 2d ed. (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan
Davidson, Inc., 2002), is a collection of essays highlighting important topics in Indian history
that range from native relations with the colonial French, Spanish, and British up to the efforts to
repatriate native artifacts and burial remains in the end of the twentieth century. These texts are
written for college undergraduates, but are useful to general readers as well. Collin G.
Calloway’s award-winning One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and
Clark (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003) is a narrative survey of the oftenoverlooked
pre-nineteenth century Native American West. James P. Rhonda’s Lewis and Clark
Among the Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984) discusses the Corps of
Discovery’s interactions with the Indians they encountered on their epic voyage to the Pacific.

One of the most popular surveys of Indian history is Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at
Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston,
1970). This book reflects the revisionist sentiments of the 1960s, presenting Indian history as a
tragic tale of broken treaty after broken treaty, bloody defeat after bloody defeat, and the
confinement of one tribe to reservation space after another. The book ends with the 1890
Wounded Knee massacre—implying that meaningful Indian history in the West ended in the
nineteenth century—and overlooks themes of cultural adaptation and persistence. Nevertheless,
this evocative, powerfully-written book has remained on “must read” lists for over three decades.

People interested in surveying history through biography will find the following books
useful. Alvin M Josephy, Jr.’s The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance,
revised ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993) focuses on the confrontational aspects of IndianWhite
relations, as did Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The book includes vignettes on
Pontiac, Tecumseh, Osceola, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, and others. Josephy was a talented writer, and like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it has become a classic in the field. R. David
Edmunds has edited two volumes of biographical essays that present a more multidimensional
understanding of Native American leadership. Studies in Diversity: American Indian Leaders
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980) is a collection of a dozen essays that examine
native leadership paradigms from the middle of the eighteenth century through the middle of the
twentieth. His The New Warriors: Native American Leaders Since 1900 (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 2001) contains fifteen biographical essays that discuss the lives of prominent
twentieth-century Indians. The New Warriors is particularly valuable because it engages the oftoverlooked story of twentieth century Native American leadership, and includes essays on five
Indian leaders who are women.