“Reading recommendations for the indigenous history newbie”

Hi friends,

I came across this article about one historian’s recommendations for books on Native American history from An Indigenous History of North America.  It is pretty comprehensive.

1491 by Charles Mann. I would pretty much call this the number one must-read book on Native American history for the non-specialist. This book does a lot of things all in one: it directly addresses the assumptions that are made about Native history, it covers the history of the study of Native history and how it’s impacted those assumptions, and it covers an incredible range of indigenous history itself. There’s a great analysis of the political situation of Tisquantum and the northeastern communities, there’s Maya history, there’s Inka history, there’s a great section on the Amazon that was entirely new to me. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s probably the best out there right now for a general overview.

1493 by Charles Mann. Okay, I have not actually finished reading this yet–in fact I really only just started. But I’ve heard good things. Whereas 1491′s main focus is precolumbian history, 1493 is mostly about the world-altering effects that occurred as a result of the Western hemisphere and Eastern hemisphere coming into contact. Based on what I’ve read so far, I’m not as big a fan of it as 1491, but it’s still probably worth a read.

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. This focuses specifically on the failures of textbooks and grade school education about United States history, focusing on treatment of Native American and African American history in particular. Your mileage may vary on the textbooks cited; my experience in school was better than a lot of them but it doesn’t change the fact that they are all textbook that were and are in use. The thrust of his argument is that the way the narrative of American history is taught in most schools is not just damaging, but that it is also boring. In addition to this critique though, there’s just a plain lot of really great historical details on various eras of US history that most people don’t know about because they’re not deemed fitting for the narrative. Highly recommended.

Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World. This isn’t exactly something you can sit down and read start to finish, but I would definitely recommend checking it out and flipping through it if you can find a copy. It’s an incredible answer to the idea that Native Americans lacked technology, and although it’s necessarily a brief overview, there are sources provided at the end of each entry if you want to look into a particular topic further.

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the Worldby Jack Weatherford. I have a lot more reservations about this than the other books listed here, and I’m still not convinced that there isn’t a better book out there that does the same kind of stuff this one does. But I haven’t found it yet, and I just read this one, so it’s going on the list.  This book is really frustrating in that it does a bad job of treating Native people as people with full-fledged agency and motivation, but it is a pretty good overview for the unfamiliar of the extent to which Native Americans shaped the course of world history. I include it because a lot of people commenting seem to be of the opinion that Native American history isn’t as important because it had no impact other than being dominated. This book says otherwise.

The Earth Shall Weep by James Wilson. It’s been a while since I read this, but it’s a general overview of indigenous history in the territory of the modern United States from about 1500 to 1900. It does a nice job of showing how archaeology, written records, and oral traditions can be combined to tell a story, and it’s a very good place to start getting a general grounding in Native history in the United States, as it covers most regions of the country at least briefly.  

Read the rest of the article here.

The only further recommendation I’d make to the list is Daniel Richter’s Facing East from Indian Country, I read it this past semester for my Colonial America class, and I thought it was a very insightful read on the thought processes of the Native Americans, by looking through the Native American lens (Certainly worth a reread if you have already read it).

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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Posted in Some Simple Rants On History, Teaching History, The Ways Historians Think, Thoughts from Other Historians

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