European-Indian Contact New England Books  Term Paper

  • Length: 7 pages
  • Subject: Anthropology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #58614257

Excerpt from Term Paper :

His analysis is therefore a direct investigation of the contact between the two cultural identities and their specific characteristics.

As opposed to this, Cronon uses an indirect argumentation to demonstrate the differences between the two cultures. He starts his discussion from a critique of Thoreau's view on the origins of the American civilization. Thoreau first advocated that the American land was a virgin territory when it was in the hands of the Indian-Americans. He thus contrasts at the same time the ecosystems and the economic policies of the Natives and the Colonists, focusing his argumentation of the external aspects of the two cultures rather than on the inner, spiritual cores of these cultures, like Axtell. His main thesis is that the Western colonizers brought with them the concept of "property" which is the main culprit for the subsequent radical changes in the ecosystems of the country: "English property systems encouraged colonists to regard the products of the land -- not to mention the land itself -- as commodities." Treating nature as property was the main reason for the fact that the initial ecological abundance disappeared under the destructive force of the colonizers.

Thus, the two books make strong arguments for their respective views of the way in which the present day American civilization was initially formed. Both texts attempt historical reconstruction from two different perspectives, of the first contact between the two cultures. Although the two authors manage their argumentation very well and make very interesting points about the history of the colonization, Cronon's book seems more remarkable in terms of argumentation and originality. Axtell fails to bring cogent arguments in favor of his approach. William Cronon, on the other hand, makes a more interesting argument with respect to the way in which the two cultures first interacted. By focusing his point-of-view on an external, indirect aspect- the changes in the ecosystem that followed the colonization of the people- he manages to underline an important characteristic of the present day American society, namely the way in which the initial abundance was turned, and is turned nowadays, into waste:"Ecological abundance and economic prodigality went hand in hand: the people of plenty were a people of waste." One crucial point in Cronon's demonstration is the fact that capitalism and environmental degradation went hand in hand: "The rural economy of New England thus acquired a new tendency toward expansion... Capitalism and environmental degradation went hand in hand." Thus, according to Cronon there is a very tight relation between economy and mercantile purposes of the Europeans and the degradation of the environment. The two opposed ways of manipulating the land, the Europeans and the Indians' are indicative of the differences in view and lifestyle that exist between the two. Thus, the colonists' economy was "self-destructive": "the colonists' economic relations of production were ecologically self-destructive."

On the other hand, the Indians' methods, although they were also manipulative, helped to enrich the country's natural abundance, through very wise management of the resources, such as the burn of the forests so as to leave enough space for pastures:

Here was the reason that the southern forests were so open and parklike; not because the trees naturally grew thus, but because the Indians preferred them so. As William Wood observed, the fire 'consumes all the underwood and rubbish which otherwise would overgrow the country, making it unpassable, and spoil their much affected hunting.' The result was a forest of large, widely spaced trees, few shrubs, and much grass and herbage."

Also, the Indians helped the environment by a very good management of the livestock that they used for food:

In short, Indians who hunted game animals were not just taking the 'unplanted bounties of nature'; in an important sense, they were harvesting a foodstuff which they had consciously been instrumental in creating. Few English observers could have realized this. People accustomed to keeping domesticated animals lacked the conceptual tools to recognize that the Indians were practicing a more distant kind of husbandry of their own."

Cronon's main hypothesis is thus that the Indians and the Europeans had two very different ways of belonging to the ecosystem: "The choice is not between two landscapes, one with and one without a human influence; it is between two human ways of living, two ways of belonging to an ecosystem."

The two books therefore offer a very good insight into the history of the colonization of the North America, and the way in which the two cultures contributed to the history of modern United States.

James Axtell. The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press,.p. 13

William Cronon. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 22

James Axtell. The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 55

James Axtell, ibid.

James Axtell. Ibid., p. 101

Cronon. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, p. 103

Cronon. Ibid., p. 165

Cronon, ibid., p. 162

Cronon, ibid., p. 175

Cronon., ibid. p. 188…

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