J. Axtell, Counerfactual Reflections

J. Axtell, Counerfactual Reflections - Colonial America...

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Colonial America without the Indians: Counterfactual Reflections JAMES AXTELL Reprinted by permission from The Journal of American History, March 1987. When Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas for Europe in 1492, numerous natives already populated the continent. Columbus dubbed these natives "Indians," a name that has endured. Estimates of their number at the time range as high as 100 million, though 10 million is a more likely total; James Axtell suggests perhaps 4 million north of Mexico. The ensuing "European invasion" combined disease (especially smallpox, measles, and influenza), brought into the new continent unknowingly by somewhat immune Europeans, with brutal slaughter and subjugation, deliberately imposed on the Indians. Within a couple of generations, much of the native population had been wiped out. American history textbooks have tended to minimize the role of Indians in the development of the United States. Indians "either do nothing or they resist," according to one observer. In this article, Axtell attempts what he calls a "controlled" counterfactual approach to the effects of the Indians. In layman's terms, "counterfactual" means "what if?" That is, Axtell seeks to determine what differences would have emerged in the development of the Americas up until 1776 had the Indians not existed. Some historians have explored "adaptive" colonial responses to the Indians, dealing only with "borrowing and adapting native cultural traits, words, and objects." Axtell seeks to track more elusive "reactive" changes that affected the identity of the European Americans. This book deals with the forging of the American character; understanding the role of the Indian in that process makes a good beginning. James Axtell is Kenan Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary. He has reflected and written at length on the interaction between Indians and Europeans. He chaired the American Historical Association's Columbus Quincentenary Committee and shared some of his insights in his 1992 book Beyond 1492 : Encounters in Colonial North America. This article appeared in the prestigious Journal of American History in 1987. --------------------------------------- IT IS TAKING US PAINFULLY long to realize that throughout most of American history the Indians were "one of the principal determinants of historical events." A growing number of scholars understand that fact, but the great majority of is still regard the native Americans―if we regard them at all―as exotic or pathetic footnotes to the main course of American history. This is patently clear from American history textbooks. As Virgil Vogel, Alvin Josephy, and most recently Frederick Hoxie have shown in embarrassing detail, "Indians in textbooks either do nothing or they resist." In their colonial and nineteenth-century manifestations, they are either "obstacles to white settlement" or "victims of oppression." "As victims or obstacles, Indians have no textbook existence apart from their resistance." In
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This note was uploaded on 09/29/2011 for the course HISTORY 101 taught by Professor Hives during the Fall '07 term at Temple.

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J. Axtell, Counerfactual Reflections - Colonial America...

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