September 2009 Archives

A few words about Wednesday's quiz. . . .and the Diggers

Hello all,

I want to assure you all that tomorrow's quiz is not as intense as a midterm or final exam, as some emails have asked.  It is relatively short and should not take more than 10-15 minutes of class time).  The questions will cover important ideas from lectures and from the readings.  They are meant to help you know whether you are keeping up with readings and lectures and are getting the main points from each.   Each quiz counts for only 3% of your grade, and we will drop the lowest quiz score. (Although please bear in mind that there are virtually NO make-ups on quizzes.)

As promised, here are the lyrics to the Billy Bragg song I played on Monday.  The song is interesting in a lot of ways, but one important thing is that it documents how long people have been thinking about property and how long dispossession has seemed a problem.  After all, Billy Bragg wrote this song in the late 20th century about events that had occurred more than 400 years earlier.  

Fur Trade Resources

Thank you all for your great questions today!  Several of you asked about the role of religion and of epidemics in French colonization.  Of course you're right that both figured prominently.  Missionaries often traveled far inland, just as voyageurs did.  And they, like voyageurs, often lived among native people and formed important ties to them.  Conversion was not the less organized and less coercive than it was in the Spanish empire and the French firms that operated in the fur trade did not, as Spanish conquistadors did, always support conversion.  Nonetheless, priests, churches, and missions traveled along with the fur trade, throughout North America.  

Epidemics and illness mattered too.  These created contexts in which many, many towns and villages were abandoned, refugees sought shelter with neighboring tribes, new alliances were crafted, and people were especially open to getting help from western medicine and those who said their religion would cure ill people.  There is a really, really good film for folks interested in these aspects of Great Lakes life.  It's called Black Robe and although it's fictional, it's based on the journals of a young priest who traveled to what's now eastern Canada and lived among Algonquian peoples.  It's dramatic, tragic, has a love story, and is visually stunning.

I also want to add a link to a wonderful local resource--the Northwest Company Trading Post in Pine City, Minnesota.  Operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, the fur post is   a recreation of a one erected in Pine City about two hundred years ago.  The website is full of wonderful resources on Minnesota's role in the fur trade, and especially on the ways that local Ojibwe people participated in it.  It's a nice opportunity to appreciate the global importance of Minnesota! The post is only open the occasional weekend this time of year, but it's an excellent road trip during the summer (well, excellent if you enjoy eighteenth and nineteenth century history).  The url is

Next week we being a longer term focus on Anglo settlement.  I hope, however, that the work you've done on Spanish and French colonization will stay with you and shape the questions you ask about Anglo peoples and their own, in some ways very unlikely, claims to North America.

See you all next week,


Two different stories of colonization

Hello all

The Suzanne vega song that I used to open lecture today is actually more complicated than I suggested in class.  A link to the lyrics is here:

She starts the song by talking about how she would be bereft without this person in her life--her world would be flat.  But then very quickly it's clear that this relationship is unrequited.  She talks about how those who "lust for gold" will never have you.  That is, there isn't really any contact or any meeting in this love story. So not only is the song a mark of how Columbus periodizes many peoples' histories, but it's also a mark of the ambivalence and complexity of that story of Spanish exploration.

Thanks to all of you who came up to me with questions after lecture.  One student asked the very appropriate question of why Guyana isn't discussed more in history textbooks.  That's a great question because in fact the people who lived there in the 15th century--the Arawaks and Caribs--were part of the story of Columbus' voyage.  The land was sighted by Columbus and, at first, Spain planned to conquer it.  Many of the Arawaks who lived there died from disease but Carib people put up effective resistance and it wasn't until the Dutch arrived in the 17th century that Guyana was effectively integrated into a European empire. So, I suspect one reason it doesn't get discussed is that it doesn't fit the narrative people have of easy conquest--Guyana was not easily conquered.  

I should add that Guyana remained an important place for posing questions about imperialism and the inevitability of racial separation.  Indigenous and African people escaping slavery established important settlements in Guyana in the 18th century and, by the 19th century, elites who established large plantations had to import indentured servants from Europe (especially from Germany, Malta, and Ireland) and India for workers.  Much of the population living there now has descended from these people. One of their most important political leaders was descended from Indian plantation workers; his wife, an American-born Jewish woman of European descent, also became president.  Even now Guyana remains a place that really challenges the meanings of European domination and the inevitability of racial separation.

I look forward to more questions and discussions about colonization and imperialism on Wednesday.  Good luck with the primary source assignment.


Primary Source Essay

Hello all,

Just a reminder that the first writing assignment is due this coming Wednesday, the 16th.  An electronic version of the assignment is available on the course website (accessible via the MyU portal).  The assignment asks you to summarize and analyze one of the documents assigned for the 16th.  It introduces skills (like reading and summarizing very old sources) that you'll need for the semester.  It also allows you to write and think about European colonization of North America.  As you analyze the text, think about how it works with, or seems different from, what you're reading in the textbook and what you had previously thought about Europeans' attitudes towards North America.  You will need the documents, and the written assignment, for section on the 16th and 17th.  I look forward to talking more about processes of colonization in lecture and to hearing what questions these documents raised for you.

Logging into My History Lab

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Hello everyone,

Because the wireless network was so unstable during  our lecture, I wasn't able to demonstrate logging into My History Lab.  Here is the step-by-step.

You can type into a browser, click on the link to "My History Lab", and then select the link for "American History.  You'll be taken to a page where you scroll down until you get to the image of volume 1 of Created Equal (the green cover).  Click on it and you will be prompted to log in (or to register with the code that came with your textbook).  Once you've logged in, you'll be able to use My History Lab.  Our readings come from the "Documents" section, although you should feel free to explore the rest of the website's offerings. 

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