Archiving American diversity

Remarks concluding the smallpox series

The last post in the Smallpox series. Read other posts in the series at this link.

Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis also included the observation and recording of material remains and accounts of those Indigenous nations that could be considered rare or extinct.[1] The task of systematically collecting information on aspects of the physiology, culture, organisation, religion, social, political and medical practices of the groups encountered, illustrated by Jefferson in his instructions, was at the crossroads of multiple time perspectives and multiple purposes. Subject of many historiographical debates, Jefferson’s complex relationship with indigenous people was distinguished by the presence of different and contradictory attitudes in successive moments, between philanthropy, assimilation and removal.[2] Within this path, the very horizon of the Louisiana Purchase has been identified as a turning point in the submission of previous idealistic instances to an idea of removal informed by pragmatic needs, functional to the expansion of the republic.[3]

The compilation of vocabularies of indigenous languages , which correspondents and administrators were asked to collect according to a pre-established form, made the lexicographic and grammatical fact a linguistic pendant of the construction of a Euro-American identity in response to the buffoonish denigrations of the “New World”, which on the one hand also passed through the appropriation and mythographic transposition of indigenous cultures and on the other used the linguistic element as a function of racial hierarchy.[4]

The creation of an archive of knowledge about the past and present of indigenous nations was intended to benefit future memory and studies.[5] Tomorrow’s scientific curiosity would have been able to ascertain the origin of these peoples if sufficient samples were collected to allow comparative analysis.[6]

I have long believed we can never get any information of the ancient history of the Indians, of their descent and filiation, but from a knowledge and comparative view of their languages:[7]

for the study of peoples who do not have alphabetical writing systems and systems of documentation of the past similar to the European one, the recording of oral language production became an essential tool also for the reconstruction of genealogical relationships between groups.

This projection forward in time derived from a clear awareness of the demographic decimation to which many groups had already been subjected, as well as from a process of absorption into Euro-American civilisation seen as ineluctable.[8] Moreover, the very proto-ethnographic curiosity and the desire to compose a picture of the forms and hierarchies of socio-political organisation were clearly functional to this process, “as it may better enable those who may endeavour to civilise and instruct them, to adapt their measures to the existing notions and practices of those on whom they are to operate”.[9] The expedition commanders adopted this perspective, both by comparing different groups along an ideal civilisation scale, and by referring to the completion of that process.[10] The urgent need to document American socio-cultural and linguistic variety takes shape within a scenario in which the possible extinction of real-life speakers could otherwise jeopardise knowledge forever:

It is to be lamented then, very much to be lamented, that we have suffered so many of the Indian tribes already to extinguish […] it would furnish opportunities to those skilled in the languages of the old world to compare them with these, now, or at a future time, and hence to construct the best evidence of the derivation of this part of the human race. [11]

The study itself was reserved for posterity, so that this function of the archive was configured as a scientific practice constitutively halfway between the past of which it intended to collect traces and a future time in which the progress of studies would have brought this systematisation of knowledge to the fulfilment of its raison d’être. A movement of temporal hierarchization was therefore present in a double direction: aimed at the reconstruction of an already unattainable past – surrogate for unavailable historical evidence, and programmatic – projecting its documentation projects into the future.


Notes

[1] T. Jefferson, Life of Captain Lewis, in [Lewis and Clark], History of the expedition, I, pp. vii-xxiii, cit. xvi and xvii.

[2] Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction; Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians; P. S. Onuf, Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood, Charlottesville and London, University Press of Virginia 2000, pp. 28-37.

[3] C. B. Keller, Philanthropy Betrayed: Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Origins of Federal Indian Removal Policy, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 144, 1, 2000, pp. 39-66, especially pp. 41-42, 58-59.

[4] S. P. Harvey, “Must not their languages be savage and barbarous like them?” Philology, Indian removal, and race science, Journal of the Early Republic, 30, 4, 2010, pp. 505-532;.

[5] G. M. Sayre, Jefferson and Native Americans: Policy and Archive, in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson, ed. by F. Shuffelton, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2009, pp. 61-72.

[6] Harvey, “Must not their languages”.

[7] Jefferson to Hawkins, Philadelphia, March 14, 1800, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, ed. by H. A. Washington, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2011, pp. 325-327, cit. 326.

[8] Possible examples from the expedition period include Jefferson’s words about the Cherokee in the 1970s: ‘The chastisement they then received closed the history of their wars, and prepared them for receiving the elements of civilisation, which, zealously inculcated by the present government of the United States, have rendered them an industrious, peaceable, and happy people’, Jefferson, Life of Captain Lewis, viii.

[9] Jefferson, Life of Captain Lewis, xv.

[10] E.g. ‘This chief possesses more firmness, intelligence, and integrity, than any Indian of this country, and he might be rendered highly serviceable in our attempts to civilise the nation’, History of the expedition, I, 159.

[11] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia (1783), Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by William Peden (1954), Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press 1982, p. 101, italics added. In this sense, the documentation of linguistic evidence, even if it does not significantly act as a corrective or barrier to the process of extinction that it outlines, presents elements of contiguity with practices of ethno-conservationism, trophies and the exhibition of human specimens in the flesh. G. Abbattista, Trophying human ‘otherness’. From Christopher Columbus to contemporary ethno-ecology (fifteenth-twenty first centuries), in Encountering Otherness: Diversities and Transcultural Experiences in Early Modern European Culture, ed. by Abbattista, Trieste, EUT 2011, pp. 19-42.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Archiving American diversity," in Geographies of Time, 01/12/2022, https://ian.hypotheses.org/2415.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Geographies of Time

Geographies of Time: HD cover
Giulia Iannuzzi, Geografie del tempo. Viaggiatori europei tra i popoli nativi nel Nord America del Settecento (Rome: Viella, 2022), 324 pp. ISBN 9788833139968. https://www.viella.it/libro/9788833139968.

 

Titled Geographies of Time: European travellers and indigenous peoples in eighteenth-century North America, this book investigates the consequences that contact with the indigenous peoples of North America had on the idea of historical time in the eighteenth-century European mind. Against the backdrop of the historiography devoted to the theories of progress with which the culture of the Old World hypostatised in the societies of the globe different stages in the development of humanity, the primary corpus of this study consists of travel accounts, reports, and treatises based on direct observation. The purpose of this choice is to add, to the attention enjoyed by historical-philosophical and erudite thought and writing, the complementary exploration of the cultural uses of given ideas of time in the context of the encounter with North American human otherness. This perspective allows us to focus on and problematise the interplay that representations based on first-hand experiences reveal between pre-existing cultural palimpsest and empirical validation of knowledge. The identification of a humanity perceived as different from oneself with one’s own ancestors has been a common trope since the early modern age – between conceptual domestication of a radical difference, geographical projections of a golden age, and stratification of textual and figurative conventions.

Continue reading “Geographies of Time”

Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America

A new post in the smallpox series: An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptualisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

In the journal of his voyage to the Carolinas published in 1709, John Lawson connects the arrival of syphilis in America to Columbus, describing the striking consequences for the Santee,1 a Siouan population near the river of the same name in present-day South Carolina, which declined from about a thousand in the seventeenth century to less than ninety at the beginning of the eighteenth.2

On behalf of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, to whom he dedicated his New Voyage, Lawson set out from Charleston on 28 December 1700, and arrived at the mouth of the Pamlico River (Pampticough) on 24 February 1701,3 drawing a wide arc in Carolina territories. It crossed and described an unmapped area, about which Europeans’ knowledge was largely lacking. The observer clearly identified the role of diseases of European origin, smallpox above all, in the rapid decline of populations such as the Sewee, another nation probably of Siouan stock, whose numbers, estimated at around eight hundred in the seventeenth century, were reduced to seventy-five in 1715:4

the Sewees have been formerly a large Nation, though now very much decreas’d since the English hath seated their Land, and all other Nations of Indians are observ’d to partake of the same Fate, where the Europeans come, the Indians being a People very apt to catch any Distemper they are afflicted withal; the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives.

Continue reading “Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America”

«in the raging time of the small pox»

A new series on smallpox and the documentation of American otherness in the late Eighteenth century

The series in brief

This post inaugurates a series focussing on the perception of the effects of smallpox on the demographic decline of the native North American populations by some English-speaking writers in the eighteenth century. The series will highlight the awareness expressed by contemporary observers of the circulation of new infectious diseases imported from Europe into North America, and of the effects of these diseases – of which smallpox is a critical but far from unique case – on the decimation or incipient extinction of native peoples.

The aim of this series is to show how this awareness favoured, in English-speaking observers, the agglutination of the category of “European”, and an urgent need to document American human diversity before its disappearance.

Works by John Lawson, John Brickell, James Adair, and Cadwallader Colden are considered before dwelling on the Lewis and Clark expedition and on Thomas Jefferson’s role in the expedition’s cultural aims and interests in medicine.

Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores
Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores at 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18-20 days after inoculation or contraction. In the same volume appear a letter by Jefferson in support of the vaccine practice and the data recorded by Jefferson during the Monticello experiments. Copy at Yale University, Cushing, Whitney Medical Library, no known restrictions on reproduction for academic use.

Continue reading “«in the raging time of the small pox»”

Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies

The temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other and the Lewis and Clark expedition: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The endpoint of this survey is one of the most significant collections of indigenous American languages made at the end of the long eighteenth century: it was also the prelude to a whole series of systematic studies, grammars, and dictionaries that would go hand in hand with the establishment of linguistics and lexicography as autonomous academic-scientific disciplines in the nineteenth century. This endpoint was the collection of vocabularies prepared as part of the expedition west of the Mississippi led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark between 1804 and 1806. Promoted by Thomas Jefferson immediately after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the symbolic significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition in North American history can hardly be overestimated.[1]

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies”

“They had published inaccurate maps and false accounts”

“Savages”, Anglo-French competition, and the circulation of knowledge in the eighteenth-century North Atlantic

At the dawn of the Franco-Indian and the Seven-Years Wars – which would place the North Atlantic at the centre of a new, global balance between European powers – the North American space is fought over by means of historical narrations and forms of geographic-historical knowledge.

Continue reading ““They had published inaccurate maps and false accounts””

“The Indians are a People that never value their time”

“We are fond of searching into remote Antiquity, to know the Manners of our earliest Progenitors; and, if I am not mistaken, the Indians are living Images of them.”

Colden 1747

I presented this paper – titled “The Indians are a People that never value their time”: Mappature dei “selvaggi” e concettualizzazioni del tempo storico nello spazio nordatlantico del primo Settecento – at the 2019 conference of the Italian Society for the Study of the XVIII century (L’invenzione del passato nel XVIII secolo, 27-29 May 2019).

Aim of this research is to look at and locate conceptions of time as part of the processes that characterized European
encounters with populations perceived and represented as ‘others’ during the eighteenth century, in order to lay bare the connections between the development of new ideas of time and the geographical expansion of Western colonial powers.

Here’s the conference program

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "“The Indians are a People that never value their time”," in Geographies of Time, 28/05/2019, https://ian.hypotheses.org/225.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

“I suspect our Interpreters may not have done Justice to the Indian Eloquence”

At the postgraduate conference “Forme e linguaggi della comunicazione storica, dall’antichità all’epoca contemporanea” in 2019 I delivered a paper drawing on Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (1727, 1747) to reflect on textual genealogies and translations in the late-modern Nord Atlantic.

In this research I came across quite a few significant loci in which the history of American “savages” became a competing ground between English and French authors, and the Indian eloquence a fascinating topic for Eighteenth-century travellers and writers to argue the status of American societies as instances of humanity in its infancy.

The conference was organized by some colleagues from the PhD course in Historical Studies at the University of Florence. They did an amazing job putting together a programme across disciplinary boundaries.

Lahontan, New voyages to North-America (tr. Nouveaux
voyages
) (London, 1703) vol. II, title page. Copy at John Carter Brown Library via Internet Archive. No known restriction for scholarly use.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search