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.

John Brickell too, in his 1737 Natural History North-Carolina, largely based on Lawson’s text,5 developed Lawson’s attention to medical matters and added some original considerations. Speaking of the diseases afflicting European settlers and Indian nations in Carolina, while treating more extensively the most widespread at the time, gout and syphilis, he mentioned smallpox as a plague imported from Europe. The consequences in terms of demographic dynamics, in favour of the European colonists, were already clear: “The Small Pox proved very fatal amongst them in the late War with the Christians, few or none ever escaping Death that were seized with it. This Distemper was entirely unknown to them before the arrival of the Europeans amongst them”.6  The disease was fatal: “neither has the small Pox ever visited this Country but once, and that in the late Indian War, which destroyed most of those Savages that were seized with it”.7

The Plague seemed to have remained unknown, but the contribution of smallpox to the rapid decimation of American populations was clearly identified alongside other causes, which were part of the stereotypical image of the American “savage” in the eighteenth century: wars between nations – a state of perpetual belligerence – and intemperate alcohol consumption above all:8

[…] the Small Pox, their continual Wars with each other, their poysoning, and several other Distempers and Methods amongst them, and particularly their drinking Rum to excess have made such great destruction amongst them, that I am well informed, that there is not the tenth Indian in number, to what there was sixty Years ago.

The diachronic and diatopic variations in terminology are clear indications of the stratification and upheavals affecting the cultural construction of American societies as instances of a pre-civilised humanity on the part of Euro-American observers. The variety of American societies flattens out under labels such as ‘Indian’ or ‘Savage’9 Alongside the linguistic-conceptual category used to designate the ‘other’, there is an oscillation between the traditional designation of the colonists as ‘Christians’ and the use of a category that is decidedly less consolidated but destined to particular fortune: that of ‘Europeans‘. This agglutination is conspicuous in a colonial context in which the competition between imperial powers, British and French above all, was still far from being resolved. 10 An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptual schematisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (London 1709). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).


[1] For Native American nations, the exonyms currently used in secondary literature are adopted in the text, giving in brackets any variants adopted in primary sources. In general on nomenclatural confusion: M. Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières, 1971; Paris, Albin Michel 1995, pp. 26 and ff..

[2] J. Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, edited and with an Introduction by H. Talmage Lefler, 1709; Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press 1967, pp. [24-25], see also editorial note 22.

[3] New Style calendar year, for Lawson was 1700.

[4] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. [17], see here editorial note 11 on Sewees.

[5] J. Brickell, The Natural History North-Carolina: With an Account of the Trade, Manners, and Customs of the Christian and Indian Inhabitants […], Dublin, Printed by James Carson 1737. On the vexata quaestio of plagiarism of Lawson see: P. G. Adams, John Lawson’s Alter-Ego: Dr. John Brickell, «The North Carolina Historical Review», 34, 3, 1957, pp. 313-326.

[6] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 397.

[7] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 253.

[8] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 308.

[9] On the conceptual and linguistic evolution of ‘savage’: S. Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, 1972; Turin, Einaudi 2014, p. 4 and passim; J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1999-2015, 6 vols., vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005, pp. 2-3, 158 and ff. On the ‘savage’ and the formulation of ideas of development and progress and with the framing of human variety within a universalist perspective in the eighteenth century: S. Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress, New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

[10] Dynamics that can usefully be read in terms of a complex interaction between «inner-European process of Europeanization and something once referred to as the “Europeanization of the Earth”», W. Schmale, Processes of Europeanization, 2010, in EGO – European History Online,, ad vocem, par. 2.

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, "Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/05/2022,

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

«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.

Diseases and epidemics in the Euro-American encounter: attributions of meaning and imperial constructions

The deep connection between geographical, historical, proto-ethnographic and medical knowledge of the American territory and its inhabitants, projects of colonial government and commercial expansion, is clearly visible in the accounts of the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis, together with Lieutenant William Clark between 1804 and 1806, in the Louisiana territory newly acquired by the young republic.

The institutional, scientific and symbolic value in North American history of the mission and the documentation collected could hardly be overestimated. Among Thomas Jefferson’s objectives in promoting it to Congress, geographical exploration and the establishment of diplomatic relations with native peoples go hand in hand with plans for colonial expansion, the search for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific and other possible advantages for the American fur trade.1

Among the expedition’s programmes there are also important aspects in the medical field, explored in depth by a historiography interested above all in the disciplinary history of medical knowledge and practices,2 with a prevalence of contributions written by doctors and medical historians, while reflections in the field of cultural history and aimed at reconstructing the perspective of the populations encountered by the expedition were rather rare.3 The expedition’s interests in the field of anatomical study and the inoculation of the smallpox vaccine as an instrument of diplomacy are set against the widely known background of the decimation of native populations by pathogens of European origin, of which smallpox is a sadly known and not unique occurrence.4  The role of germs, diseases, epidemics in the Euro-American encounter is in turn understandable as part of broader environmental and biological scenarios and processes of European expansion into America.5

The observation of the decimation of native populations by diseases to which European settlers were immune through early exposure dates back at least to Ralph Lane and Thomas Hariot’s 16th century. Equally old is the attribution of this mortality to a divine will, to a providential plan favourable to the colonists, proposed for example by Hariot.6 During the 17th century, disease had a profound effect on demographic dynamics in North America, and continued to reverberate on a cultural and religious level. While between 1616 and 1636 approximately ninety percent of the native populations of Massachusetts, Wampanoag and New England died from smallpox and other epidemics, Ferdinand Gorges, John Winthrop and William Bradford conceptualised what they observed in terms of a providential narrative. The semantisations of diseases and epidemics in a religious sense had profound repercussions on the dynamics of Christian missionary work.7  Interpretations of plagues as a form of punishment or divine sign in the Christian context, and later debates about the endemic origin of pathogens, fed the substratum of the hierarchisation of American ‘savages’ in a racial sense.8 Teleological visions of smallpox as written in the destiny of native populations were repeated until the late nineteenth century.9

The attribution of meaning to diseases and inequalities between groups in terms of mortality is to all effects part of the ideological tools of imperial constructions (not only) in the North Atlantic context. Individual and collective responses to epidemic phenomena incorporate elements at the intersection of medical theories, economic and political interests, and racial ideologies. Rationalisations of these phenomena, the cultural malleability of their interpretation always reveal specific social and political points of view. In the words of David Jones:10

Disparities can be seen as proof of natural hierarchy, as products of misbehaviour, or as evidence of social injustice. These assessments motivate or undermine interventions, influencing whether observers prevent an epidemic’s spread, treat its victims, or exploit its opportunities.


[1] M. Lewis and W. Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806, edited, with introduction, notes and index, by R. G. Thwaites, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company 1904, 7 vols., and vol. 8: Atlas accompanying the original journals, in quest’edizione: vol. I, Thwaites, Introduction, xvii-lviii, e V. H. Paltsits, Bibliographical Data, lxi-lxxxiv.

[2] E. G. Chuinard, Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Glendale, CA, Arthur H. Clark Company 1979; B. C. Paton, Lewis and Clark: Doctors in the Wilderness, Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2001; D. J. Peck, Or Perish in the Attempt: The Hardship and Medicine of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Foreword by Moira Ambrose, Illustrations by R. F. “Bob” Morgan, Helena, MT, Farcountry Press 2002. Obiettivi divulgativi sono prioritari in Paton.

[3] Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective, ed. by F. E. Hoxie and J. T. Nelson, Urbana, University of Illinois Press 2007; see also the namesake exhibition on Newberry Library’s website,; The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. by Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

[4] R. T. Boyd, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectiouus Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874, Seattle and Vancouver, University of Washington and UBC Presses 1999; R. T. Boyd, Smallpox in the Pacific Northwest. The First Epidemics, «BC Studies», 101, 1994, accessed via Anthropology Faculty Publications and Presentations, 141,; D. S. Jones, Epidemics in Indian Country, 2014, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, American History, doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.27; W. H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, Garden City, NY, Anchor Press-Doubleday 1976, specialmente cap. 5.

[5] A. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Westport, CT, Greenwood 1972; J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies, New York and London, Norton 1997; W. H. McNeill, The Global Condition. Conquerors, Catastrophes, & Community, Princeton, Princeton University Press 1992.

[6] D. S. Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press 2004, pp. 20-45, anche per le successive note su Lane, Bradford e Hariot.

[7] N. Salisbury, Spiritual Giants, Worldly Empires: Indigenous Peoples and New England to the 1680s, in The World of Colonial America: An Atlantic Handbook, ed. by I. Gallup-Diaz, London and New York, Routledge 2017, pp. 153-170 vedi pp. 156-160.

[8] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics; J. E. Chaplin, Was Knowledge Power? Science in the British Atlantic, pp. 281-300, in The World of Colonial America, ed. by Gallup-Diaz, specialmente p. 286.

[9] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 105.

[10] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 3.

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, "«in the raging time of the small pox»," in Geographies of Time, 01/03/2022,

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

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]

Paradoxically, the historical noteworthiness of Lewis and Clark’s vocabularies is undiminished by the fact that they were lost before being published with the account. However, what can be gleaned from related sources place these vocabularies at the very crossroads of ethnographic curiosity, geographical and scientific exploration, colonial and commercial projects, and the temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other. Lewis and Clark’s journals and the rich array of other texts and maps amassed in the course of the expedition went through a particularly tormented publishing process, complicated by the death of Lewis in 1809.[2] The vocabularies were not included in the first edition (which drew on the journals and other sources, prepared by Nicholas Biddle and edited by Paul Allen).[3] An edition of the material pertaining to scientific observations as a supplement to the journals was planned under the supervision of Benjamin Smith Barton, naturalist and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. After Barton’s premature death, Jefferson tried to gather together all the manuscript materials but, by then, the vocabularies (which according to Biddle were in Barton’s possession) had been lost. ‘They formed, I think,  a bundle of loose sheets each sheet containing a printed vocabulary in English with the corresponding Indian name in manuscript – recalled Biddle –. There was also another collection of Indian vocabularies, which, if I am not mistaken, was in the handwriting of Mr Jefferson’.[4]

Having passed through Biddle’s and/or Barton’s hands, then, or perhaps having remained in Clark’s possession, the twenty-three vocabularies collected during the expedition were never to arrive to the archives of the American Philosophical Society.[5]

What has survived is the empty form with lists of words in English which Jefferson designed to be filled in with the various native languages, the tantalising ghost of those ‘blank vocabularies’ mentioned in the ‘Documents relating to the equipment of the expedition’.[6] The journals, correspondence and prospectus for the edition prepared by Lewis all mention their being compiled in various locations during the journey.[7] Jefferson had planned to publish the Lewis and Clark vocabularies along with others he had compiled.[8] Sadly, his collection too was lost in 1809, on his trip back to Monticello after the end of his presidency:

I had thro’ the course of my life availed myself of every opportunity of procuring vocabularies of the languages of every tribe which either myself or my friends could have access to. They amounted to about 40 more or less perfect. But in their passage from Washington to this place, the trunk in which they were was stolen and plundered, and some fragments only of the vocabularies were recovered.[9]

The Lewis and Clark vocabularies were part of a broader project of systematic documentation which Jefferson had been promoting since the 1780s.[10] Within this framework, he also gradually perfected the above-mentioned blank form comprising around 280 commonly used English words, with empty spaces alongside for their translation, which was used by numerous collaborators of the American Philosophical Society.[11] On the one hand, linguistic knowledge was essential for the republican government penetration into those territories, which had seemingly become ripe for colonisation in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. But this extensive knowledge was also meant to facilitate studies of the indigenous American historical past and of the genealogical relationships between languages (and nations) to ‘search for affinities between these and the languages of Europe and Asia’.[12]

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.[13]

At the same time, the urgency of documenting these languages comes from the realisation of their speakers’ possible – indeed probable – extinction, given the processes set in motion by European expansion:

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.[14]

In point of fact, concludes Jefferson, an archive of indigenous American languages will make further research possible in the future.[15] What emerges from Jefferson’s project is thus a dual historical location of Native American languages: glotto-genealogical – designed to trace the origin of the first American societies through their languages – and programmatical – to be used at some point in the future for documentation and research. The role of linguistic compilers assigned to Lewis and Clark is the embodiment of that close connection between linguistics as natural history and new ideas of imperial expansion. The relatively independent status as texts of the expedition vocabularies, and the plan to publish them separately are indicative of a trend towards lexicographical collections being increasingly detached from the immediate context in which they were drawn up – the journey and its account – at the same time they are also, incidentally, the cause of the vocabularies loss.


[1] Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1904), 7 vols. In this edition see Reuben Gold Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, I, pp. xvii–lviii, and Victor Hugo Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, I, pp. lxi–lxxxiv. On Jefferson’s role: ‘Appendix’ in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 193–287, especially ‘Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis’, June 20, 1803, pp. 347–352; and ‘Ethnological information desired’, n.p., n.d., pp. 283–287; see also Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, pp. xxxiii–xxxiv.

[2] Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman, 1976); Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxvi–xciii; Gary E. Moulton, ‘Provenance and description of the journals’, in The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. Moulton (Lincoln, 1983-2001), 13 vols, II, Appendix B, digital ed.: Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition,, section Journals; a partial publication is Message from the President of the United States (City of Washington, 1806); on which see also Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxiii–lxv; the journal of sergeant Patrick Gass was published in Philadelphia in 1807.

[3] History of the Exploration under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri (Philadelphia, 1814). Biddle’s version went through twenty editions in English by 1904.

[4] Letter from Nicholas Biddle to William Tilghman, April 6, 1818, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 408–410, quote on page 409; see also Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, pp. 394–396, see 395; Jefferson to John Vaughan, June 28, 1817, pp. 400–401; Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, pp. 402–404, see p. 402.

[5] Cutright, A History, p. 88 note 33; Megan Snyder-Camp, ‘“No general use can ever be made of the wrecks of my loss”: A reconsidered history of the Indian vocabularies collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition’, Wicazo Sa Review, 30/2 (2015), pp. 129–139.

[6] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, p. 232.

[7] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, I, pp. 132, 277; IV, pp. 12, 273, 275, 363; VII, pp. 212, 337, 365 (here for the prospectus), 394–395, 397 (here Clark to Jefferson).

[8] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[9] Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 402–404, quote on page 403; see also Rivett, Unscripted America, p. 209.

[10] Rivett, Unscripted America, pp. 209–237.

[11] American Philosophical Society Historical and Literary Committee, American Indian Vocabulary Collection, a description can be found on the Society’s website: <>.

[12] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[13] Jefferson to Colonel Hawkins, March 14, 1800, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, ed. H. A. Washington (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 325–327, quote on page 326.

[14] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia (1783) (Chapel Hill and London, 1982), p. 101, emphasis added.

[15] Gordon M. Sayre, ‘Jefferson and Native Americans: Policy and archive’, in Frank Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 61–72.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies," in Geographies of Time, 01/12/2021,

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

“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,

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
) (London, 1703) vol. II, title page. Copy at John Carter Brown Library via Internet Archive. No known restriction for scholarly use.