Comparison of Two Books Term Paper

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European-Indian Contact: New England

Books: James Axtell- the Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America

William Cronon- Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England

The Civilization of Northern America as a Result First Contact Between the Natives and the EuropeansBuy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Comparison of Two Books Assignment

The two authors, James Axtell and William Cronon analyze in their respective works the Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America and Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England essential aspects of the first interaction and the first exchanges between the Native American people that used to inhabit the land of North America and the Europeans that colonized them after Columbus' discovery. Axtell's book, as its title indicates, focuses on the way in which the three main ethnicities, the Native Indians, the English and the French attempted a mutual conversion, each struggling to impose its cultural identity over the identity of the other. Axtell thus advocates that ethnohistory is the best instrument for the examination of the confluence between the three cultures, Indian, English and French. He focuses therefore on the way in which each of the three nations perceived the others, and how they struggled to impose their own views over the others. As the title of the work indicates, the main contention of the monograph is that the "invasion" in North America was much more than a political or economical conquest; it was, in fact, a contest between the cultural identities of the three nations that encountered each other. According to Axtell therefore, the invasion touched the very essence of each culture, its inner, spiritual nature. On the other hand, William Cronon's work, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England reveals a very interesting and unique historical perspective: the author investigates the first contact between the Native Americans and the Europeans through an analysis of their different management of the ecological system. Cronon's main assumption is thus that the relationship that exists between the environment and the inhabitants of a certain territory is crucial to the investigation of that culture's particular views and lifestyle. Thus, although the approaches to the main subject that the two books propose are essentially different, it is obvious that they share a common view ultimately: both texts advocate that the American civilization of the present day is largely a result of the way in which the two nations first interacted and of the maze of mutual influences that ensued.

The theses of the two books under investigation have therefore a different scope but aim at the same purpose, that is, to analyze the way in which the first contact between the Natives and their colonizers influenced the future development of America as a nation. Thus, Axtell's main thesis as stated in his work is that the initial contact between the three nations is marked by the cultural contest between them. Each of the three nations, the Natives, the English and the French set out, according to Axtell, to convert the others to their own creeds and particulars. Axtell thus emphasizes that the main thing that was at stake at that time in the contest between the three nations was no less than cultural identity. Apparently, Cronon's thesis in his book stands in direct opposition to that of Axtell. Whereas Axtell focuses on the spiritual history of the two nations and on the way in which their encounter modified this history, Cronon concentrates his research on the outer, external aspects of the meeting between the Natives and the colonizers, that is, on the way in which each of the cultures manipulated the natural environment surrounding them. In this respect, it would seem that Axtell's book refers mainly to the "within" of the two opposite cultures, that is, the inner, spiritual essence or the core identity of the nations. By contrast, Cronon bases his investigation, as the title of his book indicates, on the ecological changes or transformations that took place after the settling of the colonizers. Thus, the "changes in the land" that Cronon studies are at first sight an analysis of the impact of the colonization on the natural environment. In fact, Cronon's purpose extends much more than this. Through an investigation of the environmental changes, Cronon manages to summarize the main characteristics of the two competing cultures and to show how their influence transformed the natural habitat gradually.

Thus, interestingly enough the two books attempt a similar analysis of the case of colonization in North America, but through different means. In Axtell's the Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America, the main method of investigation is the ethnohistory. Axtell attempts to show how the impact of the two cultures on each other produced the American civilization of the present day. According to him, the focus of such an analysis should be the inner, spiritual core of each culture and the way in which this was mirrored by the other culture. The historian thus advocates that the encounter between two peoples, especially in the case of a colonized people and their colonizers, is not merely a physical conjunction, but also an "interweaving of mental states," the way in which each culture perceives itself and the other at the same time being crucial: "The meeting of two peoples, two societies and cultures is not only a physical conjunction, but an interweaving of mental states, and the images which those people have of one another are an important aspect of their encounter." Thus, Axtell obviously uses the method of ethnohistory in his study, by giving priority to such aspects as the spiritual nature of each culture and their mental bias. The relationship between the two cultures is thus sublimated through the first contact, when the nations perceive each other and their differences with great wonder and surprise. The Indians' conception of the Europeans and the Europeans' view of the Natives are therefore crucial aspects for investigation, according to Axtell's theory. By contrast, William Cronon uses a very different method of investigation in his book: he focuses not so much on the direct contact between the two cultures, but on the changes in the land, the environmental modifications that followed the invasion of the Europeans on the American territory. Here, Cronon's main target is to downplay the usual assumption that the Europeans first landed in an Earthly paradise, a pristine world that was found in its most unused and most natural state. In Cronon's view, the main pitfall in the historical investigation of the colonization which has been performed so far is to regard America as a Virgin, pure land, in which nature did not know the intervention of man. Cronon alludes to the fact that historians start from the idea that the wilderness was left uninfluenced by the human hands before the arrival of the European colonizers and missionaries: "It is tempting to believe that when Europeans arrived in the New World they confronted Virgin Land, the Forest Primeval, a wilderness which had existed for eons uninfluenced by human hands" Then he goes on to prove that, in fact, the Indians had modified nature as much as the Europeans after them, the only difference being in the methods used to manipulate the land. The Indians manipulated the land with an instinct for nature and its needs, and thus managed to preserve it and enrich it. As opposed to this, the Europeans abused nature because they submitted it to economical purposes. Thus, Cronon analyzes the differences between the two cultures through an investigation of the different methods of manipulating the land, specific to the Natives and the Europeans.

The two books proceed to argue for their respective theses through a careful and detailed research. Axtell focuses his argument on the reconstruction of the first contact between the two cultures, and on the impact that each had on the other: "The impact the major competing cultures of Eastern North America- English, French, and Indian- had had on each other, especially when they set out consciously to educate or convert their rivals." According to Axtell, the conflict between the Natives and the Europeans resided primarily on the contest between the two opposed concepts of spiritual power: "For many natives and Europeans the frontier conflict remained primarily a contest between two concepts of spiritual power." This can be considered as the text's main statement or thesis. Thus, as already noticed, Axtell focuses on the "invasion within," that is, the contest between the inner aspects of each culture. Axtell also argues that, as spiritual missionaries, the Indians were the best educators, followed by the French and only lastly by the English. Indians thus proved themselves "psychologically if not numerically... The best cultural missionaries and educators on the continent." The English had the least cultural impact and the Indians had the greatest cultural impact on the other people. Thus, Axtell investigates his subject by focusing on the perception of each of the three nations, the Indians, the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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