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Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America Paperback – September 17, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0195080339 ISBN-10: 0195080335

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195080335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195080339
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,155,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Those who want a readable and informed introduction to some of the concerns of contemporary Encounter historians, this is a good place to begin."--The New York Review of Books

"A most admirable and valuable addition to my supplementary required reading for my survey course in American history to 1865."--William M. Neil, Indiana University Northwest

"Axtell has the rare ability to write about the European presence in America without the hand-wringing of the Left or the clenched fist of the Right. The eleven essays here...are fresh, engrossing, challenging, and entertaining."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"A wonderful volume."--Elizabeth Parent, San Francisco State University

"A series of exceptionally fine essays."--The Louisville Courier-Journal

About the Author

James Axtell is at College of William and Mary.

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Customer Reviews

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sam I am on July 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
Currently, there are so many television/radio personalities trying to write history books that it is always refreshing to go back to a "real" history book. Historical conclusions without the verifying facts (a.k.a. footnotes and endnotes) are just random opinions. Axtell's well-researched work is a good place to start for anyone who wishes to discover the complexities of early colonial history. All too often, what is supposed to be historical analysis is really just political dogma or nostalgia. Axtell's work, much like Richard White (Stanford University), or James Merrell (Vassar College), actually treats early Native American societies as real people with ambitions, faults, and traditions. History is a science, so the facts should speak for themselves. Discovery or invasion? Sometimes these terms have the same historical outcomes.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ranger X on February 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Professor James Axtell of William and Mary is a historian who is not out to assign blame. In his book Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America (1992), Axtell analyzes the encounter from four different viewpoints: through Indian eyes, from a European perspective, through both simultaneously, and from the contemporary vantage point as we struggle to grasp the concepts behind the encounter. A noted scholar of Native American history, Axtell interprets contact as a complex process full of decisions made by all parties involved.

Axtell's depiction of the conquistadors and the Spanish military is not as monochromatic as historians playing the blame game. Stressing that we learn nothing by using glib labels, Axtell demonstrates that the root of the word "conquest is simply 'to seek.'" Most were seeking wealth, but usually did not fit the stereotyped image of a conquistador, and even fewer made a profession of it. Axtell urges us to consider that many were not only "ruthless Indian fighters" but were also probably "doting fathers and unfaithful husbands, devout Catholics and poor scholars, dutiful sons and headstrong servants, ardent gardeners and heavy drinkers, gentle lovers and gouging businessmen--bundles of human contradictions." Most were not trained soldiers. The invaders of Panama numbered 91, and 41 had no fighting experience; they were farmers, sailors, craftsmen, and merchants. This hardly fits the image of the bloodthirsty, battle-hardened warriors who only wanted to kill.

Just as he has trouble accepting stereotypes of the conquistadors that lead to confusion and not understanding, Axtell has serious reservations about using the term "genocide" to refer to every Indian death caused directly or indirectly by a historical European or American.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on June 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
This work decisively rejects the older extreme of Indians as savages benefiting from white European civilization, and the newer extreme of Indians as hapless victims of unilateral European rapacity, greed, and genocide. Author Axtell stresses the way that Indian ways rapidly changed as an outcome of contact with Europeans. For a time, the relationship benefitted both parties.

Axtell cites estimates of the total population of 1 to 12 million Indians in North America in 1492. (p. 203). He repeatedly cites diseases, usually inadvertently introduced by whites, as by far the main cause of the subsequent decimation of the Native American population. (p. 105, 145, 155; see especially pp. 235-on, 262). The "no genocide" statement, mentioned by another reviewer, deserves to be quoted in full: "Certainly no European colonial government ever tried to exterminate all the Indians as Indians, as a race, and you can count on one hand the authorized colonial attempts to annihilate even single tribes." (p. 261).

Europeans sometimes made slaves out of Indians, but such situations were generally exceptional. The lurid portrayal of Spanish colonists is, in large part, Anglo propaganda. (pp. 205-206). At the same time, certain Spanish clergy condemned the enslaving and exploitation of Native peoples not as something inexpedient, but as inherently immoral. (pp. 246-on).

The author rejects the premise that Indians had no concept of property ownership. The woodland tribes owned land communally, the individuals owned objects. (p. 202). Tribes were semi-sedentary, not nomadic. (pp. 107-108).

Axtell portrays Indian attacks on European settlements as responses to earlier injustices and provocations.
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