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In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery Paperback – May 29, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In Search of First Contact contributes a great deal to scholarly knowledge of the Vinland narratives. Annette Kolodny explains what those stories help us to comprehend about the indigenous peoples of the northern Atlantic coast, and she illuminates the process by which people in Anglo-America have come to understand their own history on this continent. Her exposition of the sagas is absolutely superb. This is an outstanding and important work."—Robert Warrior, Director of the American Indian Studies Program, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and author of The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction


"In Search of First Contact is a tour de force. In this masterful exploration of the Anglo-American fascination with Vikings in North America, Annette Kolodny unravels the mythology around Viking contact with the continent and explains how it has inspired Americans' search for their roots, been used politically, and served to set newcomers apart from the inhabitants already here. She brings a penetrating perspective to bear on the notion of first contact and what it might have meant both to Native Americans and to the Norse. This brilliantly written book is bound to become a classic."—Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, archaeologist and author of Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse aux Meadows


"Having long argued that English-language texts alone provide an inadequate understanding of frontier history, Annette Kolodny now challenges the Eurocentric assumptions involved in what constitutes a 'literary' source. She makes the case that North American literary history begins not with the European exploration narratives customarily taken as its start, but with 'contact texts' culled from the pictographic materials of tribes in the Algonquian-speaking Wabanaki Confederacy and from the Norse sagas with which she suggests they intersect. Kolodny's sophisticated understanding of the theoretical implications of her findings, her meticulous and fair attention to previous scholarship, and her indefatigable and innovative efforts to mine material that has not previously figured prominently in these conversations result in a book that is exciting, fresh, and more ambitious and synthetic than any previous effort to explore contact narratives."—Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities and Director of the American Studies Program, Stanford University


“. . . . a fine book that tells a compelling story about formations of national identity in the US.”



(Judith Jesch Times Higher Education)

“[A] nuanced, compelling, and frankly disturbing case study of how the national origin stories we tell ourselves can inspire and then justify the worst impulses of human nature. . . . The great achievement of In Search of First Contact is not the unveiling of new and surprising revelations about what exactly happened 2,000 years ago, but rather the insightful tracing of how stories about that encounter have flourished in the American imagination for 200 years.”
(Amy H. Sturgis Reason)

“[An] extraordinary book…. In Search of First Contact is a groundbreaking work…. Fascinating in and of themselves, these stories challenge the dominant narrative that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America.”
(Gale Courey Toensing Indian Country Today)

“Annette Kolodny’s magnum opus, In Search of First Contact, is a fascinating and often times brilliant look at the tales and theories , sometimes resembling tall tales themselves, surrounding the Vikings and the Native people they found. . . .”
(Lindsey Catherine Cornum Mixedblood Messages blog)

"A groundbreaking and timely study of the nature, uses and misuses of literary, historic, and social-scientific source materials in the construction of origin stories. . . . A notable contribution not only to American literary and literary-historical studies, but also to the fields of Native Studies and Contact Literatures. Her explication of the saga material is sound, her integration of multiple subjects and sources adroit, and her conclusions are stimulating."
(Michael Cichon Canadian Journal of Native Studies)

“Reading ‘In Search of First Contact’ (Vikings, Sagas, Native Americans, Literature): Annette Kolodny. Fascinating!”
(Margaret Atwood, on Twitter)

“Eloquently written in a clear, jargon-free prose, generously footnoted, and containing an impressive list of works consulted, this outstanding book is bound to become a classic in the study of contact narratives and American studies in general. . . . Original in scope, meticulous in research, and provocative in analysis, In Search of First Contact invigorates the study of American identity and culture.”
(Kirsten Møllegaard Journal of American Culture)

In Search of First Contact is a masterful book which should reshape the way we think and talk about contact narratives—as well as about their (particularly racial) legacies in our cultural consciousness.” 
(Margaret Reid American Historical Review)

In Search of First Contact is a monumental achievement: a visionary, scholarly meticulous, fun read pitched for a relatively wide audience. It will be of interest to scholars of literature, history, early America, colonial encounters, and Native American and Scandinavian studies, as well as to primary and secondary educators and general-interest readers."
(Birgit Brander Rasmussen Modern Language Quarterly)

“It is hard to do justice to Kolodny’s meticulously researched, densely packed, finely grained, and jargon- free historical literary excursion. . . . I highly recommend this thoroughly researched study as an important contribution to American cultural studies."
(Harald E. L. Prins Studies in American Indian Literatures)

“Using her vast knowledge of American literature and her capacious intellectual energy, Kolodny forms a coherent nar rative from an exhaustive and detailed analysis of sources as ranging from the Norse Sagas to nineteenth-century alternate Nordic origin stories in the era of Indian removal and beyond. … Kolodny's In Search of First Contact challenges us to look beyond standard literary texts, attending to sources in archaeology, anthropology, and material culture rarely folded into our analysis to carve out a new approach to American literary history.”
(Hilary E. Wyss American Literature 2015-09-01)

About the Author

Annette Kolodny is College of Humanities Professor Emerita of American Literature and Culture at the University of Arizona. She is the author of Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century and the editor of The Life and Traditions of the Red Man, by Joseph Nicolar, both also published by Duke University Press. In addition, she is the author of The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630–1860, and The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822352869
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822352860
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,082,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book explores Viking and Indian tales of their first contacts with each other at the shadowy border between history and myth. Prof. Kolodny examines first how far we can rely on these tales as history, and then how far others, of both European and native origin, have taken them in creating myths of their cultural origins some of which found their way into our histories and literature. Thus the author turns pre-history to the service of history. She is clearly in command of her fields.

Kolodny writes elegantly and fluidly, without condescension or academic jargon, and organizes her material clearly. I found the book absorbing.

In short, for anyone interested in American history or literature, this is "a great read."
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There are a lot of reasons why I really wanted to like this book. It contains a wealth of historical information, from the Icelandic Sagas reporting Norse landings in the Atlantic Northeast, to suggestions that between the landings of the Norse and Columbus Basque and Portuguese fishermen fished the seas off the northeast coast, probably landing from time to time, to hints in Native legends of the region of contacts with Europeans.

Then there is the sociology of Americans learning that the Sagas suggested that the Norse may have preceded the Spanish, which appealed to the descendents of northern Europeans. False archeological discoveries in New England fueled this trend of thinking, and were the foundation for a thread in nineteenth century American literature. Protestants used the Sagas to counter the idea of a Catholic discovery of the new world, and Catholics responded by representing Norse landings as the first Christian--and Catholic--spreading of Christianity to the new world.

So much to like about the book. But ... The author is an Emerita Professor of literature, not an historian. She seems better at taking stories apart than telling them. She spends too many words on how poets of the nineteenth century were influenced by the Sagas, the false archeological discoveries, and the biases of the time. The Native stories are almost lost in her deconstruction of them; you almost end up thinking they have no historical content.

Kolodny obviously did a lot of research for this book, and thought a lot about many topics relating to contact between Natives and Europeans, and about American views of history. But she failed to settle on a narrative thread to tie her book together. For all its merits, it strikes me as disjointed and prolix; I found it a slog to finish.
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Format: Paperback
A departure from her earlier work concerning the ways gender roles influenced the construction of myth, fantasy and history on the colonial frontier, Kolodny's latest book explores the parameters of what has been defined as "first contact"--the seminal moment of so much American mythology where Europeans and indigenous peoples presumably meet, cultures clash, and all the messy dynamics of colonialism begin. Kolodny challenges our national obsession with the "Columbian Exchange" and focuses instead on the sagas of Viking explorers who first reached the shores of North America at the turn of the first century A.D.E, with their fabled settlement at Vinland. Her work proposes to open up this tale for those who may not be familiar with it, in order to better understand the complicated history of this early encounter and to interrogate its role in the American literary canon. Kolodny suggests that the early Viking landings left more of an intellectual footprint on American tradition than we typically ascribe to it and she performs an illuminating genealogy of this discourse, taking great care to include Native memories, traditions and modes of history-keeping into her analysis. Her work puts her in conversation with significant trends in Native Studies that privilege the intellectual traditions of Natives themselves and locate history not through the expertise of western scholarship or along the fracture lines of contact, but from a Native-centered space. This book breaks new and interesting ground in thinking through colonial dynamics and histories with which we thought we were familiar.
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Format: Paperback
Having bought and read Kolodny's earlier work, The Life and Traditions of the Red Man, and knowing her scholarship is esteemed, I anticipate with great delight her latest, In Search of First Contact. In terms of all matters re Native America, she gets it.
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Interesting book on the influence of Viking landings in North America. Well researched and readable for a scholarly book. and as Annette Kolodny has proven before, the politics of literature and the canon is as enlightening
as the literature itself.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Having read the sagas, I was hoping for some real history of the First Nation people. The book is written with literature as the main focus, which is interesting in itself, but not what I thought the book was about.
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