- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 19, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195304462
- ISBN-13: 978-0195304466
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America
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As Anderson notes in the prologue to this unique book, based on thorough mining of historical writings, the idea for it came from trying to understand why references to livestock appear so often in documents from the early history of the English colonies. Could an understanding of the interactions between humans and livestock, and of the changes wrought on the landscape by the keeping of that livestock, help explain the pattern of colonization? Indians possessed no domestic animals save dogs, and had no understanding of animals as property. The colonists, pressed for time in creating their new way of life, left their livestock to roam and care for themselves. The inevitable clash between the Indians and the colonists' livestock, coupled with the fact that this style of free-range husbandry required more and more land as the animals reproduced, early on established a pattern of appropriation of Indian land for the care of the colonists' beasts. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"This is not a work just for woud-be specialists. By emphasizing contingency and the role of livestock as actors in specific historical events, Anderson has demonstrated that animals should concern all historians of early America."--Geoffrey Plank, The William and Mary Quarterly
"This fine book delivers on all counts. Anderson deftly moves beyond standard environmental histories into new and richer territory. This book is a well-researched, well-written, and powerfully synthetic study of an intriguing facet of early American history."--The Journal of Southern History
"Anderson's book is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand colonial history. She has, in my estimation, read all the relevant original sources, assessed them wisely and written her opinions in clear and sometimes eloquent prose."--American Historical Review
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Top Customer Reviews
Virginia DeJohn Anderson's Creatures of Empire culminates around the way in which the colonial settlers and natives viewed the very nature of animals and therefore the way in which their relative reactions affected their relationships with each other. Anderson seems to say that if Native Americans and settlers were opposing teams in the championship game, then the livestock were as pivotal as the field on which the game was played.
Through her research, Anderson is able to reconstruct accurate tales of interaction between the natives, settlers and their imported livestock, which eventually lead to conflict and European expansion. There are three main purposes of Creatures of Empire that serve to further illuminate colonial history. The first purpose is deducing how natives and settlers view fauna independently of one another. Second, by analyzing the clear difference in point of views, Anderson is able to realize how conflicts arose and were potentially solved between the two parties, because of their interaction with various animals and finally, she is able to reason how these conflicts or resolutions shaped Colonial America and its future.
Virginia DeJohn Anderson received her Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and is currently a Professor of History at the University of Colorado at Boulder as a Colonial and Revolutionary historian. Her previous publications include New England's Generation and co-author of the textbook The American Journey: A History of the United States ([...]).
In Creatures of Empire, Anderson works in the guise of folktales in order to convey her central theme of the importance of livestock in the shaping of native-settler relations, primarily in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions. Each folktale is explained in a well-written and well-documented light, which makes this book both accessible to Anderson's colleagues and to persons who have no background in either Colonial America or animal husbandry. The retail value of $[...] is a reasonable asking price for this book, particularly since there are only a few, minor illustrations and the bulk of the book is text. Although it is mostly text, Anderson paints a marvelously clear picture of events with her words. This book is a gem that should be examined by those investigating the middle ground between Native Americans and European settlers, or just those who enjoy a fascinating, yet authentic read.
The author makes heavy use of letters and original journals from settlers in the colonial period, such as The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631) and The Pynchon Papers, a collection of correspondence between John Pynchon and John Winthrop, Jr., dated mid to late 1600s. With the aid of historical commentary and supplementary scholarship, such as multiple references to Richard White's renowned Middle Ground, as well as data gathered through other channels for example, archaeological, dietary, mortuary, etc., Anderson is able to make well-informed ethnohistorical commentary on the colonial culture, beliefs and values of the natives and settlers. It is through this commentary that she is able to deduce the how and why of the relationships between the two cultures.
Due to this thorough examination of evidence, the conclusions that Anderson draws in this work are highly plausible, especially as she lays the foundation for these conclusions through many points of view. For example, Anderson undoubtedly concludes that native and settlers did not view animals from the same perspective (p. 6). This is widely understood throughout American studies, however Anderson reaches further to deduct why this is true: on the side of the Native Americans, animals had a manitou or guardian spirit and "deserved respect from humans, and could enact revenge if treated inappropriately"(p. 41). Anderson contrasts the European settlers understanding of animals, in order to root causes of conflict: according to "Christian tenets...[which] denied animals any independent spiritual status, and sanctioned human domain over the natural world...animals could be made into private property"(p. 70). Through these facts, Anderson deduces the nature of these conflicts and is able to delve into the psyche of each party.
Though Anderson mentions in the prologue, historian and geographer Alfred Crosby's 1972 work The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, the topic of animals shaping the American society as a whole, is extremely unique and hard to find. This, of course could be due to the fact that, even though Anderson indicates that animals, namely livestock, is mentioned far and wide in colonial records and that animals were a pivotal part of American life. However, Americans have a notion that the masters make the decisions, not the chattel; therefore America favors the accomplishments of great men, rather than their vulnerability in the face of nature. Anderson points out in Creatures of Empire that this is simply not the case. Many conflicts were created due to the fact that colonists could not keep their livestock in check (p. 176 & 189). In comparison to Crosby's work, Anderson, delves more fully into the importance on the imported livestock and its effects on in interpersonal relationships of the colonial populations. Anderson only touches on the seemingly domesticated dogs visible in native villages (p. 34, 35 & 36), however, Jon T. Colman's 2004 book, Vicious: Wolves and Men in America examines this subject more extensively.
Through her work, Anderson has shifted the view of the experience of colonial America away from the quintessential tails of great men and seemingly miraculous battles in order to help the reader see the importance of the rather mundane aspects of colonial life that in essence were the very foundations of American expansion. The true uniqueness and value of Creatures of Empire is that Anderson uses the interaction between settlers and livestock, natives and both fauna and livestock and native and settlers over livestock as a method through which she could delve into the psyche of both native and settlers and explain the motives of both.
Anderson begins by cultivating a landscape of distinct spiritual/cosmological beliefs that guide each groups' practices with animals. She persuasively argues that Natives merged the physical and spiritual worlds forming a dynamic reciprocity among living and spiritual beings. Conversely, the English rooted their self-understanding as the pinnacle of creation as written in Genesis. A theology of dominion dictated a sharp dichotomy of human and non-human beings leaving humanity as the divinely sanctioned rulers over the land and its creatures.
Once this cosmological landscape is set, Anderson turns toward the practices of animal husbandry. Natives had to contend not just with the newly arrived English colonists, but their animals as well. These strange new beasts were slowly integrated into Native vocabulary, worldviews, and practices; but not always in the ways as the English hoped.
Guided by their theology of dominion, the English regarded animals as domesticated property and essential to civilized and Christian life. While Animal ownership and husbandry were key markers of civility in English society the imported practices underwent a significant change within the Chesapeake Colonies and Southern New England colonies. A remarkable amount of care and time were given to livestock animals back in England. Anderson works to show how these high standards of practice fell sharply due to constraints of time, workforce and spatial concerns. As a result, animals often had to make their own way ranging freely through the forests and fields.
Conflicts arose when the untended English animals trampled their way into unfenced Indian fields damaging crops. Early on, the Indians would kill the offending beasts but since the animals were seen as property to the English, they would demand restitution. Anderson surveys court histories and colonial annals seeking recorded details about the inevitable conflicts. She suggests that the amounts of conflicts were a good barometer of the current state of the relationship between the colonists and the natives. Discussions between the two parties to reduce animal trespasses, Anderson suggests, were a means for both to work out a vision a cooperative life near each other might look like. She is keen on asserting Native agency in this regard. Noting the ironic failure of restitution when Natives destroyed English animals for their destroying their fields, she states how Natives followed appropriate legal procedure for their claims but to an ever increasingly biased community. She argues the Indians ultimately made more concessions than the English who became less willing consider compromise.
The provocative turn that Anderson takes from environmental history suggests that English animal husbandry served more than simple agricultural needs. Domesticated animals became a calculated means of extending civilized English life and habits to the New World and its native inhabitants. However, she carefully articulates that often Natives who learned to live with English livestock did so, on their own terms and as a means to remain Native. This was a position the colonists could not understand or allow to continue. Over time, as these methods failed and the need for land increased, the English strategy changed. While animals had always been part of English colonizing and plan for conversion, Anderson claims the colonists would simply allow their animals more leeway in their roaming making expedient means of spreading the Empire in land and ideology. This becomes a sad and ironic pattern that recurred at the edges of Western expansion across the continent that while "Indians found room in their world for livestock...the colonists and their descendants could find no room in theirs for Indians."
My one minor contention with Anderson regards her portrayal of Christianity and the doctrine of dominion in particular. It seems to me that there is an over reliance upon Keith Thomas' Man and the Natural World to claim how vital a theology of dominion was to colonists' action with both the land and animals. It is curious to me that while she occasionally quotes colonial ministers, she does not do so to support the theological claim, but rather ethical exhortations to live peacefully with their Native neighbors.
Additionally, Anderson too narrowly focuses on the subjection of animals to humanity without equal redress to the ideas of stewardship implicit within Christian theologies of dominion. When she does reference ideas of stewardship, she fails to note if it is a Christian/Protestant virtue or an English ideal associated with the proper practices of animal husbandry. Likewise, she at times seems unconcerned about important distinctions within the church quoting both John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas. Elsewhere, she seems to use Protestantism, Calvinism, and Christianity interchangeably. Christianity, or Protestantism for that matter, is too broad and diverse to be characterized by one doctrine.
These are only minor issues that do not detract from Anderson's overall remarkable trajectory. Creatures of Empire is necessary reading for all interested in Environmental history, agricultural history, and Colonial America. Yet, her writing and claims are engaging for those well beyond specialists in the field as well.
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