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The Jamestown Project Hardcover – Sega, March 23, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The Jamestown story needs retelling, says NYU historian Kupperman (Providence Island) not just because 2007 marks the 400th anniversary of its settlement. It also needs retelling because Americans tend to locate our origins in Plymouth and distance ourselves from Jamestown, which we associate with "greedy, grasping colonists" backed by "arrogant" English patrons. The first decade of Jamestown's history was messy, admits Kupperman, but through that mess, settlers figured out how to make colonization work. Plymouth, in fact, benefited from the lessons learned at Jamestown. What is remarkable is that a colonial outpost on the edge of Virginia, in a not very hospitable location, survived at all. Kupperman, of course, shows how the colonists negotiated relationships with Indians. But her more innovative chapters focus on labor. Colonists began experimenting with tobacco, and colonial elites gradually realized that people were more willing to work when they were laboring for themselves. Backers in England began to think more flexibly about how to create colonial profits. But the dark side of this success story is the institution of indentured servitude, which proved key to Jamestown's success. Kupperman, marrying vivid narration with trenchant analysis, has done the history of Jamestown, and of early America, a great service. 41 b&w illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this four hundredth anniversary year of Jamestown, historian Kupperman enlarges its story to encompass the Atlantic world that gave rise to it. The view from England toward the New World is what the author strives to reconstruct, successfully so. A century behind rival Spain in colonizing ventures, English captains eyed the east coast of North America with myriad possibilities in mind: as a base for raiding Spanish ships, as harboring a water route to the East Indies, and as an opportunity for reestablishing Christianity on a purified footing. The encounter of these concepts with the reality that was America--its people, climate, and landscape--is where Kupperman's account thrives, as she explores the experiences of various colonizing ventures, of which Jamestown was but one. Kupperman argues that Jamestown survived by attracting tremendous public interest in England, which translated into sustained supply for a decade, and by a trial-and-error method for motivating settlers through incentives rather than compulsion. A fine contextualization of the oft-told Jamestown epic. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
For people who are looking for a detailed history of Jamestown itself this is not the book. Instead you should perhaps try one of Dr Kupperman's other books. She only gets to the actual founding of the colony in the last two chapters of the book. Instead she discusses the world which brought about the colonization. That is the true purpose of this book and why it is called the Jamestown PROJECT. By placing the story of the colony within the larger background of financial expansion, political maneuvering, and geopolitics, Kupperman makes us very conscious of the contingency of Jamestown. This was not an inevitable event, the precursor to American history. Rather, it was the END of a long series of events and trends which contributed to the settlement there and the way it developed.
Along the way Kupperman takes us on a sweeping journey of the Early Modern world. Her topics range from the waxing and waning of Islamic powers, to the routes of Spanish expansion, to the creation of Caribbean colonies, the continental wars of 16th century Europe, and the life of Native Americans both in America and Europe. All of this is, while at times disjointed, a welcome background to the colonization of Jamestown and reframes the familiar story in illuminating ways. The background explains why the colony was founded the way it was: why did the colonists refuse to grow food? Why did they interact with the Natives the way they did? Kupperman's book is a useful one for anyone interested in the early history of America or the Atlantic world.
Two minor things caught my eye. The author seems to have swallowed John Smith's concocted story about being on death's row when Pocahontas rushed in and saved him. That fairy tale didn't appear in the first edition of his Generall Historie. Subsequently, a real such happening transpired in Florida to a Spaniard, the report of which became widely known in Europe. Smith had a better eye for a good story than for the truth.
The other trivial complaint is the assertion early on that the Plymouth Colony owed its success to the trials and errors of Jamestown, but the point is never developed in the book. Indeed, the author seems to think that the Pilgrim colony is revered because people believe it wrongly to be the earliest successful colonization attempt. But that's not why Plymouth is gets more press than Jamestown. For one thing, the Pilgrims left detailed genealogical records so these are the earliest settlers anyone can prove to be descended from. And because of the Mayflower Compact and the conduct of the colony, the seeds of what America later became were sewn and partly reared. Yes, the Jamestown story is a fascinating one, but for entirely different reasons.
The illustrations in the book are engaging, and I had seen previously only a relatively few of them. Be charmed by the sly expression of the Moroccan ambassador presented to Queen Elizabeth (p. 40), or the pipe-smoking man from a 1595 book (p. 279). This book is good history and good fun.