Accomodation and Common Meaning between Clashing Cultures: Indians and Europeans

The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815
By Richard White
Cambridge University Press, 2010 (20th Anniversary Edition)
576 pages, $33.99 paperback

¶ In the first chapter, the author quotes historian Eric Wolf: “Human populations construct their cultures in interaction with one another, and not in isolation.”

In the eastern Great Lakes region, the interaction between the various Indian tribes (dominantly the Iroquois, but also Hurons, Eries, and Algonquins) and French traders in the 1600s “pieced together a new world.” This book begins with the “often horrific fragments left by the shattering of the old,” wrought by wars between tribes, ravaging epidemics of diseases carried by Europeans, and the clash of cultures which eventually resulted in cooperation and “co-creation” of new cultures that pushed relentlessly westward.MiddleGround

“It was a desperate world where accidental congruencies and temporary interests became the stuff from which to forge meaning and structure,” White says.

Middle-ground alliances were established, then destroyed when English-speaking traders and settlers migrated west, then established again by Chief Pontiac and the British in 1766 — but only after Pontiac’s Ottawas warred against British occupation after the French and Indian War (1754-1763), in which the Ottowas supported the French.

Despite the history of conquest and assimilation, this book is about “a search for accommodation and common meaning.” The first edition of The Middle Ground was a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize. The author, a history professor at Stanford University, is considered one of the nation’s leading scholars in both Native American history and environmental history.

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