In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Native American Histories in North America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Race
  • Slavery
  • Warfare and Warriors

Atlantic History Native American Histories in North America
Susan Sleeper-Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0157


The involvement of Indian activists in the public protests of the 1960s and 1970s offered dramatic evidence about the persistence of Indians. Both popular and scholarly perceptions of Indians changed, and this shaped the evolution of a new Indian history. Robert F. Berkhofer, a well-known scholar, called for historians to focus on issues of persistence and not demise. His call to write a new Indian history paralleled a growing scholarly emphasis on community studies, which looked at history from the bottom up. These community studies generally focused on the colonial period, and most colonial historians tended to focus on New England. Thus, it was this region initially that attracted the greatest amount of research attention. But most Indians live in the West, and their activism made it obvious that historians needed to focus on that region. With the work of scholars like Howard Lamar, a Western history emerged that more fully focused on Indian agency. Western history took a second dramatic transformation in a 1990s movement that advocated a new Western history and incorporated Hispanics, Latinas, and women as well as Indians. This new direction included a new geographical emphasis that focused on borderlands where European empires interacted with Indians. The year 1992 signaled the emergence of the Southwest as part of the new Western history when David J. Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America (Weber 1992, cited under Southwest), won the Western History Association book prize and Ramón Gutiérrez won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians for When Jesus Came, The Corn Mothers Went Away (Gutiérrez 1991 cited under Southwest). Within the decade, understanding the Southwest became integral to understanding Indian history and the West. An increased emphasis on science in the last decades of the 20th century brought an increased awareness of how biological developments affected the outcomes of encounters between Indians and Europeans. This direction appealed to many historians, for it appeared to objectively explain the triumph of Europe without reference to human behavior. Historians critical of this deterministic approach triumphed the new field of environmental history, which came to the fore with William Cronon’s Changes in the Land (Cronon 2003, cited under Biology and Conquest) and now produces some of the most innovative work in the field of Atlantic history, with work on North America as well as Mexico and the Caribbean. Atlantic history initially focused on interaction with the English, but increasingly, other European powers became crucial to a more nuanced understanding of imperial and colonizing processes. By the 1990s, Spain, France, the Dutch, and the Swedes garnered increased scholarly attention.

General Overviews

Few scholarly works provide an overview of Indian history; one of the earliest and most significant is Nash 2010. This classic work inspired many followers, including James Axtell (Axtell 1981), whose anthropological and historical insights shaped the field of ethnohistory. Overviews of Indian history are limited by the diversity of Indian peoples. Instead, Indian history is notable for reference works, such as the widely respected Smithsonian’s Handbook of North American Indians (Sturtevant 1978–2008), which summarizes precontact and postcontact cultures by specific region. Among the multiplicity of textbook volumes, one of the most significant is Edmunds, et al. 2007. Other textbooks approach Indian history topically, incorporating both primary and secondary sources, such as Hurtado and Iverson 2001. Edited volumes also provide broad overviews; most suitable for understanding the Indian perspective on encounter is Calloway 1994.

  • Axtell, James. The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

    Collection of ethnohistorical essays in which Axtell explores the cultural adjustments of encounter and explores a wide range of issues: Native funerals, religious practices, education, guerrilla warfare, moccasins, and a multiplicity of other issues. He explores a number of popular myths, such as scalping, and in conjunction with William Sturtevant shows how this practice preceded the arrival of Europeans.

  • Calloway, Colin G. The World Turned Upside Down: Indian Voices from Early America. Boston: St. Martin’s, 1994.

    Collection of original documents that focuses on the Northeast and attempts to provide voices of Indian people during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Indian-authored documents generally speak to the changes in their lives following encounter, while those composed by Europeans are more descriptive of Indian cultures.

  • Edmunds, R. David, Frederick E. Hoxie, and Neal Salisbury. The People: A History of Native America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

    Provides detailed information about Indians in a chronologically based narrative format that spans the period from precontact to the present day. This narrative is written from an Indian perspective.

  • Hurtado, Albert L., and Peter Iverson. Major Problems in American Indian History: Documents and Essays. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

    This text contains primary source readings as well as interpretative essays by historians.

  • Nash, Gary. Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America. 6th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010.

    Examines how people from widely disparate cultural backgrounds interacted over four centuries. Acculturation failed to produce one people, and this book focuses on the Indians and African Americans who lost their freedom, sovereignty, and land. Relies on research-based information about demography, sex ratios, environmental conditions, and cultural situations of the New World, rather than Old World heritage, to explain the determinants of change.

  • Sturtevant, William C., ed. Handbook of North American Indians. 20 vols. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978–2008.

    Volumes are arranged regionally, topically, and temporally. Volumes 5–15 cover the history and culture in each of the cultural areas of North America. Volume 4 is frequently consulted because it addresses the history of Indian-white relations. Each volume contains an extensive bibliography of all materials referred to by the authors, and these detailed lists are crucial to beginning scholars.

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