"A splendid inquiry into, and analysis of, the process whereby white adventurers and the white middle class fabricated the Indian to their own advantage. It deserves a wide and thoughtful readership."
—Chronicle of Higher Education
"A compelling and definitive history...of racist preconceptions in white behavior toward native Americans."
—Leo Marx, The New York Times Book Review
Using the records of missions to sixteen tribes in various regions of the United States, Berkofer has carefully followed the hopeful efforts of sixty-five years. The ultimate outcome, when the Civil War brought most of the missions to an end, was only a nominal conversion of Native Americans, despite the unflagging optimism of missionaries struggling against cultural barriers.
The book opens up new perspectives on important problems of power, in particular the idea and practice of accountability. In a violent society, medieval lords tried to delegate power rather than share it—to get their men to prosecute justice or raise money legitimately, rather than through extortion and pillage. Robert F. Berkhofer III explains how subordinates were held accountable by abbots administering the extensive holdings of Saint-Bertin, Saint-Denis, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Père-de-Chartres, and Saint-Vaast-d'Arras. As the abbots began to discipline their agents and monitor their conduct, the "day of reckoning" took on new meaning, as customary meeting days were used to hold agents accountable. By 1200, written and unwritten techniques of rule developed in the monasteries had moved into the secular world; in these practices lay the origins of administration, bureaucratic power, and governance, all hallmarks of the modern state.