The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture

Princeton University Press
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Americans' first attempts to forge a national identity coincided with the apparent need to define--and limit--the status and rights of Native Americans. During these early decades of the nineteenth century, the image of the "Indian" circulated throughout popular culture--in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, plays about Pocahontas, Indian captivity narratives, Black Hawk's autobiography, and visitors' guides to the national capitol. In exploring such sources as well as the political and legal rhetoric of the time, Susan Scheckel argues that the "Indian question" was intertwined with the ways in which Americans viewed their nation's past and envisioned its destiny. She shows how the Indians provided a crucial site of reflection upon national identity. And yet the Indians, by being denied the natural rights upon which the constitutional principles of the United States rested, also challenged American convictions of moral ascendancy and national legitimacy.

Scheckel investigates, for example, the Supreme Court's decision on Indian land rights and James Fenimore Cooper's popular frontier romance The Pioneers: both attempted to legitimate American claims to land once owned by Indians and to assuage guilt associated with the violence of conquest by incorporating the Indians in a version of the American political "family." Alternatively, the widely performed Pocahontas plays dealt with the necessity of excluding Indians politically, but also portrayed these original inhabitants as embodying the potential of the continent itself. Such examples illustrate a gap between principles and practice. It is from this gap, according to the author, that the nation emerged, not as a coherent idea or a realist narrative, but as an ongoing performance that continues to play out, without resolution, fundamental ambivalences of American national identity.

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About the author

Susan Scheckel is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Memphis.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 21, 1998
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Pages
184
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ISBN
9781400822584
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / Native American Studies
Social Science / Indigenous Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Ruth Benedict
"Unique and important . . . Patterns of Culture is a signpost on the road to a freer and more tolerant life." -- New York Times

A remarkable introduction to cultural studies, Patterns of Culture is an eloquent declaration of the role of culture in shaping human life. In this fascinating work, the renowned anthropologist Ruth Benedict compares three societies -- the Zuni of the southwestern United States, the Kwakiutl of western Canada, and the Dobuans of Melanesia -- and demonstrates the diversity of behaviors in them. Benedict's groundbreaking study shows that a unique configuration of traits defines each human culture and she examines the relationship between culture and the individual. Featuring prefatory remarks by Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Louise Lamphere, this provocative work ultimately explores what it means to be human.

"That today the modern world is on such easy terms with the concept of culture . . . is in very great part due to this book." -- Margaret Mead

"Benedict's Patterns of Culture is a foundational text in teaching us the value of diversity. Her hope for the future still has resonance in the twenty-first century: that recognition of cultural relativity will create an appreciation for 'the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence.'" -- from the new foreword by Louise Lamphere, past president of the American Anthrolopological Association

Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) was one of the most eminent anthropologists of the twentieth century. Her profoundly influential books Patterns of Culture and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture were bestsellers when they were first published, and they have remained indispensable works for the study of culture in the many decades
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