THE SOURCE: “Second Thoughts on Colonial Historians and American Indians” by James H. Merrell, in the William and Mary Quarterly , July 2012.
Native Americans number in the millions today, and their colonial-era ancestors often tended large farms and lived in settlements across a broad swath of North America. But you wouldn’t know that from reading most contemporary scholars’ work, says James H. Merrell, a historian at Vassar College.
Merrell, who pioneered a new understanding of Native Americans in books such as The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors From European Contact Through the Era of Removal (1989), argues that even many of the best-intentioned historians cling to a flawed vocabulary that distorts our view of history. Largely inherited from the colonial era, today’s terminology is an obstacle to accurately describing what is now known about early America.
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