Printer Friendly

Colonial North America and world histories of power.

A principle difference between the new world history and its predecessors is the desire to avoid Euro centrism and the fear of reifying the "rise of the west." These are laudable goals, but at times they have had the unfortunate effect of encouraging some world historians to attempt to bracket power relationships as outside the bounds of world history. For example, Patrick Manning has opposed narratives of power to those of "interconnection" and "complex interactions" between peoples, and urged world historians to think in terms of community and neighborhood. World historians, he argues, should "go beyond dominance" and "focus on interaction." (1) Yet the historical connections between peoples across the globe have been built on webs of power. Conquest, empire, and conflict are the sinews connecting far-flung peoples. (2) At times, these are relationships of brute strength, but even in the absence of such naked forms of power, we should be wary of creating binaries between dominance and interaction, as though power is something that is either present or absent, something imposed from outside the realm of connection and community. In this essay, I will use the history of colonial North America to suggest that understanding power as a field of interaction and form of connection opens the space for amore generative historiography of empire, capitalism, and the development of the modern world system.

Opposing power to community is what I would describe as a "flat" way of conceptualizing power. "Flat" theories of power underpin several influential world historical efforts to grapple with the question of large scale systems of power. Immanuel Wallerstein's "world systems" approach is perhaps the most prominent of such theories. In Wallerstein's account, the spread of the capitalist world system develops in a near vacuum as it extends itself throughout an expanding world-economy. While individual states, companies, and other social actors may contend for power within the world-system, the system itself expands with little apparent contestation, negotiation, or reinterpretation. It is sovereign, pure, and indifferent. (3) In such a flattened landscape of power, capitalism and western dominance occur mystically and unilaterally. It is precisely this dulling of power and contestation that has lead critics to charge that Wallerstein's ideas leave the narrative of the "rise of west" intact, despite Wallerstein's contention that his ideas emerge from a critique of Eurocentrism. (4)

Significantly, Wallerstein dates the development of the world-system to the sixteenth century and links it to the European conquest of the Americas, which is presented as both a milestone in the globalization of the emergent world-system, and a paradigmatic example of the ease with which the system spread, even in its infancy. A disconcerting number of world historians have similarly framed power relations in colonial America as essentially relations of domination and submission. For instance, Jurgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson have described the "destruction of indigenous political structures," and suggested that power relations in North America had reached "irreversible stability" by the seventeenth century. (5) In the Oxford Handbook of World HKtory, Native Americans scarcely exist and when they do make a cameo appearance, it is very much in the guise of the "vanishing Indians" of nineteenth century historiography. (6) The difficulties world historians have had in retelling the history of colonial North America as something other than domination has led Manning to broach the possibility that the history of Europe and North America might be "outside the scope of world history." For Manning, the new world history comes into being through the opposition of the history of "connections and global patterns" with the history of power as the history of Euro centrism. (7)

I would like to suggest that flat theoretical conceptions of power have kept world historians from recognizing what colonial North America can contribute to world histories of power, empire, and capitalism. Over the past several decades, scholarship on colonial America has substantially challenged the myth of the vanishing Indian and its close kin, the myth of the Indiana spawn in European imperial struggles. The narrative of conquest has given way to anew understanding of empire which stresses the ways in which Indians shaped the contours of the colonial encounter. As ekka Hamalainen and Samuel Truett have observed, "early America ...was less colonial and more native than formerly assumed. Engaging Europe from within networks of indigenous power, Indians played a decisive and frequently unexpected role in the movements of empires and the rise of modern nations." (8) Most of this scholarship has been content to frame itself within the historiography of American or Atlantic history, and has not sought dialogue with historians from other fields. (9) However, it is linked to the work of scholars of other colonial borderlands and "peripheries" of the world system in that it seeks to comprehend power relationships in colonial settings as fields of mobile and transitory contestation, an immanent "multiplicity of force relations." (10) This broadly Foucauldian understandings of power complicates flat notions of power and opens new possibilities for interpreting colonialism, capitalism, and the history of globalization. First, it demands that we consider power as a relationship rather than an object: "power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away," but a name which marks a complex and contested network. (11) A second implication is that power relationships produce more than surplus value. (12) If colonialism is a name for a network of multidirectional contestations, then we need to ask how the world-system itself is produced through these contestations.

No short paper can hope to do justice to such a large question. My intention here is to identify several major facets of colonial North America, with the aim of understanding what they reveal about the dynamics of power in the construction of a shared, if unequal, world. In particular, I will focus on the practices of trade and the languages of diplomacy Both were significant arenas of colonial interaction in North America, and each offer clues about how power relationships effected the "local" constitution of the world-system.

Trade relations were among the first and most durable cross-continental ties between the old world and the new, especially in North America, where the trade in pelts, skins, and slaves brought Indians and Europeans into contact. Over the long-haul, and especially where alcohol became a major trade good, this trade would become a major mechanism of dependence and cause considerable damage to native cultural and political autonomy. (13) However, dependency can be a two-way street, and in the crucial first half-century of colonization, Europeans depended at least as much on the trade as did Indians. Cross-cultural trade was the "economic backbone" of many English and French colonies well into the eighteenth century. (14) The initial survival of New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, Carolina, and the New England colonies depended on the profits of the fur trade. In New York and Pennsylvania, peltry formed the majority of exports until the 1720'sand 1730's, and in the south, the deerskin trade continued to be a large volume economic activity deep into the 1750's. (15) These profits, of course, depended on the extraction of surplus value, and can be readily seen as an instance of "unequal exchange." (16) But value is perspectival, and to the Ottawa or Shawnee trading a bundle of pelts for a rifle, powder, blankets, knives, beads, and cloth, the trade may have seemed equally lopsided. Even if we restrict our discussion of trade to narrow economic terms, trade between Indians and Europeans is ill-defined as a straight-forward path to dependence and exploitation.

More importantly, cross-cultural trade in North America did not function as an economic exchange in any simple way, despite concerted European efforts to constrain it within such a narrow field of signification. As Philip Curtin noted long ago, the fur trade was never conducted according to the economic logic of supply and demand, but instead operated within a field of political, religious, social, and cultural meanings. (17) That trade occurred within this broad field of signification is itself a mark of how deeply Native American norms shaped the meaning of cross-cultural exchange. While trade involved numerous compromises between Native and European ideas about commerce, Europeans came to accept that trade would be conducted through the language of gift-giving and reciprocity, and that the "elaborate arranging of asocial space and the establishment of social relationships within it were inseparable from the trade." (18) The form of trade is ultimately a question of power, and what we see in North America is that capitalism, as practiced in the colonial context, was not a unilateral imposition of an emerging world-system, but instead a hybrid economic form. (19) Trade in the woodlands was a site of contestation between native systems of reciprocity and the logic of market forces, and was conducted within the sphere of politics and alliance. Global capitalism, the avatar of the modern world-system, is of little use in understanding these transactions, and in fact actively obscures the power dynamics at play in North America. (20)

Throughout North America, Indians insisted on linking trade with diplomacy, as a single system of reciprocity between real or fictive kin. (21) While much trade in the Americas consisted of individual Indians and traders bargaining over the value of small amounts of goods, the broader economy of exchange moved through the channels of diplomacy. Gift giving, the ritual exchange of often significant quantities of trade goods between peoples, as opposed to individuals, linked exchange to ideas of reciprocity, and the practice of diplomacy and alliance. Diplomacy was at the center of colonial power relationships, which above all depended on the politics of alliances between the native peoples who controlled access to valuable trading goods, and provided the military power with which Britain and France jockeyed for imperial bragging rights. A full century after North America emerged as a central site of imperial contestation, Europeans exerted direct control over only a small fraction of the eastern part of the continent. The horizon of power was hegemony not dominance, and diplomacy (intimately bounded as it was with economics), not demography or superior military power, was the principle battleground in the struggle to define relations between peoples.

Diplomacy marks the intersection of two major types of power relationships, the linguistic and the institutional, and it is significant that the major diplomatic structures of Native/ European diplomacy during the entire colonial era were largely Indian in both form and content. The most impressive and well-known example is the covenant chain, an Iroquoian system of metaphors, rituals, and institutional structures through which the complex interactions between the British empire and Native peoples throughout the woodlands negotiated war and peace. The metaphoric conventions of the covenant chain shaped European and Native political relations as consensual and balanced, rather than hierarchal and subordinate, and the rituals of the covenant inscribed diplomacy within the realm of reciprocity and generosity, even while they developed the intercultural ambiguity of meaning that allowed all sides the diplomatic fictions of contrasting interpretation. The "covenant chain" certainly paid benefits to the English and French, as it helped to establish at least the promise of centralizing order over the clan and village-based politics of the woodlands. Yet, it was the Iroquois, whose diplomatic traditions framed the covenant chain, who were its prime beneficiaries. The covenant chain provided the mechanism through which the Iroquois leveraged their strategic location between French and British colonies into a central role in the power politics of the eastern continent, and outlasted the Dutch, Swedish, and French colonies in the north east. (22) Though the covenant chain is the most well-known native diplomatic structure, Indian forms of diplomacy were widespread throughout the continent. In the southeast, the Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw all managed to establish the parameters of diplomatic relations. Along the Mississippi and its tributaries, the calumet ceremony set the conventions of native and European diplomacy. (23)

Attention to the actual practices of trade and diplomacy suggests the limits of understanding colonial power primarily as an imposition. Neither natives nor newcomers were autonomous in this colonial world. In the eastern half of the continent, the Seven Years War and the American Revolution would shatter the geopolitical context that had allowed Native Americans to maintain a measure of cultural and political strength by playing European empires against each other, despite the disastrous demographic consequences of the Columbian exchange. (24) Yet, even as native power in the east plummeted at the end of the first colonial era, anew imperial struggle was dawning west of the Mississippi river. Three European powers would seek riches, bragging rights, and hegemony in the Great Plains. The Plains, however, remained Indian country until the era of industrialization, in part because of the rise of nations like the Comanche, Sioux, and the Osage, whom historians are increasingly inclined to see as having built their own empires. Native ideas about trade and diplomacy and the flexibility of native political organization, combined with the adoption of European technologies such as the horse and the gun, made the Great Plains less a terrain of a" struggle for subjugation, survival, and territorial control," than "a multilayered, essentially imperial rivalry over political sway, the control of labor and resources, and spheres of cultural influence," generally at the expense of European powers. (25) Pekka Hamalainen has argued persuasively that considerable areas of New Spain were in effect colonized in the eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century by the Comanche, and Kathleen DuVal has argued that the Osage carved a similarly native empire in the Northern Plains. (26)

Hybrid economic and diplomatic forms, middle grounds, and the native hegemons of the Great Plains cannot be understood if one imagines the world system as a unilateral spreading of power from core to center causing "the elimination of other world-systems as well as the absorption of remaining mini-systems." (27) Wallerstein, of course, recognizes that cores, peripheries, and semi-peripheries are both relative and competitive, but capitalism itself is understood consistently as having spread inexorably and unchanged. The world-system transforms those polities with which it interacts, but is not itself transformed by its incorporations. Historians of colonial North America, like historians of other colonial "peripheries," have increasingly turned away from such flat theories of power, and are developing new ways of understanding the power relationships through which empire and capitalism formed. To date, the possibilities of the new histories largely remain locked within discrete regional historiographies. But, it has become clear that the time of the world system is not empty and homogenous, but is instead fractured by innumerable local and regional struggles. (28) These contestations are neither incidental to the history of large-scale systems, nor are they a uniquely postmodern phenomenon: they are at core of how world historical structures come to be. (29) World historians need to begin the difficult work of framing new global histories of capitalism, colonialism, and modernity as the products of these "local" histories of power.

(1) Patrick Manning, Navigating World History: Historians Create aGlobal Past (New York: Palgrave, 2003), xi, 289.

(2) Among the many sources on empire as a mechanism of cross-cultural contact, see Thomas Allsen, "Pre-Modern Empires," and Prasenjit Duara, "Modern Imperialism, "in Jerry Bentley, ed., The Oxford Handbook of World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Daniel Headrick, Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

(3) Wallerstein's most recent overview of his theory can be found in Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham :Duke University Press, 2004). His most direct discussion of power can be found on pages 53-59. Ranajit Guha's work on the history of capitalism and colonialism in India challenges Wallerstein's account of the history of capitalism, but like Wallerstein, he conceptualizes colonial power in terms of imposition and domination. Ranajit Guha, "Dominance without Hegemony and Its Historiography," in Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies VI: Writings on South Asian History and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

(4) Immanuel Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 55. For critiques of Wallerstein as Eurocentric, see among others, Andre Gunter Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 30, and Dominic Sachsenmaier, "World History as Ecumenical History," Journal of World History 18:4 (December, 2007), 476.

(5) Jurgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson, Globalization: A Short History, trans. Dona Geyer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 45.

(6) See Edward Davies, II, "The Americas, 1450-2000," 509-510, and Alan Karras, "The Atlantic Ocean Basin," who argues, with no apparent irony, that "the process of decolonization in the modernworld began in the Americas, ca. 1776." (537) Both essays are in Bentley, ed., Oxford Handbook of World History.

(7) Manning, Navigating World History, 102, 104.

(8) Pekka Hamalainenand SamuelTruett, "On Borderlands," Journal of American History 98:2 (September, 2011), 347.

(9) This may explain why it has had relatively little impact on world history. A search of keywords within the Journal of World History shows very little engagement, other than the odd book review, with the work of prominent Native American ethno-historians.

(10) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990) 92, and more broadly, 92-102. Given the different temporal and geographic locations from which they have emerged, and the idiosyncrasies of the regional historiographies with which they are engaged, this body of scholarship is as diffuse, mobile, and contested as the general model of power which they share. A highly abbreviated list of these scholars would include: Africanists such as Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) and Frederick Cooper, "What is the Concept of Globalization Good For? An African Historian's Perspective," African Affairs 100 (April, 2001), 189-213, members of the subaltern studies group, who have stressed the fractured and multiple histories of modernity and capitalism, such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 3-20 and in his own way, Guha, "Dominance Without Hegemony," and Pacific historians such as Nicholas Thomas, Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), and many of the contributions in Robert Borofksy, ed., Remembrance of Pacific asts: An Invitation to Remake History (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000). While my interest here is primarily in identifying a certain broadly similar idea of power relations, it is ultimately the differences as much as the similarities between local colonial encounters that makes possible the type of new world histories that I suggest towards the end of this paper.

(11) Foucault, History of Sexuality, 94. See also in this regard, Ann Laura Stoler and Frederick Cooper, "Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda," in Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, eds., Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 6, and Frederick Cooper, "Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African History," in Arif Dirlik, et al, eds., History after the Three Worlds: Post-Eurocentric Historiographies (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), 157-90.

(12) The major positive production of Wallerstein's system is the endless accumulation of capital, which is extracted on the backs of peripheral areas as they are stripped bare. Wallerstein, World-Systems, 24, 59. This idea is even more clearly expressed in the dependency theory of Andre Gunder Frank, who describes the exploited landscape of colonial dependencies having been simplified, mined of surplus-value, and then left to wallow in their underdeveloped state. See Andre Gunder Frank, "The Development of Underdevelopment," in James Cockcroft, Andre Gunder Frank, and Dale Johnson, eds., Dependence and Underdevelopment (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1972).

(13) Richard White, The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 83-6, 121-2.

(14) Colin Calloway, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 14-15.

(15) Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 127; Daniel Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse :the Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 270; Calloway, New Worlds for All, 16; Kathryn Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1993).

(16) Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis, 18; Wallerstein, Capitalist World-Economy, 14-15, 18, 71.

(17) Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 226.

(18) White, Middle Ground, 99; Matthew Dennis, Cultivating a Landscape of Peace: Iroquois-European Encounters in Seventeenth-Century America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 154-179.

(19) Peter Coclanis, "Beyond Atlantic History," in Jack Greene and Philip Morgan, eds., Atlantic History: a Critical Appraisal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 348.

(20) In this sense, I agree with Curtin's implicit that capitalism emerged only in the industrial age, when it displaced the more localized "middle ground" economies of the trade diaspora. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade, 230-54. Curtin's work, however, is usefully complicated by the work of C. A. Bayly, among others, who pose complex questions about the nature of the commodity form, and the relationship between commodities, signification, and economic systems. See, C. A. Bayly, "The Origins of the Swadeshi (home industry): cloth and Indian society, 1700-1930," in Arjun Appaduri, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 285-321.

(21) James Merrell, "Our Bond of Peace: Patterns of Intercultural Exchange in the Carolina Piedmont, 1650-1750," in Gregory Waselkov, Peter Wood, and Tom Hatley, eds., Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 267-304.

(22) On the covenant chain, the most important sources are: Francis Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English Colonies from its beginning to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744 (New York: Norton, 1984); Daniel Richter and James Merrell, eds., Beyond the Covenant Chain: the Iroquois and their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1987); Richter, Ordeal of the Longhouse, esp., 134-144.

(23) See, for example: Gregory Evans Dowd, "Insidious Friends: Gift Giving and the Cherokee-British Alliance in the Seven Years War," in Andrew Clayton and Fredrika Teute, eds., Contact Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750-1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,1998), 114-150; Ian Brown, "The Calumet Ceremony in the Southeast as Observed Archaeologically," in Waselkov et. al, eds. Powhatan's Mantle, 371-419; Kathleen DuVal, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2006), 89-90.

(24) Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 164-74.

(25) Pekka Hamalainen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 201. A similar dynamic may well have been at play in Chile. See Headrick's provocative comparative account of the PlainsIndians and the Araucanians, Headrick, Power Over Peoples, 115-23.

(26) Hamalainen, Comanche Empire, 181-238, 349-50; DuVal, Native Ground, 103-127.

(27) Wallerstein, Capitalist World Economy, 27. Mini systems is Wallerstein's term for the economies of "very simple agricultural or hunting and gathering societies. "These mini systems, heargues, cease to exist at the moment they become tied to empire and lose their self-contained division of labor. Wallerstein, Capitalist World Economy, 5.

(28) The phrase is Benjamin's, who links the concept of empty, homogenous time to the ideology of progress as inevitable and unmarked by struggle. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1988), 261. On this point, see Marshall Sahlins, "Cosmologies of Capitalism," in Nicholas Dirks, GeoffEley, and Sherry Ortner, eds., Culture/Power/History: AReader in Contemporary Social History (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1994), 412-15.

(29) For suggestions that "networked" forms of power are essentially postmodern phenomenon, see Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, "World History in a Global Age," American Historical Review 100:4 (October, 1995), 1045, 1049. See also Bruce Mazlish, The New Global History (New York: Routledge, 2006), 8, 17, and Osterhammel and Petersson, Globaliation, 9, 32.

Dylan Ruediger

Georgia State University
COPYRIGHT 2012 The World History Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Special Section: Commodities in World History
Author:Ruediger, Dylan
Publication:World History Bulletin
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Words:4022
Previous Article:From chocolate to coffee: a history of tropical commodities in the Americas.
Next Article:Asian migrations and diasporas since 1500.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |