Stephen Warren. The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Maps. 336 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-1173-0.
Reviewed by Deena Parmelee (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-War (February, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
"Most American Indian histories overstate the ruptures of colonialism” (p. 82). With this statement, Stephen Warren places The Worlds the Shawnees Made squarely in the latest generation of scholarship regarding the significance to Native American communities of the permanent arrival of Europeans in North America. This current school of thought stresses that while many things changed with the arrival of Europeans and European communities, other things did not. Changes were not as radical, dramatic, or comprehensive as the previous generation contended. By delineating the connections, and continuity, between pre- and post-contact Shawnee communities, Warren attempts to demonstrate the sociocultural and political ways in which the Shawnees did and did not change with the entrenchment of colonialism. Warren’s placement of his work in this school is his greatest contribution to Native American history scholarship.
Deciphering seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sources for information about Native Americans is always a bit tricky, as Native Americans were generally referred to as “Indians,” without tribal designation. Furthermore, the more familiar the colonial authors of sources were with their subject matter, the less detailed their descriptions were; they knew what, and whom, they meant, and therefore did not provide extensive detail. For scholars, the only solutions to determining which Indians were specifically mentioned in sources are a strong understanding of geography and better-than-passing familiarity with as many sources as possible. Warren demonstrates his mastery of the material by navigating these difficulties well; his Shawnee identifications in the sources are well presented and quite solid. Warren admits that tribal identity can be problematic, which is why he chose to structure this study at the village level, rather than a tribal or national one. The Shawnees, as Warren establishes early on, present a particularly complex picture when it comes to teasing out identity due to their migratory culture and conscious reinvention of themselves after the arrival of Europeans.
For Warren, another important element in discussing Shawnee migrations is his contention that Native religions do not necessarily stem from a specific geographic location. He observes that a landscape may indeed be sacred, but that specific land is not necessarily the source or foundation for Native religions. Warren challenges a current trope in Native American history and anthropology. The “sacred space” paradigm accords with nationally and internationally recognized stereotypes about Native Americans, and provides the basis for politically charged contests still being played out on national and local levels. Warren shows that necessary “sacred spaces,” such as Stomp Grounds, could be—and are—created not by the landscape but by the people, the real source of religion and belief sets. By offering a complication, or challenge, to such an entrenched trope, Warren may well be ushering in a new wave of scholarship.
Given the centrality of travel and migration in this study, identification is particularly important. One of the main arguments here is that the Shawnee formed a conscious pattern of geopolitically driven migrations prior to the arrival of Europeans to North America, and retained it afterward. Unlike many Native American communities of the colonial era, Shawnees had experience with French, Spanish, and English settlers, giving them an advantage over their less migratory neighbors. This is an interesting argument, and well calculated to support Warren’s view that not everything about Native lifeways changed with the arrival of Europeans. Unfortunately, chronology seems to be one of Warren’s weaknesses; shifting polity designations and a narrative that switches between chronological and geographic structure makes linear chronology difficult to track through this work. Perhaps to counter that problem for readers, the book contains several excellent maps to assist in understanding and visualizing Shawnee migrations.
Minor weaknesses in execution, such as the assignment of a confederacy to the Creek several decades before it is a viable term and a lack of understanding about the multiethnic and linguistic nature of Creek communities, do not detract from the contributions of this book. Warren challenges current scholarship in important and potentially significant ways.
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Deena Parmelee. Review of Warren, Stephen, The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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