Kristofer M. Ray on Cherokees, Europeans, and Empire in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1670-1774

On 26 May 2020, the SouthHem team participated in the second of two virtual online events convened by the University of Kent’s Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies (Director, David Stirrup). This event discussed Kristofer M. Ray’s draft chapter from his new book project tentatively entitled Cherokees, Europeans, and Empire in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1670-1774.

The event began with a brief introduction by Ray in which he contextualised his arguments for rethinking standard narratives of polity cohesion in early American history via a detailed study of the dynamic process of the coalescence of imperial, colonial, and Indigenous power. The ensuing discussion of Ray’s work constellated around themes of Indigenous framings of European colonial power, scale and language, and how working in and across Indigenous Studies might productively problematise some traditional disciplinary and period boundaries.  

Expanding Ray’s discussion of the deerskin map by Chickasaw Fanni Mingo as illustrative of the notion of an Indigenous world defined largely by Indigenous polities with pathways of connection to some of the competing European colonies on the margins, Ben Marsh (Kent) emphasised Indigenous understandings of the colonialists with whom they engaged and Indigenous choices about how this understanding was expressed. Marsh noted that the Catawba deerskin map, when read alongside Mingo’s map, accentuates the idea that multiple relational Indigenous worlds co-existed and were used by Indigenous people for multifaceted purposes in the period.

Lara Atkin (Kent) noted some links between Ray’s current project and Kate Fullagar’s new monograph The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire (2020), including themes of scale and ideas about subjecthood. Considering the variety of scales evoked by both scholars (for example, continent, country, region, clan, nation, empire, settlement, and colony) and the often slippery terms used in the primary material to describe and name connections of commerce and alliances amongst polities, these linguistic-scalar issues affect how scholars try to understand the affiliations suggested by sources, as well as how they write about historical polities within the context of contemporary communities and their struggles for sovereignty.  

Another key theme that emerged through the discussion was the extent to which Critical Indigenous Studies challenges traditional boundaries within academic fields. Fullagar (Macquarie) raised the question of why so many books interested in reclaiming Indigenous stories of the eighteenth century stop at the American Revolution. If part of the analytical power of Critical Indigenous Studies lies in its ability to challenge the thinking of traditional narratives that reproduce conventional period boundaries, Fullagar suggested that scholars might productively traverse the discomfort of going beyond the American Revolution in order to assess their argument’s persuasiveness once it is extrapolated beyond traditional end points.

Dr. Megan Kuster
ERC Postdoctoral Fellow, SouthHem

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