Lewis and Clark did not bring the West intoWhere does American history begin? The term American history more often than not refers to the history of the United States, rather than to all of North America, let alone the Americas—something about which my teenage son was ranting last night: “What about Canada, Mexico, and South America? Isn't
U.S.history, they brought the into western history. United States
Colin G. Calloway, One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark, 2003
We did not come to the
at all. The United States came to us. United States
Luis Valdez, Aztlan, 1972
The story often begins with Columbus and Indians. It might begin with
Morison concluded that people began crossing into
The Bering land-bridge hypothesis did not originate in archeology, as that science was still far in the future when José de Acosta wrote Historia natural y moral de las
American history could begin with speculative accounts of migrations through a land-bridge, and with alternate theories of water routes. Such narratives would need to delve into the science of archeology and related disciplines, such as methods of garnering evidence of human migrations from comparative linguistics. On the other hand, American history could begin with Native stories of origins as Vine Deloria, Jr. recommends in Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (1995). As Colin Calloway points out in the epigraph above, there was a long history of peoples in
The very remote history of all nations is disfigured with fable, and gives but little encouragement to distant enquiry, and laborious researches. … From the most exact observations I could make in the long time I traded among the Indian Americans, I was forced to believe them lineally descended from the Israelites, either while they were a maritime power, or soon after the general captivity; the latter however is the most probable.
James Adair, The History of the American Indians, 1775
Many writers past and present have stressed American exceptionalism—the notion that the
is a light to the world, the world’s best hope. Despite such quasi-religious assumptions, or even explicitly religious arguments, these writers do not write their stories with the sort of language found in the B'reshit or Bərêšîth, the first of the books of the Torah. Even if they started in such a manner, we are unlikely to find such sentences as these: United States
In the beginning of American history, the land was occupied. As Europeans began to arrive, lands and peoples were transformed; nations vanished and new nations were born.
We do find frequent efforts to draw upon Hebrew scriptures in order to frame the American story of the past. James Adair’s view that American Indians were descended from
neither found adherents in his day nor in ours unless we consider the impact of Joseph Smith imbibing the idea, and then promoting it through his sacred text. On the other hand, Cotton Mather’s expression of the Puritan colony as a “New English Israel” has produced many proselytes. In Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), Mather expressed his sense of the purpose of the colony of New England: a sense of mission akin to that uttered in 1630 by John Winthrop as he drew upon Matthew 5:14 for his sermon to the recently arrived Puritans that soon would overwhelm the Separatists whom had arrived on the Mayflower. Mather wrote: Israel
This at last is the Spot of Earth, which the God of Heaven Spied out for the Seat of such Evangelical, and Ecclesiastical, and very remarkable Transactions, as require to be made an History; here ‘twas that our Blessed Jesus intended a Resting-place, must I say? Or only an Hiding-place for those Reformed CHURCHES, which have given him a little Accomplishment of his Eternal Father’s Promise unto him; to be; we hope, yet further accomplished, of having the utmost Parts of the Earth for his Possession?
Mather, Magnalia, 122-123, emphasis in original
Rush Limbaugh interviewed Larry Schweikart, author of A Patriot’s History and published the interview in The Limbaugh Letter (March 2005). This interview is reprinted in the updated version of A Patriot’s History. Limbaugh asked Schweikart about his view of American exceptionalism. Speaking for himself and for co-author Michael Allen, Schweikart was clear: “We believe that
was a city set on a hill” (xv). He continues by asserting that all of the English colonies, except America , were religious colonies. His central point is that the Jamestown has “a Judeo-Christian basis. We [the U.S. ] embrace private property rights, and we are a democratic republic” (xvi). We are to understand that God did the setting. U.S.
The first sentence of the narrative in A Patriot’s History reflects this bias. “God, glory, and gold—not necessarily in that order—took post-Renaissance Europeans to parts of the globe that they had never before seen” (1). From there the first two pages of narrative give an account of the influence of Marco Polo, ancient trade routes to
Cathay, and developments in technology: the Arabs’ astrolabe, Viking hull construction, and sternpost rudders from the Baltic coast. They note also the growth of European monarchies, mercantilism, and the rift between Protestants and Catholics “that reinforced national concerns” (2). After a brief timeline of twenty-one events from the four voyages of Columbus to the Salem witch hunts, they resume the narrative with three paragraphs concerning Prince Henry of . Portugal
In contrast to A Patriot’s History, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History opens with a description of the actions of Natives: “Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat” (1). Zinn goes on to emphasize Native hospitality and “belief in sharing,” suggesting “[t]hese traits did not stand out in the
Europe of the Renaissance” (1). He also mentions Marco Polo and the silks and spices of Asia, as well as political developments of monarchies. He offers less preliminary context to the voyage of Columbus, but does mention the relative distribution of wealth in , “2 percent of the population … owned 95 percent of the land” (2). Spain
Both books begin with the voyages of
, and each constructs this story in a manner consistent with the authors’ overall purpose. Schweikart and Allen labor to promote a Judeo-Christian based sense of national mission; Zinn aims to highlight racial and class inequalities, as well as “fugitive moments of compassion” (11) from which we might craft our future. Columbus