Alternate Geographies of Colonialism and Indigenous Land

AHA Session 85
World History Association 4
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Edward F. Countryman, Southern Methodist University

Session Abstract

Indigenous peoples and communities around the world have resisted and persisted in the face of various colonial projects, thereby shaping colonial institutions. Despite shared imperial impulses, on the ground the French, Spanish, and American empires in Algeria, Peru, and the United States projected power in divergent ways. Through the juxtaposition of three archetypal colonial projects, the papers in this panel show how Indigenous groups on three different continents resisted legal and physical encroachment, manipulated the terms of colonial engagement, and wielded colonial institutions to their advantage in protecting their land sovereignty and tenure. These comparisons across time and space invite scholars to consider the roles that Indigenous peoples have played in shaping and, in some cases, circumscribing, the actions of the colonizers.

This panel will engage with persistent questions in Indigenous studies, settler colonial studies, and the history of American foreign relations. Indigenous studies scholars debate the merits of examining different forms of colonialism, while settler colonial studies scholars argue over whether or not Indigenous peoples should be a focus of research within this nascent, but growing, field of interest. Historians of United States foreign relations contest the suitability of framing the United States as an empire akin to those of European powers. The papers comprising this panel enter these long-held debates and suggest that Indigenous and settler colonial studies may be intertwined in productive ways that move both fields forward. Additionally, comparisons across traditional, extractive colonies, such as Spanish Peru, and settler colonies, such as the United States and French Algeria yield significant insights into the nature of Indigenous activities vis-a-vis colonizers.

These studies approach indigenous and colonial land use, the value of land, and the clash of legal systems in innovative ways. Through the use of digital methods and alternate geographies, these papers show that colonial plans remained aspirational as Indigenous peoples petitioned, sued, combated, and participated in projects intent on their submission or erasure. Elana Krischer shows how the Seneca forced the United States to reflect on the extent of its settler project by defining settler constructs, such as sovereignty, property rights, and jurisdiction for themselves through ongoing factional disputes in response to settler encroachment. Jeremy Mikecz employs digital geospatial visualization to examine the ways Indigenous peoples of the Andes shaped land tenure through the Spanish legal system and preserved pre-Hispanic land settlement patterns. Ashley Sanders Garcia uses computational text analysis and close reading to uncover the ways in which Indigenous peoples shaped American and French Algerian settler colonial projects. Together, these papers show why studies of colonial projects cannot be separated from the Indigenous peoples who had a hand in shaping them.

See more of: AHA Sessions