American Indians Essay

706 words - 3 pages


“’Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History';, an essay written by Jane Tompkins, a professor of English at Duke University, outlines Tompkins dissatisfaction on how American Indians are portrayed throughout history. As children, we are taught that in “1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue';, and that Peter Minuet bought all of Manhattan Island from the Indians for only twenty-four dollars worth of trinkets. In high school, we were taught that in World War II, the Germans were all heartless savages, and that the best course of action to end the war was to use the atomic bomb on Japan. It is seen that “the victor writes the history books.'; In other words, the dominant cultures and societies that conquer and overshadow lesser societies have the privilege of writing history. For example, if Germany won World War II, would the history books have mentioned the holocaust of the Jews? The problem with history is that history is defined in terms of the author’s point of view. There is no scientific process by which history is written; therefore we must discern what is the real truth versus someone’s biases and point of view. “The problem is that if all accounts of events are determined through and through by the observer’s frame of reference, then one will never know, in any given case, what really happened,'; (Tompkins, 410).
     Tompkins researched several historians’ works, and in her research, she identified several problems in the interpretive practices of these historians. Tompkins began her research of the misrepresentation of American Indians with Perry Miller’s book Errand into the Wilderness. In his book, Miller writes, “the massive narrative of the movement of European culture into the vacant wilderness of America.'; This passage from Miller’s book provokes a shocking response from Tompkins. Tompkins is shocked that Miller referred to America’s wilderness as “vacant.'; It is obvious that upon the arrival of European settlers to America, the settlers encountered the Indians at some point in time. Thus, America’s wilderness wasn’t “vacant.'; Miller fails to observe the presence of the Indians. From his own personal experiences with the vast wilderness in Africa, Miller correlates that experience to the experiences...

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