Betty Wood on the Europeans' reaction to Native Americans
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Q: When the Europeans first came to the New World it was much more Native Americans that they were trying to work into their vision of what this new society would be. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that?
A: I think the English began to encounter Native Americans and West Africans more or less simultaneously in the middle years of the 16th century, but developed rather different stereotypes of these two peoples. In the case of Native Americans, what the English and other European powers had to explain was, how did these people actually reach the New World? What were their origins? And one of the favorite explanations was that Native Americans were one of the lost tribes of Israel, and that Native Americans could scarcely be blamed for the fact that they had, as it were, in the mists of time, been lost from the process of European civilization. When the English actually saw Native Americans, they saw people who, for various reasons, they thought were not entirely dissimilar from themselves, in terms of their skin color, in terms of their facial features, in terms of their hair and so on. These people, the English argued, could never become equal as English people, but they could, through English tuition, through various devices, be brought further up the ladder of civilization as the English were defining civilization. Betty Wood
Professor of History
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