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What was helpful to me:
1) His frank embrace of landscape and bioregion as an appropriate unit of analysis. I work between rivers as well, so figuring out exactly what to call this place in a way that does not anticipate how it will be carved up in the future is a struggle I had more or less given up on at the time I defended, but I’m ready to take it on again.
2) His observations about politics on the ground — which strike me as common-sense, but it’s where my head is at as well, so it’s nice to see how well this plays in a book-length work.
3) His characterization of the first groups of Americans. They are sometimes even the same people, but even when they are not, they have similar actions and attitudes. I feel more confident that I am reading them correctly.
Things I can do better:
1) I don’t think he understands the French very well because he’s trying to leave them French rather than the amalgamated Francophonic group I perceive them to be. I think he’s been hanging around with Jay Gitlin (who also writes about the French as transplanted rather than transformed) a little too much. Maybe my position as a relatively isolated scholar (which I’ve been seeing as a great liability) will help me be a little more independent and fresh in my interpretation.
2) Gender, rather obviously and glaringly.
3) Possibly, ethnographic interpretation. Sometimes I got the feeling that he was just recapping someone else’s work on the inter-river peoples and that while it was incumbent on him to acknowledge and demonstrate their control of the region, he hadn’t really deeply thought about how their ideas of belonging and power and commerce, etc were also in flux. It’s a critique that I’ve had with some of his earlier work on borderlands as a theory and I’m still skeptical that the whole idea of a borderlands is useful if what you really are interested in is telling the history of American Indian people. It feels overdetermined — like it anticipates the eventuality of a national endpoint and it’s just a theoretically useful concept to include Indians as limited agents in a story about the regrettable extinguishing of their sovereign power.
So, that happened. I’m working on and thinking about the mss every day, which was my goal. I may not be “doing” as much (new writing, reorganizing), but I’m at least applying my ass to my desk chair and seeing what happens.
This is the week of baby steps. And hey, I’ve almost tottered over to the coffee table!
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