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J.Tompkins, N.Salisbury, and The History of European-Indian Relations Essay

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Updated: Sep 21st, 2021

Introduction

The history of European-Indian relations is to great extent controversial and contradictory, so there exist several perspectives on the events, which occurred after the English began to develop the new territories. J.Tompkins, for instance, alleges her inability to evaluate the nature of this continuous war, referring to the incongruence of historical facts, whereas N.Salisbury’s reasoning moves towards historical generalization. The essay provides a conversation between the two scholars.

Englishmen and a new land

Tompkins, referring to Kuperman as a historian who presents valid facts, writes that “Englishmen inevitably looked at Indians the same way that they looked at other Englishmen” (Tompkins, 1986, p.8). On the other hand, according to N.Salisbury’s essay, ‘English settlers viewed the land and the native population as wilderness void of civilization. Where the English saw “virgin land”, they also saw God’s mandate to appropriate civilize it” (Salisbury, 2000, p. 27). As one can understand, the aspect of religion played a vital role in the relations: the Indians were regarded as ‘barbarians’ or ‘pagans’, in contrast to hierarchically ‘inferior’ English people, who were of the same faith and outlook and therefore didn’t need additional civilization-oriented training.

Furthermore, Tompkins writes: “The statement that the materials on European-Indian relations were so highly charged that they demanded moral judgment…” (Tompkins, 1986, p.8). On the other hand, Salisbury claims that “defeat and dispossession of native peoples” point to the “tragedy in the history of Anglo-Americans’ relations with Indians” ( Salisbury, 2000, p.27). This means, moral account in history is not required, as the most appropriate view can be developed through the prism of the results of the struggle, which appeared to be tragic for both participants of the relations, regardless of their moral ‘virtuousness’ or ‘wrongness’.

Historical relativism

Another important assumption, made by Tompkins: “But it seems to me that when one is confronted with this particular succession of stories, cultural and historical relativism is not a position that one can comfortably assume” (Tompkins, 1986, p.8). On the other hand, Salisbury supports relativist views: “Different cultural groups think, feel and act differently. There are no scientific standards for considering one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another” (Salisbury, 2000, p.30). Accordingly, it is important to understand that most biases of historical truth in this context are ethnocentrism, manifested by the scholars, whose perspectives Tompkins failed to match because the degrees of relativism and ethnocentrism “vary among different historians” (ibid).

Massacre and genocide vs. Peaceful relations

Another controversial opinion is expressed by Tompkins in her description of European-Indian relations as mutual hate: “The phenomena to which these histories testify: ­conquest, massacre, and genocide, on the one hand; torture, slavery, and murder” (Tompkins, 1986, p.8). Salisbury warns readers against such one-sidedness in judgments: “Too often, scholars dismiss as meaningless the goals of peaceful relations with Indians, pronounced in colonial charters by officials and political activists” (Salisbury, 2000, p.32). Hence, although violent armed conflicts prevailed in the relations, it is important to keep in mind the numerous efforts to establish peaceful trade and common diplomatic affairs.

Finally, Tompkins asserts that scientific approaches to the ‘New English-Indian’ situation are incompatible and based upon diverse interpretations of facts, and therefore: “Being aware that all facts are motivated, be­lieving that people are always operating inside some particular interpre­tive framework or other is a pertinent argument when what is under discussion is the way beliefs are grounded” (Tompkins, 1986, p.9). In this sense, Salisbury consents to this opinion and adds to Tompkin’s explanation: “studies have demonstrated, simultaneous longings to live with and without Indians were intrapersonal as well as interpersonal” (Salisbury, 2000, p.33). This means the distortions of historical truth might have been caused by inconsistent and incongruent policies, developed in the period of settlement.

Summary

To sum up, the above-presented conversation between the two scholars indicates the description of historical facts is inseparable from their interpretation so both might have multiple points of difference or divergence.

References

Salisbury, N. English Imperialism and Native America. William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. LVII (3), 2000, pp. 26-35.

Tompkins, J. “Indians”: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History, 1986.

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