History 231 Reading Guide

Discussion:  The Contact Of Cultures

  • William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983).


  • “How did things get to be this way?” (p.171)
  • How does Cronon craft the questions that he asks about change, process, and progress?
  • How does Cronon structure his discussion and analysis?  How does he periodize and characterize the evolution of New England between 1600 and 1800?
  • According to Cronon, why did the European economic system come to dominate in New England?  Why did Native Americans get involved in the European economy?
  • How does his account of the “different ways of living” of Native Americans and Europeans help us understand both the “different ways of seeing” and the different consequences for New England ecosystems of Native American and Euro-American economies, societies, and polities?
  • How does ecological history (or environmental history) change the way that we ask and answer questions about the past?
  • Cronon (1983), James Merrell (1984), and Bruce Trigger (1991) each describe significant changes over time in the relationships between Native Americans and Euro-Americans. Merrell argues that the Catawba’s “new order” arrived in three distinct yet overlapping stages during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Trigger argues that a cognitive reorganization, that occurred during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, altered Native American responses and interactions to Euro-Americans. How do their models of change clarify, support, or challenge Cronon’s account of change from 1600 to 1800?