History 231 Reading Guide

Native North Americans:  The first inhabitants of North America

  • Bruce G. Trigger, “Early Native North American Responses to European Contact:  Romantic versus Rationalistic Interpretations,” Journal of American History (JAH) 77.4 (1991): 1195-1215.  JSTOR
  • James H. Merrell, “The Indians’ New World:  The Catawba Experience,” WMQ 3rd ser. 41.4 (1984): 537-565.  JSTOR


  • How does Trigger characterize the conflicts between the two traditional interpretations or theories about the nature of contact for native North Americans—romanticism (or traditionalism, or, in its most recent guise, cultural relativism) and rationalism (or materialism)?
  • What theoretical model does he offer for examining the evolution of interactions between Native Americans and Euro-Americans?  What chronology does he present (and based on what evidence) to make his argument about a “cognitive reorganization”?
  • How does his argument alter our understanding of the nature of contact between Native Americans and Europeans?
  • Merrell focuses on the process of Native American cultural survival for southern piedmont Indians in the post-contact period.  His article provides an opportunity for comparison and contrast with the New England Indians that Cronon describes.
  • How does he characterize the three-stage process by which the Catawba’s “world” was transformed into a “new world”?  What were the consequences of that process for the Catawba?  What strategies did they develop for coping with those changes?