Title Reviewed:
American Indian and White Relations to 1830: Needs & Opportunities for Study

Author Reviewed:
William N. Fenton

Dwight L. Smith


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 474-476

Article Type:
Book Review

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American Indian and White Relations to 1830: Needs & Opportunities for Study. By William N. Fenton. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957. Index. $3.00.)

About five years ago the Institute of Early American History and Culture began a series of conferences in Williamsburg to consider possibilities of research into relatively little explored fields and to encourage investigation into areas which need a critical re-examination. This volume, the second in the Institute's "Needs and Opportunities for Study" series, is a result of a conference in 1953 which was devoted to early American Indian and white relations. It is composed of an essay and an extended bibliography.

The basis of discussion for this seminar was a paper by William N. Fenton. Revised, it is now presented as "Indian and White Relations in Eastern North America: A Common Ground for History and Ethnology." The essay is concerned with the problem of charting the twilight zone between the two disciplines by definition and suggestion. Beyond a few suggestions which he labels as "an agenda for mutual assistance," Fenton's appeal for an ethnohistorical approach is primarily bibliographical in nature. Under the titles of "Indian ethnography for historians," "the literature of the council fire," "upstreaming, the method of ethnohistory," and "condolence and calumet, the drama of forest diplomacy," the author weaves his ideas into a bibliographical essay or commentary which serves as a helpful introduction to the formal bibliography which follows.

More than two-thirds of this volume is the collaborative bibliography prepared by Lyman H. Butterfield, Wilcomb E. Washburn, and Fenton. It is annotated and presented under the following headings: reference and bibliographical aids, ethnological literature, historical literature, serials, manuscript sources, documentary publications, and special topics. The last is subdivided into portraiture, literature, songs, art, biography and autobiography, captivities, missions and education, government policy, and the Indian in literature and thought. The most valuable contribution is the thirteen-page section on manuscript sources which is broken down by geographic areas. Aside from the over 1700 entry volume, An Essay Towards an Indian Bibliography, by Thomas W. Field, there is nothing that approaches an adequate bibliography on this general subject. The literature is vast indeed and it would require a shelf full of books like Field to list it all. The purpose of the present work is to be selective and suggestive. Within these defined limits, Butterfield, Washburn, and Fenton have done a commendable job of providing "for the student of history … a guide to important ethnological literature," and "for the student of ethnology … a guide to important historical literature."

Some important developments of a pioneering nature have occurred in the last few years that are defining and publicizing ethnohistory as a field of research and study. Among these are the Newberry Library Conference on Indian Studies and the formation of the Ohio Valley Historic Indian Conference (now the American Indian Ethnohistoric Conference) and the establishment of its journal, Ethnohistory. This book is a significant third step. May it inspire many more.

Dwight L. Smith Miami University

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.