H105, American History I, Fall 2023

Writing assignment #1, 4 pages, due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, September 26

•  Your lecture notes from Weeks 2, 3, and 4 (not week 5).

•  Primary source documents on the course website from Weeks 2, 3, and 4 (not week 5).

•  Increase Mather,  A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England, 1676.  [In Files in Canvas.]

   * Read:  title page, pp. 3-8 (“To the Reader”), 9-13 (up to June 29th entry), 70-78 (starting with August 6th entry), 79-89 (“Postscript”).
     [Page numbers refer to text pages, not pdf pages.]

•  For background on “King Philip’s War” see the Reading Guide for Week 4.

In the interval of American history we have covered so far — the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries — there was still considerable confusion, experimentation, struggle, and contingency in the relationships between “Europeans,” “Native Americans,” and “Africans.”  This should make us pay special attention to the perception of human difference between people.  In what ways were people perceived to be different from each other?  In what ways were they perceived to be similar?  In the featured document for this writing assignment, Increase Mather is trying to defend New Englanders not only against charges that they were the ones to blame for “King Philip’s War” in 1675 (by relentlessly stealing land), but also that they had acted barbarically in the conduct of that war.  Meanwhile, Mather must also consider the fact that while many Native Americans in “New England” chose to resist English territorial expansion, some chose instead to ally themselves with the English.  (Right away, you should be able to see that there was NO single story.)

So, were Native Americans indeed deemed different from Europeans?  Or not?  This is the same dilemma expressed in many of the documents we have read so far, as the documents have registered either difference and similarity between “Europeans,” “Native Americans,” and “Africans.”  And it is the very same dilemma that has coursed throughout human history as different cultures have encountered each other in the world.  At times what is most worrisome is not frightening difference, but frightening similarity — especially when one culture is invested in its own superiority yet lacks confidence or security in that superiority.  One sees both of these kinds of anxiety in Mather as in many of the other documents:  the fear of difference, as well as the fear of similarity — i.e., of being supposedly no better, or even supposedly worse.  (It must be noted that one also sees decent people in human history who did not share these fears, who could either accept difference or prioritize similarity.)

Of course, too, no “culture” was monolithic or unified:  not “Europeans,” not “Native Americans,” not “Africans.”  Each of these groups contained people with very different relationships to the dynamics of the early modern Atlantic world.  Many “Africans” were sold into slavery, for instance, but some did the selling.  Many “Native Americans” strove to protect traditional life, but some tried to assimilate into European culture.  Many “Europeans” participated in the dispossession of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, but some dissented.  Be mindful, therefore, that you must be specific about the social groups you are discussing.  Which “Europeans” — mainstream or dissenting?  Which “Native Americans” — assimilated or resisting?  Which “Africans” — enslaved or sellers?  And be sure to remember that “human difference” is always in the eye of the beholder — it is an invention, not any kind of reality — so you must define how every group perceived their notion of what supposedly constituted “human difference.”

So, in this paper I want you to focus on perceptions of human difference as they shifted over time from the early 15th century (1400) to the late 17th century (1700).  That is the general historical problem for you to keep in mind as you write this paper.  But the central question for you to explain is:  Did more kinds of people see more human difference or less human difference over the course of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries?  Answering this question will comprise the main thesis of your paper.

Please note that you cannot respond to this question with a monolithic either/or argument — you must account for both historical dynamism (change over time) and social diversity (variation among people).  Treating this question as a logic problem, you could, for instance, argue that more people were seeing more human difference, but some people were seeing less human difference, by the end of the 17th century.  Alternatively, you could argue that more people were seeing less human difference, and some people were seeing more human difference, between the 15th and 17th centuries.

And be aware that some documents more directly express notions of human difference, whereas other documents indirectly express them.  As we saw in class, a law, for instance, can contain both a reality of similarity and an imposition of difference.  Whether direct or indirect, notions of human difference (and similarity) can be found everywhere in the documents.  Indeed, you will have far too much evidence; therefore one of your tasks will be to choose your most effective evidence.  Note, too, that you must utilize all the sources of evidence available to you:  lecture notes, primary source documents, and the selections from the 1676 Increase Mather text.  If you don’t use a strategic sampling of them, then you have not fulfilled the task of this paper, and such shortcuts will not be appreciated.

Meanwhile, it should be obvious that there is no single right or wrong answer to this question.  Rather, you will be evaluated on your ability to develop a forceful yet nuanced argument in response to the question, to select main themes to organize your analysis into coherent paragraphs, and to provide specific evidence from your lecture notes, the primary source documents, and the 1676 Increase Mather text to substantiate your argument and analysis throughout the paper.

Be sure to footnote the precise source of any quotations, derivative ideas, or uncommon facts.  You should quote from primary documents produced by people in the past (like Sepulveda or John Winthrop) — this is the most persuasive evidence for any historical interpretation.  There is no need to do any outside research; you will have too much evidence to work with already.  See the course website for other guidelines and resources about writing papers.

Sample endnotes/footnotes:
1. Las Casas, 1552.
2. Lecture notes, September 14.
3. Increase Mather, 1676, p. 75.