TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2022
A deeply brutal history: Especially as judged by contemporary standards, the history of the western hemisphere is a vicious and bloody affair.
Consider the contents of an exchange we viewed over the Thanksgiving weekend. The exchange was part of a broadcast of an hour-long interview which took place in late October.
You can watch the entire session thanks to this this C-Span videotape. C-Span describes the event as shown:
Lessons from the First Thanksgiving
Martin DiCaro, host of the Washington Times' “History As It Happens” podcast, talked to historian David Silverman about challenges educators face when teaching about colonialism and the first Thanksgiving. This program was part of the Washington Times taping of its history podcast.
As we noted yesterday, we learned a lot from watching Professor Silverman's hour-long interview session. That said, how brutal is the history in question?
Roughly thirty minutes into the session, consider this exchange:
DICARO (10/27/22): I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself, because as far as I understand, one reason why the trans-Atlantic slave trade in Africans exploded was because it proved impossible to enslave Native Americans for various reasons. But I might be getting ahead of myself.
SILVERMAN: Well, you know, the last 15 years of scholarship, or so, has exploded that idea—
SILVERMAN: —which, you know, which was standard fare in colonial American history courses for a long time.
Like DiCaro, we were surprised to hear that. Silverman continued from there:
SILVERMAN (continuing directly): What we've now discovered is that over the course of the big colonial era—you know, so 16th century all the way through the mid-19th century—Europeans, and then European colonists, enslaved upwards of five and a half million indigenous people—
DICARO: I did not know—
SILVERMAN: Hemispherically, not within the boundaries of the United States. That's about forty percent of the volume of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Assuming Silverman's data are accurate, forty percent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (North and South America combined) involved the enslavement of Native Americans!
As with DiCaro, so too here: We don't think we knew that.
Elsewhere, Silverman noted that the bulk of these enslaved indigenous people were actually taken to Europe, where they were made to work at various tasks. Even so, as he continued, he surprised us again:
SILVERMAN (continuing directly): In North America, in the North American context—so this would be in English, French, Dutch and Spanish colonies—during the 17th century, so during the 1600s, you would have been as likely in a colonial setting, to encounter Native American slaves as Africans.
That will change dramatically in the 18th century, largely because if you're enslaving the people you live near, it's a recipe for chronic war.
"This is depressing. I don't think I want to celebrate Thanksgiving," DiCaro said at this point.
DiCaro was fashioning a rueful joke, but the history is brutal. That's especially true when the history is judged by contemporary moral standards, which are far superior to the moral standards which widely prevailed at that time.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we watched several interviews with Professor Silverman. As we noted yesterday, we were highly impressed by his wide-ranging erudition—though it must be said that we aren't in a position to judge the accuracy of his various factual statements.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but world history tends to be brutal. That's certainly true of the history of the Americas in the age of European colonization—and it was during that age that our struggling nation's so-called "First Thanksgiving" occurred.
As you can see from what's posted above, Silverman's interview with DiCaro was built around a desire to assess the stories which have long been told about that "First Thanksgiving." Back in 2019, Silvermna became the go-to academic on the history of that event when he published a well-received book on the subject:
This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.
Over the weekend, we learned a lot from watching Silverman is several interview sessions. At the same time, we thought we detected the possible hint of a possibly unhelpful tone in some of his attendant writings about that "troubled history."
Back in November 2019, Silverman wrote an essay for the New York Times about that "First Thanksgiving." As we noted yesterday, the headline in the essay said this:
The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth
We stand in awe of the depth of historical knowledge Silverman seems to bring to his work. At the same time, we wonder if a certain slightly unhelpful conceptual framework may perhaps be lurking in that essay for the Times.
Our deeply self-impressed blue tribe has recently embarked on a new tribal culture—a culture we would describe as "the demographication of everything." In part, we call it that to avoid the need to describe it as the racialization of everything, though that would be a reasonably accurate name for this culture as well.
It seems to us that Silverman's essay begins to offer a window onto that emergent cultural framework. Meanwhile, we deeply self-impressed Blues!
It seems to us that we often flounder on the merits when we advance that (deeply heartfelt) new tribal culture. On the politics, it seems to us that we routinely insist on driving voters away when we express our newly heartfelt array of identity-centric dogmas, novelizations, assertions, claims, memorized statements and views.
As an historian, Silverman strikes us as amazingly erudite. When it comes to the politics of our floundering tribe's heartfelt new culture, it seems to us that his essay may possibly point the way to our demise, perhaps from its first sentence on.
Tomorrow: In just its first six words...