THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2022
Then too, there's his point of view: As we've noted in the past few days, David Silverman strikes us as a highly erudite scholar.
He also strikes us as someone with a bit of a point of view.
Needless to say, there's nothing wrong with having a point of view, until such time as there possibly is. In the case of Professor Silverman, it seems to us that his point of view may not be especially sharp, and may not be massively helpful.
Let's provide some quick review! As we noted on Monday, Silverman is a professor of Early America and Native America at George Washington University.
His official bio lists four areas of expertise: Native American [sic], Colonial and Revolutionary America, the Early Modern World, and Imperialism and Colonialism.
The bio also says that he specializes in a fifth area—"American racial history." In 2019, he published a fascinating book, a book which carries this title:
This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving
In November of that year, he published an essay in the New York Times addressing that "troubled history." According to the headline which appears on that piece, the history in question was more than troubled:
The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth
That headline suggests that the history in question was vicious. As we've noted in recent days, a great deal of human history is.
Silverman's essay in the Times was full of information. As we've noted, he strikes us as a highly erudite scholar.
The essay also suggests the point of view to which we've referred—a point of view which is more apparent in his (highly informative) book. It seems to us that this point of view employs our blue tribe's "demographication rules," a set of precepts we'll only be able to hint at in the two days remaining this week.
In print editions, the headline on Silverman's essay was slightly different. "The Vicious Myth of Thanksgiving," that version of the headline said.
In that headline, a certain "myth" was vicious, not the reality behind the myth.
For the record, we don't know if Silverman played any role in composing the headlines which sat above his piece. We would suggest that the person who composed the headlines may have been playing by our blue tribe's routinely unhelpful rules.
At any rate, the essay in the New York Times started as shown below. In print editions, the essay appeared on November 28, 2019—Thanksgiving morning itself:
The Vicious Myth of Thanksgiving
Generations of Americans have told themselves a patriotic story of the supposed first Thanksgiving that misrepresents colonization as consensual and bloodless.
The story goes like this:...
Already, we'd offer one bit of advice to our blue tribe's tribunes and spokespersons. When we refer to something "Americans" are currently doing or are said to have done, Americans should probably be referred to as us, not as them.
Setting that suggestive matter to the side, we already see several points suggesting the author's point of view. For example, in telling the tale of that supposed first Thanksgiving, have Americans really been "misrepresent[ing] colonization as consensual and bloodless?"
A bit later, Silverman specifically refers to "Americans’ grade school Thanksgiving pageants" as one of the places where this story has been told.
We'll guess we attended a few of those pageants, growing up in Massachusetts as we did. That said, were those pageants really intended to "misrepresent colonization" in the way Silverman describes?
Indeed, were those pageants meant to convey any particular impression of "colonization" at all? Did they convey any such impressions? We're not all that sure that they did!
(Also, was the story told at those pageants really meant to be "patriotic?" We're not entirely sure that it was. It may depend on your current point of view.)
In our view, Silverman is highly erudite. But even as we read that opening paragraph, we wonder if we're being offered a description which derives, at least in part, from a certain point of view.
Tomorrow, we'll try to define the point of view which seems to prevail in Silverman's extremely erudite book. For today, we're going to engage in a bit of editing.
What traditional story has been told at those grade school pageants? Right at the start of his essay, Silverman offers an account of that story—but it seems to us that he lards his account with quite a few sardonic insertions, sardonic insertions which come to us straight outta point of view.
Below, we show you how his essay would have started absent those insertions. Had we offered an initial edit, his piece would have started like this:
The Traditional Thanksgiving Myth
Generations of Americans have told a story of the supposed first Thanksgiving.
The story goes like this: English Pilgrims cram aboard the Mayflower and brave the stormy Atlantic to seek religious freedom in America. They disembark at Plymouth Rock and enter the howling wilderness equipped with their proto-Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, and the confidence that they are God’s chosen people. Yet sickness and starvation halve their population during the first winter and challenges their faith.
Meanwhile, the neighboring Indians, with whom the English desperately wish to trade for food, keep a wary distance. Just when Plymouth seems destined to become another lost colony, the Natives make contact through the interpreters Samoset and Squanto. The sachem (or chief) even agrees to a treaty of alliance with Plymouth.
Over the spring and summer, the Indians feed the Pilgrims and teach them how to plant corn; the colony begins to thrive. In the fall, the two parties seal their friendship with the first Thanksgiving.
As for what happens to the Indians next, this story has nothing to say.
There you see the start of Silverman's essay as we might have edited it. For the record, we haven't added a single word to the copy which appeared in the Times. We've merely dropped the various elements which introduce a certain point of view.
Americans, can we talk? Absent insertions of point of view, Silverman's account of that traditional story strikes us as perfectly accurate. (We left in the part about "God's chosen people," though we don't know for sure that it's true.)
As far as we know, that is the story of the (supposed) first Thanksgiving which third graders have often been told. And might we add a further note?
The neighboring Indians, with whom the Pilgrims ally, come off extremely well in this traditional story!
In the traditional story as fashioned by Silverman, the Pilgrims have already suffered a staggering amount of death by starvation. (We're not sure that literal death by starvation was heavily stressed at those pageants.) But just when it seems that the colony is going to fail, these Natives comes forward to help and establish a friendship, letting the Pilgrims survive.
In this traditional story, the neighboring Indians are, in effect, the generous heroes of the piece. According to Silverman, "As for what happens to the Indians next, this story has nothing to say."
Without any question, that last observation is accurate. But every story has to end somewhere, and this traditional story—a story told to second and third graders—has always ended on a rather upbeat note.
Silverman wants to tell the rest of the story. We strongly agree that he should! But in his essay in the Times, was he telling the rest of the story in a helpful, or even a sensible, way?
We're not super-sure that he was.
Alas! As often happens when our floundering tribe begins applying our demographication rules, it seems to us that Silverman is inclined to approach this Thanksgiving story in a way which does no one much good.
Can it be that harm results from such inclinations? We think it quite possibly could!
Tomorrow: One commenter spoke about Silverman's essay and "a monster like Trump"