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Comancheria': Empire, Local Indigenous Resistance, or Novel

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Micaela Young

on 25 September 2013

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Transcript of Comancheria': Empire, Local Indigenous Resistance, or Novel

Comancheria': Empire, Local Indigenous Resistance, or Novel Societal Structure?
Comanche Voice and Perspective
Hamalainen acknowledges past historical accounts that omitted indigenous voice at the cost of fictionalizing the indigenous identity beyond recognition, or "submerging Comanche traits under crude blanket definitions of Indians in general and Plains Indians in particular, (14), and yet he cannot escape the very same accusation. Perhaps the difficulty comes from the previously discussed problem of scant and incomplete sources, and partly from his self-admitted "side-streaming" or deducing interpretations about Comanche cultural values from generalized models of Native societies of the Great Plains and other regions" (14).

Do you think the Comanche perspective is believable and/or authentic, and what do you make of statements like (discussing a violent Ute-Spaniard attack on Comanches), "according to Comanche social code, a man's honor depended on his ability to protect and expand his kinship network, and losing one's wife or children to enemies was a source of unbearable shame, resulting in a loss of masculine respect" (52). Would 18th or 19th century Comanches conceive of gender the same way he or his source, Jane Fishburne Collier, a Stanford anthropologist would?
Other Considerations: Geophysical Scale, and (mis)Appropriation of Terms
Scale: The ascendency of the Comanche nation or Comancheria is fueled by access to expansive bison herds and other agricultural resources, adoption of European technologies, and the organization of societies with proscribed roles leading to explosive population growth. The Comanche Empire's footprint covered the southern plains namely Texas, New Mexico, Northern Mexico, and Louisiana. Compared to Spanish colonial activity in the Americas, does the issue of scale negate the author's assertion that the Comanche nation was an "empire"?
The Conclusion: The Real Comancheria and Authentic Voice
Hamlainen makes a strained effort to convince us of Comanche-Spanish likeness, so much so that the text becomes a labor to navigate, and not until we reach the conclusion do we see the clear and surprisingly powerful ways that Comanches differed from the Spaniards. It was in their difference that their power resided, not their sameness. Throughout the book the author tries to convince us otherwise and finally concedes, "even though Comanches managed to reverse Europe's material, technological, and organizational superiority, they did not try to use that advantage to create a mirror image of European imperialism." p. 349.
The payoff of a successful premise is significant; if Hamalainen succeeds in convincing readers that in fact, "the Comanche exodus to the southern plains is one of the key turning points in early American History," and that the Comanche people rivaled, if not overpowered major colonial powers such as Spain, Britain, and France, then the legacy of the American Indian as destined to be defeated could be revised with the potential to alter both the present and future condition of native peoples. Hamalainen concedes that the intent for the text was to "recover Comanches as "full-fledged humans and undiminished actors underneath the distorting layers of historical memory and in doing so, to provide a new vision of a key chapter of early American history" (pg. 345). So what do we do with the evidence that Hamalainen's sources are potentially flawed or as he states, "the available sources are thus almost invariably infected with gaps, accidental misreadings, and intentional misconstructions, leaving historians to work with material that is fragmentary at best and outright erroneous at worst." (pg. 13). Where do you see these "gaps" becoming problematic? (hint: pg. 40, 49, 103, 104 to name a few)


Societal design with coherent internal logic and purpose, pg. 12
Use of technologies and livestock as material advantages
Responsible for "explosive territorial conquests," pg. 55
Capable of large-scale violence, subjugation of people, and occupation of lands, pg. 69, 71, 90...
In Foucaultian terms, capable of establishing deep cultural fears sight unseen, pg. 100,
Smaller scale expansion (southern plains vs. Americas) of territory, ostensibly to "effectively control lands beyond grasslands without abandoning their way of life" pg. 14, 65, 352.
Subjected themselves to "continuous self-reinvention" in order to position themselves to take advantage of new markets, resources, and ecologies. pg. 65, vs. Spaniard adherence to cumbersome paternalistic policies and bureaucracies.
Relied on economic practices that benefited them although they appeared incoherent to colonists (trading and theft, raids).
To accept Hamalainen's claim that similar to colonial superpowers of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth century, the Comanche nation ruled the North American Southwest, and that during this time period the "Southwest was unequivocally a Comanche creation, an indigenous world where intercolonial rivalries were often mere surface disturbances on the deeper, stronger undercurrent of Comanche imperialism," we must clear out the heavy branches in our view. These are the recurring questions of reliable sources, authentic Comanche voice and perspective, and other considerations such as geophysical scale and appropriation of modern terms.
Terminology: Deciphering intentions, assessing values, and trying to recapture in-the-moment feelings does little to thrust the author's argument for the Comanche Empire as an organized, coherent political unit. The absence of a true, authentic Comanche voice is also nudged out by modern, militarized terminology that occasionally brushes against high-level academese.

Hamalainen's dramatized language situates the Comanche reality in a modern context where it often does not belong. We understand that his intent is to elevate the Comanche political status to that of other colonial forces, but it is unlikely that even 18th or 19th century military personnel used terms like "Native American arms race" (73), "key players," or "foreign political trajectories" (50) or for that matter, "Comanche Empire." Do you think his use of language helps or harms his argument?
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