Reviews

Kate Flint. The Transatlantic Indian, 1776-1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. ISBN13: 978-0-691-13120-7. Price: US$39.50/£27.95[Notice]

  • Caroline Levine

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  • Caroline Levine
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

Many scholarly books have short life-spans, appealing to critics for a brief burst of time before their arguments start to feel dated. Only a few unusual books remain invaluable resources. So it has been with Kate Flint’s The Woman Reader (1993), which continues to be read and cited with a frequency that shows no sign of abating. And so it will surely be with her new book, The Transatlantic Indian. In part Flint claims lasting power through her scrupulous and wide-ranging research, which brings together an astonishingly rich storehouse of materials for the use of future scholars. The Transatlantic Indian points us to surprising, intriguing, and little-known nineteenth-century materials on almost every page. But Flint’s work also endures because it does not merely contribute to existing fields—it launches whole new lines of inquiry. The Woman Reader was one of the first major works to inaugurate the history of reading, while The Transatlantic Indian introduces to Victorian studies a fascinating set of conceptual problems and a productive archive for scholarship on race, transnationalism, and modernity. What we have here is the opening of a new scholarly terrain that Flint, in a provocative echo of Paul Gilroy’s celebrated work, calls the “Red Atlantic.” While there has been a great deal of attention in American studies to the figure of the American Indian in constructions of the United States and American identity, it is startling to read about the frequency, the fascination, and the sheer contradictoriness of real and imagined Indians as they circulated through mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Flint’s book will be especially helpful for Victorian scholars. Until now, there has been nothing like Tim Fulford’s Romantic Indians: Native Americans, British Literature, and Transatlantic Culture 1756-1830 (2006) for the period after 1830. Now Flint prepares us to confront an array of complex Victorian instances: British views towards US westward territorial expansion, for example, which prompts sympathy and nostalgia for the “dying Indian,” on the one hand, and disturbing reflections on Britain’s own imperial conquests on the other. Or consider Flint’s analysis of those Indians who traveled to Britain as Protestant missionaries: they took part in transnational religious and humanitarian networks that included antislavery and temperance societies; they acted as curiosities for inquisitive British onlookers; they interpreted Indian values, beliefs, and customs in sympathetic ways; and they functioned as agents of a European modernity, boasting successful campaigns to impose new educational, technological, and ideological norms on Indian communities. The Transatlantic Indian largely focuses on the meanings of the American Indian for ideas of Britain and Britishness in the nineteenth century, and Flint’s attention to the transatlantic Indian throws an important light on British national self-consciousness. But it also reflects on the myriad ways that American Indians took part in the circulation, transmission, and critique of national and indigenous identities across the globalizing nineteenth century. The book teems with examples of surprising individual lives: Pauline Johnson, half Mohawk and half English, who wrote and performed complex, liminal identities at the fin de siècle, alternately wearing buckskin dress adorned with symbols of native tribes and European evening gowns; Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux Indian who deliberately joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to earn money to bring home and to come to know white people’s customs and institutions; and Nahnebahwequay, or Catherine Sutton, a Credit Indian who petitioned Queen Victoria for the restoration of her land in Canada. Flint juxtaposes the impressions of both the Queen and Nahnebahwequay, each of whom recorded the encounter in her own remarkable way. The Transatlantic Indian is not driven by a single focused argument—though it makes many fascinating points ...

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