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Friday, February 3, 2017

Reviewing The Works Of Theda Purdue

Perdue, Theda: Mixed Blood Indians Racial Construction In The Early South (Athens, Georgia, University Of Georgia  Press, 2005)
Perdue, Theda & Michael D. Green: The Cherokee Removal A Brief History With Documents (New York, Bedford Books, 1995)

As I mentioned in an earlier book review of John M. Ehle's "Trail Of Tears The Rise And Fall Of The Cherokee Nation",  recently I have been doing research about a particular historical Cherokee Chief and have been reading extensively about the Eastern Band of Cherokee in the Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee areas.  Theda Perdue is clearly recognized as one of the best informed and well written experts on both Native Americans in general and the Cherokee in particular.  Dr. Perdue is a Professor Emerita in the history department of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and was previously employed as a professor of history at the University of Kentucky.  She has written extensively about the Cherokee and other Native American tribes.  She is the author or co-author of nine books primarily about Native Americans.  She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship along with several other awards and fellowships and has held several high level positions in professional organizations.  Dr. Perdue's work is well respected by both academics and well read laymen.  

The first of her books which I read was "Mixed Blood Indians Racial Construction In The Early South".  It is an excellent book and my respect for it led me to read "The Cherokee Removal A Brief History With Documents" which Dr. Perdue co-edited with the late Dr. Michael D. Green who had also taught at the University Of Kentucky and the University Of North Carolina.  Dr. Green had also written extensively on Native American topics.  "Mixed Blood Indians..." is an excellent book and was originally delivered as a Lamar Lecture at Mercer University where Dr. Perdue had been a law student before deciding to change the focus of her academic and professional life to history.  The book is well written, extremely well documented with primary source material and a delight to read.  It does an excellent job of  explaining the complicated story of how the Cherokee and other eastern native peoples intermingled with the white settlers in the region, intermarrying, and eventually producing many of the most important leaders of the Cherokee via intermarriage.  These mixed blood children, often the products of marriages between Cherokee, Creek, and native women from several other tribes with white traders, became some of the most influential leaders in the Cherokee tribe especially.  Among these mixed blood leaders were three men who collectively and singularly played major roles in Cherokee history: James Vann, Major Ridge, and Charles Renatus Hicks.  

Dr. Perdue also does an excellent job of addressing the complicated cultural adjustments involved in the interchanges between white settlers and the Native Americans with whom they lived in close proximity and, at times, conflict.  The book also addresses the roles many of these mixed blood children played in the wars of America and in the Cherokee Removal, one of the blackest periods in the history of both the Cherokee and the country.  The book is not a light read by any means since it was originally written for academic presentation but it is well worth the read.  I recommend it highly.  

The second Perdue book I read, "The Cherokee Removal A Brief History With Documents" did not please me as well as "Mixed Blood Indians...".  The book does an excellent job of placing a large selection of key historical documents or documentary fragments in one place for the reader who does not wish to do major research.  Each key segment of the book is prefaced with a short discussion from the editors to place the document in question in appropriate historical perspective.  But it doe not have a source listing at the end of the book which would have improved it greatly.  It also uses Socratic questioning at the end of most sections of the book which I believe tends to discomfit the casual reader.  While the book was probably intended to be primarily an academic work for classroom use, it covers a topic with a great deal of appeal to the ordinary non-academic reader and would have better benefited that segment of the readership if a more direct didactic method had been used in these segment ending comments.  

One of the most informative sections of the book contains several letters written by young Cherokee children in the mission schools of the time and sheds a great deal of light on the topics of acculturation, education, and the many hardships of removal and the period of conflict leading up to the removal by President Andrew Jackson.  The book is well worth reading and I am certain that the other works of Dr. Perdue and Dr. Green are also worthy of inspection.  I will look forward to my next encounter with a work by either of these authors. 

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