What I am thinking about today:
The other day in my colonial America course we were discussing the first few chapters of Dan Richter’s excellent Facing East from Indian Country and thinking together about the impact of European colonization on native American cultures. Our discussion turned to Western views of progress and whether or not native Americans ever saw their societies as “progressing” or “improving” prior to their contact with European ideas and goods. When, if ever, did native Americans embrace Enlightenment notions of “improvement?”
This led to a conversation about nostalgia. Nostalgia seems to require societal improvement. You cannot look back warmly on a specific period in a society’s history unless that society has advanced–culturally, technologically, etc…– beyond the period for which you are nostalgic.
So at what point did native American cultures start to get nostalgic? Did they long for the “good old days” when they hunted with spears rather than guns? At what point did they reflect longingly on a lost world–a world that existed before their exposure to European ways of life? I know enough about native American history to do a decent job covering it in my upper-division colonial America course, but I do not claim to be an expert. I thus wonder if there is any literature on this idea of post-contact Indian nostalgia. Were native Americans nostalgic before European contact? If so, does this imply that natives did have some notion of “improvement” embedded in their culture?