Blanton on Cobb, 'The Archaeology of Southeastern Native American Landscapes of the Colonial Era'

Author: 
Charles R. Cobb
Reviewer: 
Dennis B. Blanton

Charles R. Cobb. The Archaeology of Southeastern Native American Landscapes of the Colonial Era. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019. 286 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-6619-6

Reviewed by Dennis B. Blanton (James Madison University) Published on H-AmIndian (September, 2020) Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55367

Blanton on Cobb, The Archaeology of Southeastern Native American Landscapes of the Colonial Era

The title of this book undersells the contents. Charles Cobb delivers the promised examination of southeastern Indigenous landscapes, to be sure, but he does so with an arresting authority derived from depth of research, ambitious scope, wide relevance, and erudition. Anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians with any measure of interest in Native North America will do themselves—and the topic—a disservice if they do not read and reflect upon what he has to say. If it achieves nothing else, the book provides context essential for understanding the contemporary Native American condition.

Chronologically speaking, this work is focused on the interval between the beginning of the sixteenth century and the close of the nineteenth century. Theoretically, the point of departure for Cobb’s treatment of landscape is what he describes as neohistorical anthropology. Over the course of seven chapters, he revels in the complexity of the topic and gives explicit emphasis to historical heterogeneity and cultural plurality. The merit of the perspective is demonstrated by presentation of a series of what he refers to as microhistories that concern groups like the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Yamasee. The point is to demonstrate the essential place of cultural relativism in any full and meaningful accounting of Indigenous history. The author maintains success may be attained only by deconstructing the interbraided range of contingent experiences.

In these respects Cobb’s is a distinctly bottom-up approach. Matters of power, authority, and sovereignty emerge as basic and enduring factors, but historically and geographically they tend to be expressed in unique and divergent ways. Thus, what we are implored to recognize and appreciate is the inherent diversity of Native experience. Still, the facts of myriad experiences also telegraph the persistent, unifying themes of innovation and creativity that account for adaptive successes and historical continuities.

Four “eventful dates” establish useful chronological guideposts in the analysis, beginning with the establishment of St. Augustine in 1565 and ending with events that followed the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Then, toward the end, the author reflects on the effects of four “pivot points.” They represent bundles of related actions, driven by occurrences like epidemic disease and the deerskin trade, that explain fundamental changes, albeit unevenly.

Central to Cobb’s analysis is the fact of population movement through the southeastern landscape. He reminds us that such events were not only common—and for a long time—but most importantly, that they were as intentional as they were forced. In this regard I found his discussion of emplacement, the social production of spaces and places, and coalescence, the successful and willful blending of disparate groups, especially enlightening.

What readers will not find in Cobb’s book are easy answers. Very intentionally, he steers clear of positions that might be construed as “reductionist.” Instead, he succeeds in the express goal of illuminating, via the lens of landscape, a history marked by healthy doses of both fluidity and persistence. The story is complicated and difficult, but it is also one of resilience and survival.

Citation: Dennis B. Blanton. Review of Cobb, Charles R., The Archaeology of Southeastern Native American Landscapes of the Colonial Era. H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews. September, 2020. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55367

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