This talk sketches a new history of the middle of the North American continent from the standpoint of the Native American people who controlled it from well before contact through the early 19th century. Often overlooked, the Illinois rose to power by exploiting unique social and ecological opportunities in-between the woodlands of the east and the plains of the west. Becoming North America’s only “bison Algonquians,” they built power based on bison hunting and the slave trade, and even briefly built the largest population center on the continent in the 1680s. This talk is an overview of this remarkable history, and it explores the different tools—archaeology, linguistics, material culture, ecology, and human-animal studies—that can be utilized to tell early American history in new way.
Bob Morrissey specializes in the history of early America and the Atlantic world, American frontier and borderlands history, ethnohistory, and environmental history. His first book tells the story of French colonists and Native peoples of the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes in the 17th and 18th centuries. The book is entitled, "Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in the Colonial Illinois Country, and it appears in the Early American Studies Series from University of Pennsylvania Press. His next project is entitled "The Illinois and the Edge Effect: People and Animals in the Tallgrass Prairie Borderlands." It is a study of the relationship between people and non-human nature in one of North America's most distinctive ecological and social frontiers from 1200 to 1850. It will be supported by fellowships by the Illinois Center for Advanced Study and from the National Endowment for the Humanities.