The Fall 2017 issue of The Journal of the West is devoted to the concept of settler colonialism as it applies to the American West. Settler colonialism describes a form of colonialism in which settlers seek to eliminate the indigenous people from their land and replace them with settlers from the metropole. It has been used to describe many historical and contemporary encounters, including those in the United States, Australia, and Israel. Settler Colonialism differs from accounts of, say, the British in India, where the colonizers were intent on subordinating the native population and using it as a labor force to extract wealth.
Historians Lawrence Kessler and Andrew Isenberg contributed an article to this special issue, “Settler Colonialism and the Environmental History of the North American West,” (access restricted to Temple affiliates) which adds nuance and complexity to the standard settler colonial account by using an environmental history approach. The European conquest brought deadly microbes (smallpox, typhus, cholera), domestic animals (horses, sheep, cattle, pigs), and a market-based economic system. Kessler and Isenberg illustrate the ways that both whites and Indians were often responding to unexpected environmental contingencies. They show that between the arrival of Europeans and the eventual US removal of American Indian tribes to reservations in the nineteenth century, there were hundreds of years of trade, negotiation, cooperation and accomodation, in addition to warfare, between the various colonial powers and the natives. Most importantly, the two authors restore some of the agency to Native Americans that settler colonialism accounts often gloss over.
Lawrence Kessler earned his PhD in History at Temple University and is currently a Fellow in Residence at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Andrew Isenberg is a professor of History at Temple University. I spoke to them both on April 3, 2018.