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On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe

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One after another of those who went to Europe believed they had left civilization and landed, as Ms. The author rarely cites these accounts; she only uses European texts and scholars to depict Indigenous-settler relationships.

On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe, written by Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield, highlights how, as Europe supposedly ‘discovered’ the Americas, tens of thousands of Indigenous Americans simultaneously made the journey across the Atlantic, and forged the course of European civilisation just as Europe also changed America. And the aliens were even accepted in European society: “Native people were walking French streets and being baptized in French churches before even Cortés reached Mexico,” Pennock says. Deftly weaves diverse and fascinating tales of the exciting adventures, complex diplomatic missions, voyages of discovery, triumphant incursions, and heartbreaking exploitations - of the many thousands of Indigenous travellers to new lands.Whether arriving as ambassadors or enslaved, these travellers experienced Europe as a new and disorienting world: a place of shocking violence and perplexing social norms. Others crossed the Atlantic as envoys, especially after the wars between the European powers spilled over into the Americas, causing monarchs to seek alliances with native tribes. The book does two things most powerfully; first, it puts at the centre of the story Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, who for all manner of reasons including their own initiative (agency), travel to Europe, reading carefully, subtly and cautiously through scattered archival traces to find individuals, many of who remain un-named and hard to find.

There are seemingly endless stories, and it is often difficult to remember who is who and how they are related. The English were worried about the fate of the hostage, but the people in Brazil understood, and allowed the hostage to go free. They saw Europe “with its rulers and beggars, opulence and starvation, supposed civility and extreme violence against its citizens – as a savage shore,” she says.An untold story of colonial history, both epic and intimate, and a thrilling revelation, not about the invasion of the Americas by Europeans, but the journeys of Indigenous people to Europe. When he died, the new wife tried to assert that the Indigenous woman was enslaved all along, so they had to fight it out in the courts and Isabel was only declared free many years later in 1570. It paints these marginalised figures back on to history’s canvas, complicating familiar narratives of “exploration” and “discovery”.

It is a vital text that disrupts the simplicities of the heroic colonial adventurer, recognises and highlights that agency and actions of Indigenous Peoples often relegated to the unknowable across the frontier, it focuses on the ‘early modern’ period and does so in a scholarly book directed well beyond the academy. Occasionally, the records show Spaniards bringing home Indigenous wives or partners, but we know that a lot of the time it was unrecorded. They are the sailors, prospectors and adventurers who kidnapped, bribed, blackmailed or otherwise compelled them across the Atlantic.She criticises the marginalisation of native peoples in accounts of the past, yet at the same time instructs us to value ‘multiple narratives as histories’.

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