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American Pentimento

The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches

2001
Author:

Patricia Seed

American Pentimento

An illuminating examination of colonization’s ongoing cultural legacy.

An illuminating examination of colonization’s ongoing cultural legacy. Patricia Seed examines how European countries, primarily England, Spain, and Portugal, differed in their colonization of the Americas, with the English appropriating land, while the Spanish and Portuguese attempted to eliminate "barbarous" religious behavior and used indigenous labor to take mineral resources. Seed also demonstrates how these antiquated cultural and legal vocabularies are embedded in our languages, popular cultures, and legal systems, and how they are responsible for current representations and treatment of Native Americans.

Public Worlds Series, volume 7

Innovative and comparative scholarship. Patricia Seed’s argument here is that the contemporary treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas is strongly influenced by the form of colonialism imposed on them. Expertly argued.

Choice

Americans like to see themselves as far removed from their European ancestors’ corrupt morals, imperial arrogance, and exploitation of native resources. Yet, as Patricia Seed argues in American Pentimento, this is far from the truth. The modern regulations and pervading attitudes that control native rights in the Americas may appear unrelated to colonial rule, but traces of the colonizers’ cultural, religious, and economic agendas nonetheless remain. Seed likens this situation to a pentimento-a painting in which traces of older compositions or alterations become visible over time-and shows how the exploitation begun centuries ago continues today.

In her analysis, Seed examines how European countries, primarily England, Spain, and Portugal, differed in their colonization of the Americas. She details how the English appropriated land, while the Spanish and Portuguese attempted to eliminate "barbarous" religious behavior and used indigenous labor to take mineral resources. Ultimately, each approach denied native people distinct aspects of their heritage. Seed argues that their differing effects persist, with natives in former English colonies fighting for land rights, while those in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies fight for human dignity. Seed also demonstrates how these antiquated cultural and legal vocabularies are embedded in our languages, popular cultures, and legal systems, and how they are responsible for current representations and treatment of Native Americans. We cannot, she asserts, simply attribute the exploitation of natives’ resources to distant, avaricious colonists but must accept the more disturbing conclusion that it stemmed from convictions that are still endemic in our culture.

Wide-ranging and essential to future discussions of the legacies of colonialism, American Pentimento presents a radical new approach to history, one which uses paradigms from anthropology and literary criticism to emphasize language as the basis of law and culture.

Public Worlds Series, volume 7


American Pentimento

Patricia Seed is professor of history at Rice University.

American Pentimento

Innovative and comparative scholarship. Patricia Seed’s argument here is that the contemporary treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas is strongly influenced by the form of colonialism imposed on them. Expertly argued.

Choice

American Pentimento raises the bar in the comparative tradition in Atlantic history by offering a new paradigm, not only of the “invention” of Indians as an ideological process, but also of the complex intertwining of morality, avarice, history, culture, and ideas drawn upon by European societies to justify their right to extract wealth from America.

Indiana Magazine of History

Seed has given us a near-brilliant analysis. With wide classroom application and important implications for economists, historians, policy-makers, and human rights activists, the book is a welcome addition to literature.

International History Review

Seed writes clearly and with enviable poise and authority. One can only hope that Seed’s wide-angled scholarship and transnational sensibilities prove a model for others to follow.

American Historical Review

The questions Seed poses in her study are important ones, and she engages in some very thought-provoking and insightful discussions about legal language and the longevity and tenacity of unspoken cultural assumptions.

Hispanic American Historical Review

The author makes convincing arguments about how the different legal systems imposed by the European colonial powers are now relevant to the legal technicalities of native struggles for human rights and resources.

Journal of World History

This is a provocative book. American Pentimento is Patricia Seed’s latest investigation into the diverse origins, experiences and legacies of European colonialism in the Americas. American Pentimento succeeds on its own terms, raising these issues in a stimulating way that will make it recommended reading for years to come.

The Americas