World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format  Article citation        

Indigenous Peoples in the Global Revolutionary Era


Rethinking "Indigenous Peoples" and "Revolutions" in World History: Exploring the Ohio Indian Experience through Material Objects and Primary Sources

Christoph Strobel


     Many scholars refer to the years from the 1750s through the 1840s as an "Age of Revolutions." It is a field with a rich historiography and many world history textbooks have embraced this periodization. The late and influential historian C.A. Bayly has also described this era as a "critical" moment "in the epistemological and economic creation of 'indigenous peoples' as a series of comparable categories across the globe."1 Thus, the organizing principle of "indigenous peoples," Bayly suggests, came into wider use during this time, "a period in which," argue David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam in The Age of Revolution in a Global Context, "the local and the global were rearticulated in radical ways."2 Yet, despite such formulations, historians of the age of revolution have largely excluded indigenous people from their analysis.

     World historians also often neglect to include "indigenous people" in their analysis of the global transformations that occurred in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. In most world history textbooks indigenous groups and nations feature, at best, as marginal players, or, at worst, are entirely written out of history. There is somewhat of an irony here, because during the so-called "age of revolution" many indigenous peoples were participants and allies in the revolutionary wars, and, at the same time, fought their very own struggle for independence and sovereignty. Thus, there were twin and entangled revolutionary processes occurring during this era. This is why, I believe, indigenous peoples should play a more prominent role in our analysis of the "age of revolution" as well as in world history pedagogy, and I hope that my analysis below provides an approach to this subject.3

     Rather than tackling these issues in a global/comparative theoretical framework, this paper provides a regional case study. This piece seeks to complicate our understanding by focusing on the history and the struggle for independence and sovereignty fought by the Native Americans of the Ohio River Valley region from pre-contact to the 1810s. In particular, this essay explores how I teach this subject through the study of material culture and primary sources in my classroom.   

Why Native Americans and Why the Ohio River Valley?

     At the beginning of the lesson, I attempt to establish a theoretical and global context for my students, in which I aim to explain to them why I pick Native Americans and the Ohio River Valley as a case study to complicate our understanding of the transformational processes or "revolutions" of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century. I have incorporated the materials below in my world history course (World Since 1500) as part of a unit on the broader context of the economic, political, and cultural transformations during this period. I also have tackled several of these issues in my Native American history survey. These courses usually have an enrollment that ranges from 30–49—the vast majority of my students are not history majors. Integrated into this paper, you find the power points slide that I use in the class.

     To set the lesson into a world historical and theoretical context, I begin the discussion by pointing out that there is an established scholarship, which explores the formation of nation-states, national identities, and revolutions. The purpose of this conversation is to provide some broader historic content and historiographical background. First, we examine how several scholars characterize the economic and political changes that occurred during this period as an "Age of Revolution." In an earlier class, we have already discussed how many historians and textbooks describe the economic changes during this period as an "Industrial Revolution."4 In political terms, world history textbooks and historians often tell the story of revolutions through an Atlantic World narrative, which generally moves from the "thirteen British colonies" in North America, to France, to Haiti, and then to Latin America.5 I also reintroduce my students to some of the arguments in the literature on nationalism, and underscore that many historians see the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century as having a significant transformational impact on numerous societies, regions, and world history. Thus, historians often underscore the significant political and economic changes that occurred from the 1750s through the nineteenth century. To many historians, this was an era of significant economic, political, and cultural change.6


Slide 1:

Why Native Americans and Why the Ohio River Valley

•       Revolutions or Transformations?

•       Native Americans, Revolutions and World History Textbooks

•       Defintions: "Revolutions," "nationalism," "indigenous people," "pan-Indianism," and "sovereignty"

•       "Ohio Indians' Revolution and/or the "testing ground" for U.S. Empire


     We switch our attention to how world history textbooks generally exclude or marginalize indigenous North Americans. If mentioned at all, the discussions of the revolutions of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century tend to describe Native Americans as opposing "frontier expansion," "empire building," or as allies of the British or Americans in the revolutionary struggle.7 These works generally explain Native American resistance to empire in similar terms to that of Asian and African peoples in the eighteenth and nineteenth century – they resisted western colonization in "traditional" ways. Influenced by Michael Adas' excellent study, Prophets of Rebellion, the argument usually purports that "customary" or "traditional" leaders headed the anti-colonial struggles. Many academics tend to characterize these social movements as "traditional," "prophetic," or as "millenarian." Revolutionary or nationalist movements among "colonized people," many scholars and world history textbooks tell us, implicitly or explicitly, emerged only in the late nineteenth and twentieth century.8

     To change the flow and to encourage the class to grapple with the material directly, I have the students write down how they define the term "traditional" in this context. The writing prompt serves as a launching point for discussion, and I put the working definitions on the board. Through this process, we can reference our list during the lesson.

     Next, we consider why conventional histories generally describe the efforts by people of African origins to overthrow slavery or the efforts by Native Americans to fight back against colonization as "revolts" or "rebellions," but not as "revolutions? As before, I find that a paper prompt helps to focus the discussion. I also put this question on the board, so that we can revisit it as the lesson progresses.

     It is time to introduce the students to some of the regional specifics of the lesson, so that they can engage with the materials and questions at hand. To explain to my students why historians often push the "traditional" resistance argument in case studies like ours, I explain, that "prophets," indeed, played an important role in the Ohio Indian struggles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Referencing Gregory Dowd's seminal A Spirited Resistance, I point out that there were a number of "prophets" active in the region. For instance a Lenni Lenape religious leader named Neolin, several historians argue, played a notable role in Pontiac's War, an indigenous resistance movement in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley region that fought the British to a standstill in the first half of the 1760s. In part, as result of this resistance, the British passed the Proclamation of 1763, which barred colonists from settling west of the Appalachian mountain chain. The major spiritual guide of the last resistance movement in the region was the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa. He was a half-brother of Tecumseh who emerged as the major leader of Native American resistance in the War of 1812. The Shawnee prophet told Ohio Indians that the "Master of Life" wanted them to abandon Anglo-American ways, clothing, implements, and weapons, as he thought they had a polluting impact on Native American societies. He advocated for a separation of the Indian and the American world.9  

     Despite the presence of prophets, I underscore a main objective of this lesson – Native Americans in the Ohio River Valley used plenty of what one can describe as "revolutionary," "ethno-national," and "pan-Indian rhetoric," which informed, rationalized, and justified their struggle against European and Euro-American colonization. Already during the Seven Years War, often seen as a starting point of the "Age of Revolution," many Native peoples in the region saw themselves involved in a war of independence. This struggle would continue into the nineteenth century. Indigenous people in the Ohio River Valley developed these strategies out of a long history and in an attempt to maintain their independence and political, economic, and cultural sovereignty.10

     The purpose of this essay is to examine how we can teach and explore this subject matter through material objects and primary sources. It raises historical and pedagogical questions, and aims to problematize the role of "indigenous peoples" in world history in the era of transformations, upheavals, and revolutions in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. It also presents a possible model that encourages students to critically engage with academic organizing principles or concepts such as "traditional," "revolutions," "nationalism," "indigenous people," "pan-Indianism," and "sovereignty." While the 13 colonies were engaged in a war for independence against Britain, at the same time, the fledgling American side was eager to consider and pursue colonial expansion to the west of the Appalachian Mountains. Native Americans in many ways contested and had to deal with this colonialism in their efforts to maintain their independence. Moreover, in a U.S. and a world historical context, the Ohio Valley and the "Ohio Indians' Revolution" is of particular interest as this region served in many ways a "testing ground" for United States imperialism.11

Moundbuilders: A Short History of the Pre-Colonial Ohio River Valley

After establishing a theoretical and global context, I encourage my students to develop a deeper understanding of the pre-colonial history of the region. We begin this exploration by examining the "moundbuilding" societies that populated much of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valley of pre-colonial times. Very diverse and complex native communities, archeologists and anthropologists frequently group these societies together as "Moundbuilders," a name that comes from the multitude of earth monuments that communities constructed in many parts of eastern North America. These Native American long distance exchange networks existed in the Ohio, Mississippi, and their tributary river valleys for at least two millennia prior to the first European colonial incursions in the Americas post 1492. Scholars usually categorize the Moundbuilders into three different "culture groups": the Adena (c.a. 500 B.C.–100 B.C.), the Hopewell (c.a. 200 B.C.–400 A.D.), and the Mississippians (c.a. 700 A.D.–1500 A.D.). Given students' preconceived notions about Native North American history, a discussion of the Moundbuilders provides great opportunities to challenge some of their popular stereotypes. Material culture presents a great teaching tool to pursue this goal.12


Slide 2:

Moundbuilders: A Short History of the Pre-Colonial Ohio River Valley:


     A good way to start a discussion on this topic is by exploring the issue of evidence. I show various images of the earthen works build by Moundbuilders. I teach in New England, where many woods have old farm walls scattered all over the place. I ask my students what happened in those instances. We usually discuss that these walls are evidence of former fields and pasture, which, over time, have been overtaken by vegetation. My students realize that nature can take over human created spaces, and they draw connections to the Moundbuilder sites. Earthworks can be especially susceptible to erosion and destruction we discuss. Moreover, in the last 250 years or so, due to the expansion of agriculture, urbanization, suburbanization, the construction of roadways, and due to other developments, at least 80% of the mounds and much of the archeological record have been destroyed. Limited evidence, I underscore to my students, provides imperfect answers.

     The next part of our lesson explores how Moundbuilders participated in long distance exchange networks, a history we explore through material objects. I use artifacts from the Hopewell "Mound City" archeological site as the focus of our exploration. We use four material objects as the basis for this discussion: a copper bird effigy, a mica raptor claw cutout, as well as two arrowhead points (one made from flint the other from obsidian). We discuss the physicality, as well as the artistic and aesthetics nature of these objects. Eventually, I guide discussion toward the raw materials used to make these items. The flint for one of the arrowheads was likely mined at a place like Flint Ridge, near modern day Newark, Ohio, less than 100 miles from the Mound City site. What about the other objects? The obsidian is likely from Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, so over 1,500 miles distance from the Mound City Earthworks. The mica comes from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and the copper from the Lake Superior region. Societies in the Ohio Valley also used conch shells as well as shark and alligator teeth in their artwork. Thus, such surviving material objects provide evidence that the Moundbuilders participated in sophisticated long distance exchange networks.


Slide 3:

Mica and Flint


Slide 4:

Obsidian and Copper


     As I am generally pressed for time, I cover this part of class by discussing this material with my students. At the same time, if more time was available, or if I wanted to teach my students some geographic literacy skills, I could also envision a map activity, in which students would locate the origins of the material items above (as well as other trade items) on a North American map, and draw the connections back to "Mound City."

     The issue of agriculture and urban development, by focusing on the Mississippian culture period, is another point I want to explore. Moundbuilders built cities all over the Mississippi, Ohio, and their tributary river valley systems. I show a map that locates major towns and cities and an image of the largest city, Cahokia (outside of modern day Saint Louis), and we discuss various aspects: the nature of urban development, questions of infrastructure and logistics, ceremonial complexes, architecture, and size. (In 1200, with at least 10,000 people, I remind my students, Cahokia was comparable in size to large European population centers such as London.)13

     I emphasize that archeological evidence suggests the high specialization in Mississippian society, and I show images of Mississippian field and farming tools to reinforce the centrality that agriculture played in Native American subsistence, since, in my experience, too many of my undergraduates believe that all indigenous North Americans were hunter-gatherers.14 I raise a number of questions on this subject to spur discussion. Who did the agricultural labor in these communities? Why did European and Anglo-American writers often ignored the existence of Native American farming? Could it maybe be that native women did much of this agricultural work? Could it be due to technological differences, as the lack of suitable beasts of burden led to the emergence of divergent systems of agriculture in American Indian and European societies? What role, if any, did justification of conquest and colonization play here, given that European philosophers such as Emer de Vattel maintained that under the "law of nations" peoples that were pastoralists and hunter-gatherers had no inherent right to the land on which they lived?

     This short discussion of the Moundbuilders through architecture and material objects aims to challenge several preconceived notions that many of my students tend to have about indigenous Americans. I reiterate that Native Americans in this region had created societies, cities, towns, and villages. They had developed agriculture, economic specialization, and participated in sophisticated long distance exchange networks long before the arrival of Europeans. Native people's early histories provide a glimpse at the trajectories of development and change that characterized their societies, and would have an impact on European-Indigenous relations. In the wrap up discussion of this section, many of my students admit that they are ignorant about but also fascinated by this history. This can be a good opportunity to insert another quick paper prompt. Does what you have learnt about the pre-colonial history of the Ohio River Valley challenge or change your understanding or definition of what "traditional" means? Do you think that "traditional" is a useful academic organizing principle that helps us in our understanding of Moundbuilder societies?

     Next, we explore how the world of the Moundbuilders might have become unraveled post 1492. Scholars like Henry Dobyns and Alfred Crosby, have argued that disease might have destroyed an estimated 50%–90% of the Native American population and led to a decline of societies like those of the Moundbuilders. They suggest that in the sixteenth century germs traveled along waterways and trade routes in the Eastern Woodlands causing widespread havoc among the native populations.15 On the other hand, a number of scholars argue that there is evidence that indicates that the Moundbuilders of the Ohio and Upper and Middle Mississippi River Valley regions were in decline before 1500 and experienced broad population redistribution and decline.16

     A number of scholars underscore that conquest, land loss, slave raiding, and removal had a devastating impact on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In fact, and challenging Dobyns' and Crosby's historiographic assumption on this issue, several researchers suggest that the impact of conquest and colonization might have been more devastating for indigenous Americans than disease. Again, either through discussion or a paper prompt, I have my students ponder the following question: Imagine that 50–90% of your community's population would die, due to either disease and/or a variety of shockwaves caused by colonialization. What impact would this have on a society?17

What can we learn from a deerskin map?

     As part of this lesson, I am also using a material culture item from the A History of the World in 100 Objects. I have found this BBC series a useful and open access source to teach world history, and I have previously explored the utility of the podcasts (which are also available as a book) as a tool to integrate Native Americans into the survey course. As discussed in more length in the World History Bulletin, Object 88 – North American Buckskin Map (ca. 1774–1775) – is a useful teaching tool to study the global revolutions and transformation of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. The object provides a great avenue to teach about the global fur and commodities trade, the integration of Native Americans into the global economy, the adaptation and use of European and Euro-American technology, and the concepts of ownership as well as conflicting claims to the land. A popular notion shared by many students is that Native Americans had no concept of ownership of land. The map helps us to explore this point. It shows the region on the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. After they listened to the podcast, I ask my students several questions: Why does the map show only Native American settlements, even though there were white settlements in this region? Why did the mapmaker only care about Native American locales? Would Euro-American mapmakers include Native American towns and villages in their maps? By only pointing to indigenous sites, did the mapmaker also make a statement about indigenous rights to the land, independence, and sovereignty? What were indigenous notions of land occupation and right to the land? I remind my students, while Native Americans might not have had Anglo-American notions of private property they certainly had a sense of ownership, and believed that they had a right to the land that they lived on.18


Slide 5:

What can we learn from a deerskin map?


"Restore Us Our Country:" Land, Pan-Indian Rhetoric, and Assertions of Sovereignty

     The pedagogical focus of our lesson shifts now from objects to primary sources. The purpose of this portion of the class is to further complicate students' understandings of scholarly organizing principles such as "traditional," "revolutions," "nationalism," "pan-Indianism," and "sovereignty." I also point to the observation we made earlier in the lesson – the issue that conventional narratives do not describe the resistance efforts of Native Americans and Africans as "revolutionary." I include the relevant quotes from documents by Ohio Indians into Power Point slides, as I find this helps to speed up discussion as my classes usually last only 50 to 75 minutes. The pattern of the lesson for this section proceeds in the following way: I provide a brief historic background of various major historic events from the 1750s to 1810s and to liven up the class flow we use various primary source excerpts as basis for discussion. These indigenous voices provide a glimpse into the resistance, "revolutionary," and pan-Indian identity rhetoric, which native peoples in the Ohio River Valley region utilized in their struggle to maintain their sovereignty. The quotes also raise issues that help us to problematize and re-conceptualize the role that indigenous peoples played during a period of transformations, upheavals, and revolutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.


Slide 6:

"Restore Us Our Country:" Land, Pan-Indian Rhetoric, and Assertions of Sovereignty

     "now. . . see your people seated on our Lands which all Nations esteem as their & our heart – all our Lands are covered by the white people, & we are jealous that you still intend to make larger strides – We never sold you our Land which you now possess on the Ohio between the Great Kenhawa & the Cherokee, [modern day Kentucky] & which you are settling without ever asking our leave, or obtaining our consent – Foolish people have desired you to do so, & you have taken their advice. . . . That was our Country & you have taken it from us. This is what sits heavy upon our Hearts & on the Hearts of all Nations, and it is impossible for us to think as we ought to do whilst we are thus oppress'd with your [presence]."

     "The Great Spirit said he gave his great island to his red children. He placed the whites on the other side of the big water, they were not contended with their own, but came to take ours from us. They have driven us from the sea to the lakes, we can go no farther. They have taken upon themselves to say this tract belongs to the Miamis, this to the Delawares & so on... but the Great Spirit intended it as the common property of all the Tribes, nor can it be sold without the consent of all."


     I begin this section by providing a quick background story of the Seven Years and Pontiac's War in the 1750s and 1760s. I underscore that there is some evidence that suggests that a major goal of native peoples in the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes region was to maintain their lands and sovereignty in the face of ever increasing European and Euro-American colonization. The various Ohio Indian peoples worked hard, and with varying success, to present a relatively united front, especially when it came to dealing with British demands for military assistance, conflict management, and indigenous lands. Diplomatic negotiations provide some insights into pan-Indian rhetoric as a strategy to maintain their sovereignty by presenting a more unified position. I use a quote from 1758, by two Lenni Lenape leaders who told British officers that "all the Indians, from sunrise to the sunset, are united in a body, it is necessary that the whole should join in the peace," which included "all the Indians a great way from this, even beyond the lakes."19 I ask my students to summarize and interpret the quote: What argument are the two leaders making here? What is the purpose of their position? What are the advantages and disadvantages of pan-Indian unity? Is this a feasible strategy? What might be some challenges to this approach? What role did factionalism and division play in Ohio Indian society, and how might those have complicated pan-Indian unity?

     I also want to raise some general issues about the documents. Might there be issues with translation and cultural meaning? Moreover, did European views of politics influence Native American rhetoric, did Native Americans describe the problems they faced in independent terms, or might they have had an impact on American revolutionary rhetoric?20

     The class now examines some of the rhetoric that accompanied the conflicts of the American Revolution in the second half of the 1770s. I provide some background pointing out that Native Americans came down on all sides during this struggle. Some backed the Americans, others sided with the British, and a number preferred to stay out of the conflict entirely. Underscoring indigenous political fluidity, but also emphasizing the instability caused by violent conflicts in the Ohio Valley, several Native communities followed two or even all three options at one time or the other during the Revolutionary War.

     While several Shawnee communities favored closer relations with the British during the conflict, the Mequachake Shawnee, one of the five major divisions of that nation in the late eighteenth century, who lived in the lower Scioto River, favored non-confrontational relations at the outset of the revolutionary conflict. They shared this stance with the factions of the Lenni Lenape people (Delaware), who resided in settlements in the Tuscarawas and Muskingum River Valleys. Exploring the locations of those towns and villages on a map, it becomes apparent to my students that this division of the Shawnee, just like some of the Lenni Lenape, likely pursued this strategy because their settlements were located much more closely to the thirteen colonies than other Ohio Indians. Thus, they more immediately feared the destruction of their communities.21

     I then direct my students' attention to a speech by a leader of the Mequachake Shawnee, in which he reminded the diplomats and representatives of the Americans that the Shawnees

now. . . see your people seated on our Lands which all Nations esteem as their & our heart – all our Lands are covered by the white people, & we are jealous that you still intend to make larger strides – We never sold you our Land which you now possess on the Ohio between the Great Kenhawa & the Cherokee, [modern day Kentucky] & which you are settling without ever asking our leave, or obtaining our consent – Foolish people have desired you to do so, & you have taken their advice. . . . That was our Country & you have taken it from us. This is what sits heavy upon our Hearts & on the Hearts of all Nations, and it is impossible for us to think as we ought to do whilst we are thus oppress'd with your [presence].22

Part of the purpose of such meetings, from the American revolutionaries' perspective, was to lobby the Shawnee, Lenni Lenape, and other Ohio Indians to remain neutral in the war against Britain. Negotiating Native American non-participation in the conflict was a challenge to the Americans, given their very limited resources to provide diplomatic gifts compared to the British, which had become an expectation among Native Americans during the imperial power struggles in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Moreover, the ambitions of American colonists to encroach onto indigenous lands north of the Ohio River did not help their cause in the region. What does the quote reveal about Native American attitudes in regards to who owns the land? I point out that assertions of their nations' rights, as demonstrated by this example, were common and played an important role from the 1750s to 1812.

     Moving the story along, I provide some background information about the Ohio River Valley after the Treaty of Paris of 1783. While the negotiations ended the conflict between Great Britain and what would become the United States, the indigenous peoples of the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes continued to fight a war to maintain their independence. In their efforts to keep the fledgling but aggressive young American nation at bay, by the 1780s, several Native American communities in the region joined in a diplomatic, political, and military alliance system often called the "Ohio Confederacy." This coalition attempted to stop the American advance onto their lands north of the Ohio River. They pursued diplomatic and treaty negotiations, but remained adamant that no further loss of land should occur, which led to two American invasion efforts north of the Ohio in the early 1790s, which the Ohio Indian Confederacy defeated.

     We now turn our attention to quotes from renewed attempts at negotiations to resolve the situation. In these discussions, members of the Ohio Confederacy reminded American representatives that "[you have talked to us about concessions. It appears strange that you should expect any from us, who have only been defending our just Rights against your invasion. We want Peace; Restore us our Country and we shall be enemies no longer."23 Members of the Ohio Indian alliance also wondered: "What nation of Indians, will tamely submit, to be driven from their lands by another nation!"24 I ask my students to analyze these quotes. Again, the discussion continues to center on the clear Native American notions of landownership and pan-Indian resistance and identity. We conclude this discussion by covering the defeat of the Ohio Confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. This dramatic Native American military loss led to the Treaty of Greenville, which enforced massive indigenous land losses north of the Ohio River.

     The pan-Indian rhetoric that advocated unity among Native Americans in the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes region, and an ideological opposition to the advance of the United States on Native American land, played once again an important role in the region during the build-up of the War of 1812. I introduce my students to the background of that conflict and the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who played a central political role in building this alliance. Like representatives of earlier coalitions, Tecumseh protested U.S. efforts to dispossess Native American lands by creating disunity among the indigenous peoples of the Ohio River Valley. We analyze the following quote:

The Great Spirit said he gave his great island to his red children. He placed the whites on the other side of the big water, they were not contended with their own, but came to take ours from us. They have driven us from the sea to the lakes, we can go no farther. They have taken upon themselves to say this tract belongs to the Miamis, this to the Delawares & so on... but the Great Spirit intended it as the common property of all the Tribes, nor can it be sold without the consent of all.

What is Tecumseh trying to achieve here rhetorically? Why is he creating a division between "whites" and Native Americans? What role does religion play in his argument? What is his vision of land ownership and intergroup relations among Native Americans? Is his position different or consistent with earlier movements? We also discuss how Tecumseh reproached several "village chiefs" for inadequately managing "the affairs of the Indians," especially by selling Native American land. In his view those holdings were "common property," and he maintained that "Indian Country and U.S. lands should be kept apart." Tecumseh advocated that "the present boundary line" should "continue," and that recent treaties and negotiations that had challenged the integrity of this border should be ignored. Should American settlers or forces "cross" the Greenville line, he promised, "it will be productive of bad consequences."25  


Slide 7:

Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa


     Tecumseh also utilized pan-Indian rhetoric to garner support, but he also underscored that, if Native peoples would not stand united against American colonization, they would face destruction by United States imperialism.

We all belong to one family… We are friends; we must assist each other to bear our burdens. . . . Brothers – If you do not unite with us, they will destroy us, and you will fall an easy prey to them. They have destroyed many nations of red men because they were not united, because they were not friends to each other. . . . Brothers – We must be united. . . we must fight each other's battles.26

Tecumseh's cry for unity and independence helped to rally indigenous support behind the cause of resisting the expanding United States colonial order, an effort at militant resistance, which ultimately failed.

     It is important to underscore though that factionalism continued. As in prior conflicts, many Ohio Indians sided with the Americans during the War of 1812. These communities, such as the Shawnee divisions led by Black Hoof (who had opposed the United States during the wars of the 1790s) saw this as a more useful strategy to maintain their sovereignty and lands. I also underscore that this factionalism is not unique to Native Americans, but that in fact disunity, conflict, and competition occurred in many resistance, revolutionary, and social movements the world over.

     I want students to engage one final time with an assignment that forces them to put their thoughts on paper and to engage critically with the material. In a final quick writing response, I ask the students if they believe that the pan-Indian rhetoric and resistance qualify as "traditional," "revolutionary," or if they would define it as something different. Some students take the position that pan-Indian rhetoric presents a newly imagined identity and "nationalism," while others see the developments as being more reflective of Native American alliance systems of the past. A number of students feel that they are not comfortable with either position, but they usually have a harder time articulating their thoughts concretely. To help those students think through the process, I ask, whether organizing principles that are coming out of the "western intellectual tradition" like "nationalism," "revolution," and/or "sovereignty" provide adequate terms to capture indigenous experiences. Might utilizing indigenous or maybe even newly invented terminology serve us and ultimately scholars better here?27


     I reiterate that our short examination of primary sources and material objects demonstrates a complicated picture of Indian-white relations in the Ohio River Valley. Resilience and opposition took complex and diverse forms among the Native Americans in the Ohio Valley. Indigenous capacities shaped these interactions at least to some degree, as Ohio Indians engaged in a battle to maintain their independence and sovereignty in a variety of ways. Pan-Indian and revolutionary rhetoric fueled these strategies of resistance. Examining the history of Native American resistance in the Ohio Valley, provides an avenue to help students to grapple with academic organizing principles such as "pan-Indianism," "traditional," "identity formation," "nationalism," and "revolution." Moreover, by focusing on indigenous peoples, this approach can provide coverage of a neglected perspective in world history textbooks.

     To bring the class to conclusion, I point out that survival and efforts at maintaining their sovereignty are part of the story, but Ohio Indians also lost ground to the aggressive imperialism of the young American nation. Thomas Jefferson might have described the United States as an "Empire of Liberty," but to the indigenous peoples the American presence meant warfare, dispossession, violent repression, ethnic cleansing, destruction of communities and nations, cultural assaults, and marginalization. By the 1830s, many Ohio Indians faced removal from the few remnants of reservation lands that remained. Others had to figure out ways to pass as white or eke out an existence on marginal lands, a process that Susan Sleeper-Smith has described as "hiding in plain sight."28

     A Native American history of the Ohio River Valley from pre-contact to the 1830s can help world historians and our students to gain a broader perspective. The more we learn about the diverse and complex histories of indigenous communities and nations, the more cognizant we will be about the larger processes, transformations, upheavals, and connections that have shaped our world.

Appendix: Course Syl.

HIST 1080
World History 2
Spring 2017

Instructor: Christoph Strobel
Office Hours: M/W 2–4 (Dugan 106D)
Telephone: (978) 934–4263

Course Description:
This course will introduce you to the study of world history, its relevance for living in the present, and the challenge to think critically about the emergence and subsequent development of the modern world since 1500. Participants in this course will examine experiences that transcend societal and cultural regions, focus on processes of cross-cultural interaction, and investigate patterns that influenced historical development and continue to impact societies on a global scale.

Course Requirements:
Attendance and Participation:
Attendance and participation in class are an important part of the course! Come to class and discussion. In this course the two depend heavily on one another. What you learn in lecture is crucial to understanding the readings and you will only benefit from lectures and readings by participating in discussion. In class discussions and lectures I expect you to be engaged and to participate. I also expect you to look interested! Looking interested when you are bored is a great skill to master for any professional career.

Required Texts:
(to avoid the high costs of college textbooks my course has the following reading arrangement.)

  • Primary documents are in Sanders et al. Encounters in World History vol. 2.
  • MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects: This project is available for free online:

Some Media News Web Sites:
There are many interesting web sites dealing with world news and global issues. I think you might find it interesting and keep up with one or two throughout the course (and hopefully beyond).


Assignments and Grading:

  1. Class Participation  / Attendance / Quizzes: 10%
  2. Exams 90 % (3 – 30% each)

Your essay exams will be graded in accordance with the following rubrics:

  • Ability to explain the historic context or the authors view on a historic event
  • Explain the significance of an event
  • Demonstrates understanding of broader context of world historical developments
  • Ability to create a thesis and conclusion. A thesis should be: specific, non-obvious, contestable and situated in a larger debate, present new knowledge, and/or challenge "conventional" wisdom. 
  • Sophistication of argument
  • Demonstrates familiarity with and utilizes the readings
  • Writing (Spelling, grammar, and appropriate word choice)
  • Organization (well organized writing, logical flow,

Exams will be essay format. I will provide you with ID terms (people, events, key terms) or a quote and you write an essay in response. You will need to identify the term or quote, place it in its historical context and, most importantly, discuss why it is significant.

!!!! There are no extra credit assignments in this class!!!!

Grading Scale:
A = 100 – 94%
A- = 93 – 90%
B+ = 89 – 87%
B = 86 – 84%
B- = 83 – 80%
C+ = 79 – 77%
C = 76 – 74%
C- = 73 – 70%
D+ = 69 – 67%
D = 66 – 60%
F = below 59%

Cell Phones and Laptops:
Please turn off your phone before entering class. Laptops may be used for note taking only.

This course has a Diversity and Cultural Awareness designation (DAC)

Course goals:
By the end of the semester, students should

  • know how historians learn about and analyze historical events and processes
  • become familiar with major events and trends in world history
  • be able to synthesize materials from readings, lectures, and discussions
  • gain a better understanding about Diversity and Cultural Awareness. This course
    • will aid in creating an understanding of the commonality and diversity among the peoples and cultures of the world
    • will help students to ask complex questions about other cultures and diverse groups, and seek out and articulate answers to questions that reflect an awareness of diverse cultural and social group perspectives
  • improve their critical thinking and analytical skills, including the ability to 
    • apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to explain historical trends and events by examining both primary and secondary sources
    • apply critical thinking and problem solving skills by critically examining issues, applying knowledge and theory, investigating, analyzing, developing, communicating, and supporting arguments
    • use evidence and data, and come independently to conclusions
    • create new or re-examine established ideas, positions, experiments, arguments, theories, and or hypothesis
    • compare trends across chronological periods and geographical areas

For Plagiarism and Academic Integrity Policy see link below:

Week One: Why World History / The World in 1400 (1/22, 1/24, 1/26)
Reading: World in 100 Objects: 64

Week Two: The World in 1400 (1/29, 1/31, 2/2)
Reading: Zheng He, Ibn Battuta; World in 100 Objects: 73, 78

Week Three: The Paradox of the Rising West / The Columbian Exchange Part I: European Empire and Overseas Expansion (2/5, 2/7, 2/9)
Reading: Sahagun, Diaz; World in 100 Objects: 75

Week Four: The Columbian Exchange Part II: The Rise of Capitalism and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (2/12, 2/14, 2/16)

Week Five: The Columbian Exchange Part II and III: Slavery and Recreating Cultures (2/20, 2/21, 2/23)
Reading: World in 100 Objects: 84

Exam 1 (2/23)

Week Six: Columbian Exchange / Early Modern Empires (2/26, 2/28, 3/2)
Reading: Docs on Akbar and Peter; World in 100 Objects: 71

Week Seven: Early Modern Empires (3/5, 3/7, 3/9)
Reading: World in 100 Objects: 82, 90

Week Eight: Spring Break

Week Nine: The Age of Revolutions: The Industrial Revolution (3/19, 3/21, 3/23)
Reading: Smith, Marx; World in 100 Objects: 88

Week Ten: The Age of Revolutions: Nationalism / The Age of Imperialism (3/26, 3/28, 3/30)
Reading: World in 100 Objects: 93

Week 11: The Age of Imperialism (4/2, 4/4, 4/6)
Reading: Dutt, Orwell; World in 100 Objects: 92, 94

Exam 2 (4/6)

Week 12: Imperialism/ Totalitarianism and Mass Killings (4/9, 4/11, 4/13)         
Reading: Hitler; World in 100 Objects: 96  

Week 13: Holocaust / National Liberation (4/18, 4/20)

Week 14: The Cold War in Global Perspective (4/23, 4/25, 4/27)
Reading: X and Novikov; World in 100 Objects: 98

Week 15: Globalization or Neo-Colonialism: The World since 1945 (4/30, 5/2)
Reading: docs on globalization; World in 100 Objects: 99, 100 

Final Exam TBA

Christoph Strobel is Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is the author of the Global Atlantic, 14001900, The Testing Grounds of Modern Empire, co-author with Alice Nash of Daily Life of Native Americans from Post-Columbian through Nineteenth-Century America. He is also author, co-author, and co-editor for three books on immigration.


Acknowledgements: I want to thank Kristin Hayward Strobel, Neal Salisbury, and Christine Skwiot for their feedback and suggestions. I also want to thank the audience of the panel on "Teaching World History through Artifacts and Geography" at the 2017 World History Association Conference in Boston for their valuable suggestion, questions, and feedback.

1 C. A. Bayly, "British and Indigenous Peoples," in Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 16001850, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 21.

2 David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "Introduction: The Age of Revolutions, c. 1760–1840 – Global Causation, Connection, and Comparison," in The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 17601840, eds. Armitage and Subrahmanyam (New York: Palgrave, 2010), XXIX.

3 For some thoughts on the importance and advantages of incorporating indigenous peoples into our analysis in a comparative/global framework see Michael A. McDonnell and Kate Fullagar, "Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences of European Empire in Comparative Perspective, 1760–1820," in The Routledge History of Western Empires, eds. Robert Aldrich and Kirsten McKenzie (New York: Routledge, 2014), 59–71. See also Christoph Strobel, "Facing the World from Indian Country: Some Thoughts and Strategies on Integrating Native Americans into the World Since 1500 Survey" World History Bulletin 30/2 (Fall 2014), 35–37; and Michael Witgen, "American Indians in World History" The Oxford Handbook of American Indian History, Frederick Hoxie, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 591–614.   

4 For a standard version of the economic narrative see Peter Stearns, The Industrial Revolution in World History 3rd ed. (Boulder, Cl: Westview Press, 2007).

5 For a representative sampling of the writings on political revolutions see for example Armitage and Subrahmanyan; Wim Klooster, Revolutions in the Atlantic World: A Comparative History (New York: New York University Press, 2009); Jack Goldstone, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

6 C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 17801914 (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004); Jurgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014). My discussion here also builds on Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verson, 1991); and Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (London: Verso, 2016).

7 For a useful general discussion of Native Americans during the American Revolution see Colin Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995). See also Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, and Slaves and the Making of the Revolution in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); and Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 17501804 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016).

8 Michael Adas, Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979). For a representative example of a textbook discussion see James Carter and Richard Warren, Forging the Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 242–6.

9 Gregory Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 17451815 (Batimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992). For quotes see "Speech of the Trout," May 24, 1807, in American States Papers: Indian Affairs, 2 vols. (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1832–1834), 1:798. For a biography of Tenskwatawa see R. David Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983). 

10 My discussion here draws from Christoph Strobel, "Indigenous Nationalism on Two Frontiers: The American Upper Ohio Valley and the South African Eastern Cape Compared, 1770–1853," Proceedings of the American Historical Association, 2006 (Ann Arbor, MI: Bell & Howell, 2006); and from Strobel, The Testing Grounds of Modern Empire: The Making of Colonial Racial Order in the American Ohio Country and the South African Eastern Cape, 1770s1850s (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008), chapter 4.

11 Strobel, The Testing Grounds of Modern Empire, 2.

12 For a study that sets the "Moundbuilders" into a world historical context see Lynda Shaffer, Native Americans before 1492: The Moundbuilding Centers of the Eastern Woodlands (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992).

13 For an insightful study on Cahokia see Timothy Pauketat, Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (New York: Penguin, 2010).

14 For a useful study on this subject see Charles R. Cobb, From Quarry to Cornfield: The Political Economy of Mississippian Hoe Production (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001).

15 Disease, and the demographic catastrophe it might have caused among Native American populations, is a widely discussed topic in historiography. Influential is Henry Dobyns' wide-ranging work on this subject. For a good summary that pertains to the Eastern Woodlands see Dobyns, Their Numbers Became Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983). Dobyns earlier work has been an influence on world historian Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973); see also Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 9001900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 209–15. See also Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (New York: Vintage, 2006). For a study on the demographic legacy of disease see for example Russel Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Norman: University Press of Oklahoma, 1987).

16 Neal Salisbury, "The Indians' Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans," William and Mary Quarterly (July 1996), 435–58; Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2–7.

17 See especially Catherine M. Cameron, Paul Kelton, and Alan Swedlund, eds., Beyond Germs: Native Depopulation in North America (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2015).

18 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects: From the Handaxe to the Credit Card (New York: Viking, 2011). For the online version see (accessed June 23, 2014); Strobel, "Facing the World from Indian Country," 36.

19 Gregory Dowd, War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), for quotes see 91. 

20 There is a vast and controversial literature on Native American influences on the founding fathers and American democracy. For a representative book see Bruce Johansen's Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy (Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press, 1982).

21 See for example the map of Ohio Indian villages in Lester Cappon, ed. Atlas of Early American History: Early Revolutionary Era 17601790 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 21. On Mequachake see Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country, chapter 6. On the Coshocton Delaware see Christoph Strobel, "The Delaware Indians' Revolution: A Struggle for Sovereignty and Independence in the Tuscarawas and the Muskingum River Valley," Journal of Northwest Ohio History 76:1 (Fall 2008), 21–32.

22 Speech of Cornstalk to Congress, Nov. 7, 1776, in Revolution and Confederation, ed. Colin Calloway (Bethesda, Md.: University Publications of America, 1994), vol. 18 of Early American Indian Documents: Laws and Treaties, gen. ed. Alden Vaughan, 147.

23 This quote comes from Representatives of the Ohio Confederacy, "Proposal to Maintain Indian Lands, 1793" in The World Turned Upside Down: Indian Voices from Early America, ed. Colin Calloway (Boston: Bedford, 1994), 181–3.

24 For quote see John Sugden, Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 74.

25 Harrison to Eustis, August 6, 1810, in Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, 2 vols. Logan Esarey, ed. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922), I: 456–9; Harrison to Eustis, August 22, 1806, in ibid., I: 459–69.

26 Quoted in Peter Nabokov, Native American Testimony, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 96–8.

27 Sebastian Conrad raises the issue about historians using the term "empire" when writing about indigenous groups such as the Comanche, but I think the issue of how we apply terminology in this kind of context deserves even broader consideration. Conrad, What is Global History? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016), 109.

28 Susan Sleeper-Smith, Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 9, for a general description of these processes see chs. 6–8.

Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2018 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use