Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts by Daniel K. Richter

By Daniel K. Richter

During this epic synthesis, Richter unearths a brand new the United States. Surveying many centuries sooner than the yank Revolution, we find the tumultuous encounters among the peoples of North the USA, Africa, and Europe and notice how the current is the buildup of the traditional layers of the prior.

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Whether listeners actually took the lessons to heart is, as always in human history, another matter. In the peaceful realm of diplomacy rather than warfare with outsiders, the ways in which people mobilized power were largely an extension of the ways in which they did so within their local communities. Just as leaders brokered relationships—of kinship and marriage, exchange and mutual obligation—with their counterparts within and among villages, they tried to do the same with people who spoke differently, practiced different rituals, and had access to important material resources and other advantages.

Reinforcing this subordination were Church teachings that declared unions an indissoluble sacrament (a doctrine first promulgated only in the medieval period) and legal codes that denied women the right to possess property of their own. Under England’s common-law doctrine of “coverture,” for instance, heritable property belonged to a woman’s father or other guardian before marriage, and to her husband thereafter; as a femme covert, she had no independent standing in the world. ” Household composition in general and the rights of women in particu- Legacies of Conquest from Medieval Europe 47 lar, then, deeply divided the experiences of European and American kinship.

4 Meanwhile, metalworking, the harnessing of waterpower, and all the other much-vaunted technologies unknown in North America produced few visible benefits for overworked, undernourished European people whose wood- or mud-walled, thatched-roof, often chimneyless houses provided few fundamentally different indoor comforts from those of their North American counterparts—unless one counts as a comfort the sounds and smells of the cattle who sometimes shared a single roof with humans, separated from them only by a crude partition.

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