The westward gaze: Indigenizing transatlantic studies
Much scholarship about the early centuries of contact between the Americas and Europe fails to include Indigenous perspectives, knowledge and experiences. Some scholars do not bother to look for Indigenous information because they assume it’s not there, cannot be known, or has been lost due to the violence of cultural conflict.
As Canada Research Chair in Intercultural Encounter, Dr. Lauren Beck’s approach to this problem lies in identifying new points of access (and old ones that have been ignored) to Indigenous experiences and perspectives during the early modern period. She examines the Indigenous presence found in European written accounts, Indigenous and European cartography, the visual culture of the early modern period, languages from both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the place names that emerged during this time.
Her research makes use of textual and visual materials about, and prepared by, Indigenous peoples, some of which have been published and others that remain in archives, as well as popular works prepared by explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Samuel de Champlain. This pan-American approach enables Beck to understand broader patterns in how Indigenous knowledge is represented and made knowable by non-Indigenous peoples.
From another perspective, her work will allow us to understand how governments and scholars today continue to use early-modern strategies of representation that silence the Indigenous presence.
Her research will also lead scholars toward a paradigm shift in their work through which European knowledge and experiences will no longer frame the way they do early modern scholarship.