Contact Strategies: Histories of Native Autonomy in Brazil

(Stanford University Press, 2021)

Winner of the 2022 Friedrich Katz Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association.

Winner of the 2022 S̩rgio Buarque de Holanda Prize, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association РBrazil Section.

Around the year 1800, independent Native groups still effectively controlled about half the territory of the Americas. How did they maintain their political autonomy and territorial sovereignty, hundreds of years after the arrival of Europeans? In a study that spans the eighteenth to twentieth centuries and ranges across the vast interior of South America, the author examines this history of power and persistence from the vantage point of autonomous Native peoples in Brazil. The central argument of the book is that Indigenous groups took the initiative in their contacts with Brazilian society. Rather than fleeing or evading contact, Native peoples actively sought to appropriate what was useful and potent from outsiders, incorporating new knowledge, products, and even people, on their own terms and for their own purposes.

At the same time, autonomous Native groups aimed to control contact with dangerous outsiders, so as to protect their communities from threats that came in the form of sicknesses, vices, forced labor, and land invasions. Their tactical decisions shaped and limited colonizing enterprises in Brazil, while revealing Native peoples’ capacity for cultural persistence through transformation. These contact strategies are preserved in the collective memories of Indigenous groups today, informing struggles for survival and self-determination in the present.

Amazonian Routes: Indigenous Mobility and Colonial Communities in Northern Brazil

(Stanford University Press, 2014)

Winner of the 2015 Howard Francis Cline Memorial Prize, sponsored by the Conference on Latin American History.

Co-winner of the 2015 Roberto Reis Prize, sponsored by the Brazilian Studies Association.

This book reconstructs the world of eighteenth-century Amazonia to argue that Indigenous mobility did not undermine settlement or community. In doing so, it revises longstanding views of Native Amazonians as perpetual wanderers, lacking attachment to place and likely to flee at the slightest provocation. Instead, Native Amazonians used traditional as well as new, colonial forms of spatial mobility to build enduring communities under the constraints of Portuguese colonialism. Canoeing and trekking through the interior to collect forest products or to contact independent Native groups, Indians expanded their social networks, found economic opportunities, and brought new people and resources back to the colonial villages. When they were not participating in these state-sponsored expeditions, many Indians migrated between colonial settlements, seeking to be incorporated as productive members of their chosen communities.

Drawing on largely untapped village-level sources, the book shows that mobile people remained attached to their home communities and committed to the preservation of their lands and assets. This argument still matters today, and not just to scholars, as rural communities in the Brazilian Amazon find themselves threatened by powerful outsiders who argue that their mobility invalidates their claims to territory.