Christine M. DeLucia. Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. Yale University Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-300-20117-8, 496 pages.
By Lisa Vandenbossche
In a time when questions about monuments and memorialization continue to attract public attention, historian Christine DeLucia offers a compelling perspective on the nature of memory, materiality, and place in America. Focusing on King Philip’s War as a conflict that “has lingered in collective remembrances because it forces confrontations with fundamental aspects of identity, heritage, and purpose” (p. 1), DeLucia argues that violence is ingrained into landscapes and thus permanently linked with issues of place and space. Situated across four different “memoryscapes,” Memory Lands “challenges the idea that the colonial violence are matters of the distant past, tracking instead their enduring influence in modernity, and the contemporary presence of settler colonialism” (p. 1-2).
DeLucia is not the first scholar to tell the story of the conflict we now know as King Philip’s War. From the Introduction, she acknowledges her work’s place in a longer tradition when she cites Colin Calloway’s characterization of King Philip’s war as the “‘great watershed’ in New England Native and colonial history” (p. 1) and contrasts her own work against Jill Lepore’s Bancroft-winning, groundbreaking study, The Name of War.1 DeLucia positions her work as a counter to what she sees as Lepore’s focus on elite print culture, seeking to include Indigenous communities in reinterpreting the conflict across various actors to reexamine its history and impact. DeLucia’s methodology thus expands into the materiality of memory and explores non-written strategies by bringing together a wider range of (amongst others) written documents, oral accounts, public artwork, material objects, performances, monuments, and landscapes. Memory Lands builds its argument on records located across a diverse set of archives: from familiar institutions (like the American Antiquarian Society and Massachusetts Historical Society) to “minor” archives (like local public libraries and Native museums) and geographic locations themselves.
Weaving through these varied sources and archives, Memory Lands offers an unconventional place-based approach, rather than the chronological organization found in most academic books. For DeLucia, “understandings of contested pasts take shape in relation to particular landscapes, material features of the world, and politically defined territories” (p. 2). This results in readers moving forward and backward through time, as Memory Lands traces present to past and past to present by connecting “multitudinous holdings of these heterogeneous archives, libraries, and museums” (p. 13) to the history of various New England geographies through memoryscapes. The seven chapters of the book are constructed around four memoryscapes: starting with Deer Island in Boston Harbor (Chapters One and Two), moving across various waterways, swaps, and islands in areas of Narragansett Bay (Chapters Three and Four), stopping at places along the Connecticut River (Chapters Five and Six) and finishing in Bermuda (Chapter Seven). In each example, DeLucia explores the history of conflict during King Phillip’s War and traces its lasting legacy on the contested memory of colonial violence and land ownership to this day.
Of particular interest to maritime scholars will be the central roles that water spaces and maritime technology play in DeLucia’s place-based history. From islands and bays in New England and the Caribbean Sea to swamps and rivers, Memory Lands reconstructs material traces on both land and water. It tracks Native prisoners to Deer Island and back to the mainland, explores on detail the Great Swap massacre in the waters of the Narragansett Bay region, reconsiders moments of violence in various locals along the Connecticut River and ends with the removal of Narragansett Indians as they are sold into Atlantic slavery and transported to Bermuda. Water spaces are studied from ecological perspectives like tides and water solubility in liminal spaces, to technological differences between indigenous peoples and settlers, showing that each has an important and often overlooked impact on conflicts in these geographies. Moving between past, present, and future, this methodology allows Memory Lands to contemplate water rights in colonial confrontations during King Philip’s War (at times precipitating moments of violence) and connects these legacies with modern lawsuits over private property and development in these same spaces.
A strength of DeLucia’s work is the incredible archival scope and focus on missing indigenous perspectives on the local, rather than global, level. She offers compelling interpretations of diverse artifacts from census and marriage records, wampum belts, play bills and performances, to her own experience with on the ground, place-visits at the numerous geographic sites about which she writes. This strength can also be a weakness, as at times it is easy to get lost in the scale of the material and the detail of analysis. Readers might find themselves bogged down in the local, looking for larger national or global applications. A notable exception is the provocative final section that ends in Bermuda with a study of indigenous peoples sold into slavery and the resulting Native diaspora in the larger Atlantic world. In this section, DeLucia reminds readers of the global impact of what scholars typically read as a regional conflict and networks of capital, people, and exchange that are enabled by maritime infrastructure and labor. Ultimately, Memory Lands is a work that is as much about the history of King Philip’s War and the memory of it, as it is an exploration of how events are memorialized and archives are created. In resituating methodology on place and visiting so many sites, DeLucia argues, “this study is also about those sites: how repositories originated, how collections developed, who has arbitrated what belongs inside, and what is not a rightful part of the official story” (p. 13). It thus contributes valuable insight to both the history of King Phillip’s War and to larger questions the conflict raises about how history is constructed and who gets a voice in that construction.
Lisa Vandenbossche (@lisamvanden) is an Assistant Professor of English at McNeese State University. She specializes in Anglophone literature of the long-eighteenth century and maritime networks, with a specific focus on intersections between writing by and about sailors at sea and rhetorics of reform and legal discourse advanced on behalf of disenfranchised populations on shore in eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.
- Colin G. Galloway, “Introduction: Surviving the Dark Ages,” in After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, ed. Colin Calloway (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997) and Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Vintage Books, 1999).