When Algonquians and English met in seventeenth-century New England, they each occupied a distinct, but overlapping landscape. While the trees and hills may have been in the same physical locations, for each culture, the meaning of those objects and experience of interacting with them seemed strange to their counterparts. Where the Algonquians understood swamps and forests to be havens and places of spiritual significance, the English saw them as dangerous land that needed to be “improved” and carefully mapped in English manners. Similarly, the forests and swampland that the Algonquians easily traversed beguiled English attempts to understand and coexist with them. The English became lost when they left their fields, and had trouble making American land yield sustenance. Each group existed in a parallel New England.
My dissertation, “Parallel Landscapes: Algonquian and English Spatial Understandings of New England, 1500-1700,” carefully traces the development of English and Algonquian spatial epistemologies from the first English exploration of New England until the defeat of the last major Algonquian confederacy during King Philip’s War (1675). I argue that while the English continuously relied on indigenous knowledge to understand and survive in the region, Algonquians only drew on English ideas of geography in order to better negotiate their fraught relationship with the English. Eventually, the English began to employ new mapping and other forms of knowledge to eschew Algonquian influence over them, although to limited effect. By following a subtle chronology, this dissertation presents a new, nuanced, version of spatial understandings in New England. It also employs a unique framework: Parallel Landscapes. In this approach, I posit that Algonquians and English came to live in the same place, but envisioned and experienced two distinct landscapes. Compared to previous works on Indian and English interaction with the environment in seventeenth-century New England, my dissertation explores how distinct cultural meanings emerged from the ways Algonquians and English experienced the landscape differently.