January 19, 2018

Wolves at Heart: How Dog Evolution Shaped Whites’ Perceptions of Indians in North America by Joshua Abram Kercsmar

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Abstract

This article explores how, as dogs evolved and were bred into distinct varieties in Europe and North America from precontact to the present, whites in America used them to judge both Indians and themselves as natural improvers. When colonists first compared their own dogs to those of Native Americans, they found Indian dogs too wolf-like and vicious. But as ecological pressures in cities and rural spaces threatened to undo European breeds during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many whites came to doubt their status as nature’s

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masters. It was only during the twentieth century, as whites observed the spread of feral dogs on reservations, that they reimagined Indians and their dogs as savage and themselves as potential rescuers. This study highlights the importance of biological evolution to European perceptions of Indians. It also refines the field of evolutionary history by treating biology and history less as distinct forces and more as mutual processes.

by Joshua Abram Kercsmar

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