Thursday, June 12, 2008

David Day's "Conquest"

David Day has written widely on Australian history and the history of the Second World War. His recent books include The Politics of War, the prize-winning biographies Chifley and John Curtin: A Life, and the best-selling history of Australia, Claiming a Continent.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, and reported the following:
In writing Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, I wanted to explore the methods that societies use when they try to claim territory that is already occupied by others. I put forward the notion of 'supplanting societies' as a new and fruitful way of understanding the history of the world, and contrasting it with traditional ideas about colonialism. I particularly wanted to emphasise the very long-term and multi-layered nature of this process, as the supplanting society tries to establish a territorial claim that will be superior to the claim of the pre-existing people. A moment's thought will reveal that most, if not all, societies have experienced this process and have had their histories shaped by it. The United States is just one of many societies whose history continues to be shaped by this centuries-long process.

Page 99 explores the way in which the notion of conquest is used to buttress the claim of the supplanting society. I describe how the Spanish in America and the Dutch in southern Africa pointed to their conquest of the native people as giving them the right to claim those land as their own. I contrast this with Thomas Jefferson, who used arguments about conquest as a means of denying Britain's control of the north American colonies. In Jefferson's view, it was the colonists, rather than the British government, who had done the conquering and who therefore deserved to control the colonies.

While Jefferson deployed arguments about conquest to justify the colonists' push for independence from Britain, I go on to show how he was more reticent about using such arguments to justify the dispossession of native Americans. Instead, he preferred to argue that native Americans had mostly given up their lands of their own free will, rather than having had the lands taken forcibly from them. In other chapters, I explore the various other means, from map-making to massacres and story-telling to immigration, that societies have used to buttress their claims of ownership.
Learn more about Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others and the author at the Oxford University Press website and David Day's website.

--Marshal Zeringue