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Cherokee Medicine, Colonial Germs


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About the Author

Paul Kelton is Professor of History at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He is the author of Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast, 1492-1715.


Historians have long written that American Indian populations were helpless before the onslaught of European microbes. In this definitive analysis of early Cherokee history, Paul Kelton lays the simplistic virgin soil theory to rest and shows that epidemics of smallpox and other pathogens were not the inevitable result of European arrival. Instead, they took root amid the devastation unleashed by European colonization. The Cherokees, too, were not hapless victims, but exhibited resilience and creativity by integrating new diseases into their cosmology and medical practices to reduce exposure and control outbreaks. Kelton's meticulously researched account rewrites an important part of the history of early America."" - David S. Jones, author of Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600

""This book joins distinguished scholarship on early American Indian history that is centered on the Indian experience and revises historians' knowledge of a time and place they thought they knew well."" - H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences

""Cherokee Medicine...will lead scholars to reexamine how they understand and write about epidemic disease."" - Journal of Southern History

""He puts colonists' often vague and unsubstantiated references to apocalyptic sickness under a microscope....Kelton demonstrates how close, rigorous analysis proves that Native responses to smallpox were varied, innovative (including the use of quarantine and vaccination), and often effective....Excellent."" - Choice

""Of the many new insights that Kelton contributes, none is more important than the Cherokee response to smallpox, which undermines the narrative of Native peoples as passive victims....Kelton's work is a much-needed antidote to prevailing 'narratives of disease'...."" - Ethnohistory

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