Jack Weatherford

Indian Givers

  • 40-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 14 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree
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Indian Givers Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “Indian Givers” by Jack Weatherford includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Indian Innovations Present Little Benefit to the Indians and Colonization as a Fundamentally Exploitative Exercise.

Plot Summary

Published in 1988 and written by anthropologist Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World traces the substantial and often over-looked contributions of American Indians to modern society. Despite his lack of formal training as a historian of American native cultures, Weatherford’s anthropological rigor shines through: Indian Givers has been widely praised for its insight, though occasionally criticized for relying too heavily on secondary literature. This study guide refers to the Random House Publishing Group Kindle edition.

Weatherford’s objective in writing Indian Givers is twofold. First, he aims to increase awareness of the immense contributions of indigenous peoples, particularly those in the Americas, to modern society, which he contends have been overlooked in previous accounts. Second, he hopes to draw attention to the wisdom that could still be shared by the Indians today.

Weatherford’s writing style is more persuasive essay than historical lecture. It might be called “pop anthropology.” His prose is unencumbered by academic jargon, and he relegates secondary sources to a reference section at the end of the book. A typical chapter interweaves the historical contributions of the Indians with powerful personal narratives from Indians of the present day.

Indian Givers has 14 chapters, each an essay on a different native contribution. These contributions can be broadly divided into five categories: economic, agricultural, philosophical, political, and architectural. Chapter 1 argues that gold and silver from the Americas enabled the transformation of the European mercantile system into a global market, leading to the rise of capitalism. Chapter 2 details the creation of the modern corporation in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. These corporations benefited from the Industrial Revolution, which was enabled in no small part by the raw materials and labor techniques developed in the New World, as Weatherford argues in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 shifts to agricultural contributions: the foods domesticated and propagated by the Indians in the New World (especially the potato) transformed the food landscape in the Old. Native agricultural wisdom, like farming techniques and technologies used to process crops into food, are discussed in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 focuses entirely on the many national dishes made possible only through the introduction of New World foods and spices.

Chapter 7 shifts to the philosophical arena: Weatherford argues that the concept of liberty, now closely associated with the classical world, was in fact invented in its current form by the Indians. In Chapter 8 he details the elements of Indian systems of governance—particularly the League of the Iroquois—which were used by the Founding Fathers to create the government of the United States. Chapter 9 examines the influence that 19th-century Indian campaigns of resistance had on the 20th-century revolts against colonialism. Chapters 10 and 11 focus on two sides of the same coin: the medicinal and narcotic substances provided by the Americas. Chapter 12 moves to architecture and urban planning, with Indians innovating earthquake-resistant masonry and the grid pattern for cities. They also trail-blazed the paths that now comprise much of the US road and highway system, as described in Chapter 13. Finally, in Chapter 14 Weatherford looks back at all these innovations and wonders how the Indians were so soundly defeated by their colonizers. “The strongest,” he argues, “but not necessarily the most creative or the most intelligent, won the day” (252). He concludes on a note of optimism, suggesting we can still learn much from native cultures, if we only ask.

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Chapters 1-3