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Sound Bites -- Provocative excerpts from primary and secondary sources (some with audio commentary)


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1) The [gigantic] question which has thus suddenly arisen, is, what right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory? (Washington Irving, History of New York.  New York: 1809 [Book I, chap v]. )

2) I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth it shall be bound also in heaven. (Matthew 16:19 )

3) The absurdity of gaining possession of a continent by sailing along its coast line was so obvious that some writers facetiously suggested that Europe would have to be conceded to any Indian prince who happened to send a ship to discover it. (Wilcomb E. Washburn, "The Moral and Legal Justifications for Dispossessing the Indians."  Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History.  Ed. James Morton Smith. New York: Norton, 1972: 17. )

4) In the unchangeable order of things, two such races can not exist together, each preserving its co-ordinate identity. Either this great continent, in the order of Providence, should have remained in the occupancy of half a million of savages, engaged in everlasting conflicts of their peculiar warfare with each other, or it must have become, as it has, the domain of civilized millions.  It is in vain to charge upon the latter race results, which grew out of the laws of nature, and the universal march of human events. (Timothy Flint, Indian Wars of the West. Cincinnati, 1833: 36-37. )

5) [The nation] is an imagined political community. (Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.  London: Verso, 1983: 6. )

6) The scary truth about Sepúlveda's "Apology" lies in the manifestation of its rhetoric in the actual practice of Spanish conquest. Ironically enough, considering he had never been to the New World, Sepúlveda captures with brutal honesty the sense of entitlement that enabled one group to brutally subject another.  Sepúlveda's repeated references to the removal of obstacles to the propagation of the Christian faith take on ominous significance when one considers how often the obstacles removed were the individuals themselves. (Anne DeLong, Lehigh University )

7) With the narrative enclosed, I subjoin some observations with regard to the animals, vulgarly called Indians. . . . On what is their claim founded? -- Occupancy.  A wild Indian with his skin painted red, and a feather through his nose, has set foot on the broad continent of North and South America; a second wild Indian with his ears cut in ringlets, or his nose slit like a swine or a malefactor, also sets his foot on the same extensive tract of soil.  Let the first Indian make a talk to his brother, and bid him take his foot off the continent, for he being first upon it, had occupied the whole, to kill buffaloes, and tall elks with long horns.  This claim in the reasoning of some men would be just, and the second savage ought to depart in his canoe, and seek a continent where no prior occupant claimed the soil. (Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Indian Atrocities. Cincinnati, 1867: 62-72. )

8) Space . . . The Final Frontier.  These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise whose five-year mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has ever gone before. (Star Trek)

9) Columbus did not enter a silent world. (Andrew O. Wiget, Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. 1. Boston: Heath, 1995: 33 )

10) Many studies tell us what the first explorers were trying to do.  Many others tell us why they were trying to do it.  But very few have attempted to describe the justice or injustice of the quest.  Yet significant moral and legal problems were brought to the fore by the expansion of Europe into the various parts of the world. (Wilcomb E. Washburn, "The Moral and Legal Justifications for Dispossessing the Indians.C28"  Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History.  Ed. James Morton Smith.  New York: Norton, 1972: 15. )