cover image In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American Empire

In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American Empire

Alicia Puglionesi. Scribner, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982116-75-0

Historian Puglionesi (Common Phantoms) examines how “Americans extracted literal power from the landscape and symbolic power from history” in this thought-provoking study of four geographical sites whose exploitation by white settlers helped create a mythology legitimizing their dominion over the country and its Indigenous inhabitants. In the early 19th century, Virginia’s Grave Creek Mound archaeological site emerged not only as a tourist attraction but as a justification for Indian removal; the size and sophistication of the structure was supposedly beyond the capabilities of modern Native Americans and thus the work of a “lost race” whose rightful heirs were European settlers. Puglionesi also compares the decline of northwestern Pennsylvania’s oil boomtowns in the 20th century to the displacement of Haudenosaunee tribes and details how, in the debate over the construction of a hydroelectric dam in northern Maryland in the 1920s, locals began to view ancient petroglyphs carved onto rocks above the Susquehanna River as “a warning about their own future.” Puglionesi writes lucidly and packs the narrative full of intriguing minutiae, though the thrust of her argument occasionally gets lost. Still, this is a stimulating look at the erasure and endurance of Native American culture. Illus. Agent: Veronica Goldstein, Fletcher & Co. (Apr.)