Friday, June 15, 2012

Greer on the "Outer Commons" and the Dispossession of Native Americans

Property teachers will want to take special note of Alan Greer’s “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America,American Historical Review 117 (April 2012): 365-86, especially if they’ve grown accustomed to teaching Johnson v. McIntosh as a synecdoche for a broader triumph of Lockean, individual property over the collective property of Native Americans.  Greer makes the interesting point that during colonization in North America dispossession was more typically worked by the expansion of the collective right of Europeans to use “waste” lands, which he calls the “outer commons,” for grazing and herding.  “Over the centuries,” he writes, indigenous peoples over a broad and ever-moving front would feel the effects of the advent of four-legged invaders even before the two-legged variety became a settled presence. . . .  A multi-species assault on the native commons really was underway as the colonial commons advanced across the face of the continent, bringing in its wake a colonial enclosure movement that left virtually no room for Indian people.”

Greer is Professor of History  and Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America at McGill University.