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One theory of history argues that history is the story of progress. Does the history of the Indian people support this theory?

If by "progress" one means that things are continually getting better, that is clearly not true.  Just consider life in Europe, which was much better under the ancient Roman Empire than it was in the middle ages.

In American history, when Europeans came into contact with the native population life on the continent certainly progressed as there was an introduction of all sorts of new and more advanced ideas and technology.  Unfortunately, these advancements did not generally benefit the native population.  

The Native American civilization was inferior to that of the Europeans.  I know that term can be provocative and controversial, so let me explain what I mean.  It certainly does not mean that Native traditions were without value or that the typical life in a tribe was less enjoyable or fulfilling that life as a European descended settler.  But Europeans had superior weapons and military tactics.  They had more advanced systems of trade, better education through the use of printing and other technologies, and better industrial methods (even before the industrial revolution Europeans were building many more advanced tools than Native Americans).

Some native groups who accepted and assimilated into the European culture saw the benefits of these improvements.  Unfortunately, European racism and prejudice made this assimilation difficult for most native groups.  Also, the Indians had an inferior immune system causing many of them to die off from disease.  Europeans had had similar mass deaths in the middle ages caused by the plagues that struck Europe.  Those who survived tended to pass along their superior immune systems to their descendents.  Indians who had not been through such massive infections before did not have the defenses and suffered great losses when exposed to European diseases.

An unfortunate byproduct of most progress is that those who have the inferior customs, traditions, technologies, tend to die off or be assimilated into the superior culture.  That is what has happened to the Native Americans.  Today many of them live as normal Americans benefiting greatly from all the advances of this nation.  Some who refuse to assimilate still live in grinding poverty on reservations, and would arguably be better off if Europeans had never arrived.  But progress does not mean that everyone benefits.  In terms of historical reality, history means that superior groups conquer inferior ones, causing the losing group to assimilate or die off.  

That is the unfortunate reality for the American Indians.  Their civilization proved inferior when it came into contact with the European one.  They either assimilated or died so that life overall for everyone living on the continent could "progress."

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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