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Reviews of On Savage Shores by Caroline Pennock

On Savage Shores

How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe

by Caroline Dodds Pennock

On Savage Shores by Caroline Dodds  Pennock X
On Savage Shores by Caroline Dodds  Pennock
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  • Published:
    Jan 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

A landmark work of narrative history that shatters our previous Eurocentric understanding of the Age of Discovery by telling the story of the Indigenous Americans who journeyed across the Atlantic to Europe after 1492

We have long been taught to presume that modern global history began when the "Old World" encountered the "New", when Christopher Columbus "discovered" America in 1492. But, as Caroline Dodds Pennock conclusively shows in this groundbreaking book, for tens of thousands of Aztecs, Maya, Totonacs, Inuit and others —enslaved people, diplomats, explorers, servants, traders—the reverse was true: they discovered Europe. For them, Europe comprised savage shores, a land of riches and marvels, yet perplexing for its brutal disparities of wealth and quality of life, and its baffling beliefs.

The story of these Indigenous Americans abroad is a story of abduction, loss, cultural appropriation, and, as they saw it, of apocalypse—a story that has largely been absent from our collective imagination of the times. From the Brazilian king who met Henry VIII to the Aztecs who mocked up human sacrifice at the court of Charles V; from the Inuk baby who was put on show in a London pub to the mestizo children of Spaniards who returned "home" with their fathers; from the Inuit who harpooned ducks on the Avon river to the many servants employed by Europeans of every rank: here are a people who were rendered exotic, demeaned, and marginalized, but whose worldviews and cultures had a profound impact on European civilization.

Drawing on their surviving literature and poetry and subtly layering European eyewitness accounts against the grain, Pennock gives us a sweeping account of the Indigenous American presence in, and impact on, early modern Europe.

Chapter 1

From the earliest encounters, Native peoples were seen by Europeans as a commodity to be exploited. On 11 October 1492, Columbus's crew 'discovered America', or more accurately, they first sighted the Taíno island of Guanahaní, which they 'took possession of ... in the names of the King and Queen', undeterred by the fact the island was quite obviously 'possessed' already. That day, Columbus concluded his diary: '[The people] ought to make good slaves for they are of quick intelligence since I notice that they are quick to repeat what is said to them, and I believe that they could very easily become Christians, for it seemed to me that they had no religion of their own. God willing, when I come to leave I will bring six of them to Your Highnesses so that they may learn to speak. And take them he did.

Exactly a month after Columbus's crew first spied land, five young Indigenous men who had paddled a canoe out to his flagship, the Santa María, found ...

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BookBrowse Review


The "savage shore" Pennock writes about is Europe, as experienced by various Indigenous travelers. This upends and reframes popular conceptions of the word "savage" and who or what the appellation is often applied to. Along with the travels of Indigenous people, Pennock also exhaustively details the "stuff of life" that traveled from the Americas back to Europe, influencing its culture and pastimes. The relative lack of first-person Indigenous accounts in the book — both current and historical — is a limitation that results in a narrative frequently peppered with the author's own questions about what Native travelers might have seen, felt or thought about their interactions. The reader is invited to wonder, to imagine, but not necessarily to know what the experience of Indigenous people at this time was truly like...continued

Full Review (877 words)

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(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Financial Times (UK)
In On Savage Shores, Dodds Pennock has performed a monumental work of historical excavation. Beautifully written and painstakingly researched, this is first-rate scholarship.

History Today
Inspiring and important ... Expertly researched, convincingly argued, erudite yet readable, and introduces new readers to the reality of Indigenous American experience.

The Guardian (UK), Book of the Day
On Savage Shores is a work of historical recovery ... few books make as compelling a case for such a reimagining

The Independent (UK)
On Savage Shores offers a welcome non-Eurocentric narrative about how the great civilisations of the Americas discovered Europe ... an important book.

The Times (UK)
Dodds Pennock's unpeeling of the indigenous experience from obscure manuscripts ... is a much-needed and refreshing take on our all-too Eurocentric telling of the past.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this fascinating and fluidly written revisionist history, Dodds Pennock, a senior lecturer in international history at the University of Sheffield, pieces together a 'mosaic of glimmering fragments' to explore how Indigenous people encountered and perceived European colonizers.

Kirkus Reviews
A convincing history of Indigenous peoples' deep integration into—and surprising influence on—European politics and culture.

Library Journal
Will fit well in public and academic libraries with collections in the history of the Americas.

Author Blurb Brett Rushforth, author of Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France
Caroline Dodds Pennock offers a remarkably fresh and compelling account of the so-called Age of Discovery. Whether arriving as ambassadors or enslaved, these travellers experienced Europe as a new and disorienting world: a place of shocking violence and perplexing social norms. Pennock, a leading authority on Indigenous Mexico, tells their stories with insight and humanity. A must read.

Author Blurb Catherine Fletcher, author of The Beauty and the Terror
Pennock has pieced together hundreds of fragments to create a new and remarkable portrait of the travellers who crossed the Atlantic not to the Americas but from them, and who found in Europe a strange, often hostile, sometimes intriguing society, vastly different from their own.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Spread of Indigenous American Foods to Europe

Photograph of a variety of potatoes in a market in Peru, displayed with colorful price signs One of the more flavorful influences of the New World on the Old in the age of Christopher Columbus was the impact Indigenous Americans had on the food of Europe. This occurred as part of what is popularly known as the "Columbian Exchange," or the general mixing of goods and culture (as well as disease) between Indigenous peoples in the Americas and Europeans, and it changed the world forever.

Caroline Dodds Pennock notes in her book On Savage Shores that "before contact with the Americas, Europe (and indeed the rest of the world) had no potatoes, squash, maize, or beans." The flow of crops and cuisine from the west (the Americas) to the east (Europe and beyond) occurred rapidly. Maize (corn) and potatoes in particular took root (no...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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