Saturday, May 26, 2007

Book Review: "Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony"

NYU history professor Karen Ordahl Kupperman's Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony has just been released in an updated edition by Rowman & Littlefield. Much has changed since the original publication of Roanoke in 1984, and this revision brings the interpretations up to date and cements its position as the history of the "lost colony" and its predecessors for another generation of historians and students.

Kupperman works diligently to provide the important contextual and background information needed to understand the colonization movement in England, its nexus with international relations and privateering, and - perhaps most notably - the state of native society in the Outer Banks region where the several Roanoke colonies were founded. There is much discussion here of Richard Hakluyt, the great promoter (whose biography, by Peter Mancall, I enjoyed so well back in March), and of the great duo Thomas Hariot and John White, whose book Kupperman hails for its insightful and surprisingly accurate ethnographic portrayals of the Roanoke peoples.

Using the latest archaeological and interpretive historiographical information, Kupperman expertly guides her reader through the multiple colonization attempts at Roanoke in the 1580s, culminating of course with the establishment of the famous "lost colony," the fate of whose inhabitants remains unknown to this day. She points out the flaws in the early plans which brought about the quick ends of the first colonies, and maintains that had those lessons been learned better (or, perhaps, had the third attempt with its family-based model succeeded), some of the later errors during the early years at Jamestown might have been avoided.

Concise but detailed, this is an excellent in-depth treatment of the Roanoke colonies. The notes also contain many good suggestions for further reading in various areas.