Fig. 2. Brigham Young. From John Doyle Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, ed. William W. Bishop (St. Louis, 1878), 391. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Historian Philip Deloria has argued that a fundamental theme of American culture is a simultaneous effort to displace Native Americans and to inherit, borrow, or perform Native American identity—a practice that he calls “playing Indian.” Pizarro’s elegiac mood—glamorizing the Inca Empire as it went down to defeat—spoke to this ambivalent engagement with Native Americans.

If this ambivalence was a prominent theme in antebellum America, it was even more central to the brand-new Mormon religion. The Book of Mormon, said to have been revealed by an angel in 1827, is in fact a history of ancient Native Americans. Its protagonists are Israelites who came to America by sea in 600 B.C. before splitting into two groups, the good Nephites and the evil Lamanites. Eventually the Lamanites—the ancestors of modern Indians—exterminated their Nephite cousins. The Nephites’ last act was to leave the Book of Mormon to be discovered by Joseph Smith, their latter-day heir.


Welcome to Commonplace, a destination for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit less formal than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Commonplace speaks—and listens—to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. It is for all sorts of people to read about all sorts of things relating to early American life—from architecture to literature, from politics to parlor manners. It’s a place to find insightful analysis of early American history as it is discussed in scholarly literature, as it manifests on the evening news, as it is curated in museums, big and small; as it is performed in documentary and dramatic films and as it shows up in everyday life.

In addition to critical evaluations of books and websites (Reviews) and poetic research and fiction (Creative Writing), our articles explore material and visual culture (Objects); pedagogy, the writing of literary scholarship, and the historian’s craft (Teach); and diverse aspects of America’s past and its many peoples (Learn). For more great content, check out our other projects, (Just Teach One) and (Just Teach One African American Print).


How to cite Commonplace articles:

Author, “Title of Article,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, date accessed, URL.

Sophie White, “Trading Looks Race, Religion and Dress in French America,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, accessed September 30, 2019, https://commonplace.online/article/trading-looks-race-religion-dress-french-america/


Joshua R. Greenberg, editor


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