Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Fred W. Anderson

Second Advisor

Lee V. Chambers

Third Advisor

Virginia D. Anderson

Fourth Advisor

Douglas Bamforth

Fifth Advisor

Elizabeth Fenn


Although most historians have evaded its study, postmortem mutilation had an extensive history on both sides of the Atlantic and appears in a startling number of sources. Corporeal trophies communicated a variety of meanings to the people of Early America: mutilating a corpse conveyed affective power, marked physical and cultural boundaries between groups, and conferred spiritual authority. When European and Indian cultures met, these trophies formed an important aspect of their (mis)communication. Certain body parts acquired greater social and economic significance, developing into an exchange of human scalps for monetary rewards with dire implications for intercultural relations in North America. Colonial rewards for Indian scalps fused the "logic of elimination" with targeted violence. Scalp bounties simultaneously constructed racialized enemies and produced whiteness as the unifying principle for people of the British (and later Amercian) empire who emerged from the Seven Years War as "the white people." Nineteenth-century "image-makers" furthered the semiotics of anti-Indian violence that had united white Americans after the Revolution into the language of a new American empire: an empire that defined its boundaries through racialized violence.

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