Before American History

Nationalist Mythmaking and Indigenous Dispossession

by Christen Mucher

Before American History examines the project of settler nationalism from the 1780s to the 1840s in two of North America’s republics—the US and Mexico—through an analysis of historical knowledge production. As the US and Mexico transformed from European colonies into independent republics—and before war scarred them both—antiquarians and historians compiled and interpreted archives meant to document America’s Indigenous pasts. Before American History approaches two iconic imaginings of the past—the carved Sun Stone and the mounded earthwork—as archives of nationalist power and Indigenous dispossession as well as objects that are, at their material base, Indigenously-produced but settler-controlled and settler-interpreted.

In making the connection between earthworks built by an allegedly vanished people merely peripheral to US citizens and the literal touchstone of Mexicans’ history, Before American History details how Mexican and US nationalists created national histories out of Indigenous pasts and thereby wrote Indigenous pasts out of their national histories and out of national lands. It uncovers how the manipulation of Indigenous pasts and (mis)interpretations of “American Antiquities”—Indigenous documents, objects and monuments—served the purposes of a trans-imperial/transnational network of creole ruling elites, first in New Spain and British America, and later in Mexico and the United States, as they struggled to construct new political, geographic, and historical orders.

Open-access publication of Before American History has been enabled by funding from SHMP, the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Virginia Press
  • publisher place
    Charlottesville and London
  • series title
    Writing the Early Americas
  • doi