Episode 088: Michael McDonnell, The History of History Writing


Historians rely on secondary historical sources almost as much as they rely on primary historical sources.

But what are secondary historical sources and how do they help historians know what they know about the past?

Michael McDonnell, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney, guides us through how he used secondary historical sources to investigate the pivotal role Native Americans played in the history of the Great Lakes region and early North America.

About the Series

Doing History episodes will introduce you to historians who will tell you what they know about the past and reveal how they came to their knowledge.

Each episode will air on the last Tuesday of each month in 2016.

This series is part of a partnership between Ben Franklin’s World and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Michael McDonnellIn this episode, Michael McDonnell, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney and author of Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America, takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of secondary historical sources and how historians use them to add to our knowledge about the past.

During our investigation, Mike reveals who the Anishinaabeg peoples were and how they lived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Why historians have relegated the Anishinaabeg peoples to the “edges” of European and American histories; And, what historians mean by historiography and how they use it to research and write new history books and articles.

What You’ll Discover

  • Charles-Michel Mouet de Langlade
  • Langlade’s Native American family and his dependence upon them
  • Anishinaabeg peoples and how they lived during the 17th & 18th centuries
  • Similarities and differences between Anishinaabeg & Haudenosaunee peoples
  • Why the Anishanaabeg have been at the “edges” of European and American histories
  • Historiography and how historians use it when they research and write
  • The trend to place the voices of peoples within the historiography who have not traditionally had a voice of their own
  • How the present influences the creation and evolution of historiography
  • How historians engage with the history of history writing
  • The historiographical debate around Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution
  • How having a historiography that seeks to understand Native American history on its own terms helps us better understand the early American past


Links to People, Places, and Publications

Books and Episodes Mentioned


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if the French and English had better understood Anishinaabeg history and customs during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? How would the history of early America be different?

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