Scholars have developed two broad approaches to researching the history of the native peoples of the American South from the sixteenth century to the present: culture history and social history. The essential task in culture history is to classify native so-called tribes into cultural and/or linguistic categories, to list defining cultural traits, and to show how these “tribes” have persisted, disappeared, or become acculturated. The essential task in social history is to reconstruct the structure of the societies and polities into which native peoples organized themselves within the context of native worlds and to show what happened to them when they came into contact with the modern world-system. Both approaches have been used to depict and explicate Cofitachequi, a native people first encountered by the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1540. Our purpose here is to point out flaws in the culture history approach and to emphasize strengths in the social history approach.

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