Allan Greer has written an ambitious comparative account of what he calls “property formation” (19) in New Spain, New England, and New France. It draws on a large body of scholarship to explain how European colonists dispossessed indigenous peoples in North America from the early 1500s to the late 1800s.

Greer challenges the idea that these colonists replaced an indigenous commons with private property. Instead, he argues that early modern Europeans lived in a feudal world of overlapping claims to property in lands that were often held in common. They were, according to Greer, more “early” than “modern” (4), and the colonies they established in North America reflected this. As Greer puts it, “one consistent theme of this book will be to emphasize the very limited role of developments associated with capitalism, private property and modernity in the early colonization of North America” (3).

Nor does Greer see the indigenous...

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