by Dale Schlundt
In this day and age we feel as though our land, house, and other investments are relatively safe. If you ask the typical citizen, although our government may not be perfect, they would generally subscribe to the idea that the government is there to protect us. Yet historically speaking, the role of government as the protector has not and continues not to be the case in many circumstances.
Despite the fact that this topic could go in many directions after that statement, the focus of my work in this article will be on the condemnation of land owner’s property by the government for a “greater good” of the community. Perhaps a major highway needs to be built and the best route is simply through the middle of your house. I joke, of course. However the preferred route being through your property is not a far stretch in the least. Did I mention this can done with or without your consent? This is in essence, Eminent Domain.
It truly becomes an interesting topic when compared to historical events. My goal was to find a way to connect English explorer’s violent clashes with Native Americans, over land in the east, to modern America. As with many undergraduates in a history class, if the topic is not relevant to the newest technology on your phone or where one could find it, the attention span seems to dissipate. In my quest to achieve interest among the students, what I learned from many influential scholars’ research is the vast ideological differences between the New World and Old World inhabitants. More specifically, differences in terms of how they viewed both ownership and the use of land.
Most historians would argue that Native Americans believed land was not necessarily to be owned by an individual, but to act as stewards of such. At times allowing certain allies to live on it and benefit from its fruits. This ideology was in definite contrast to European views, when one studies European’s perspective according to Eric Foner in his book Give Me Liberty, An American History. As they viewed the natives, they saw the land was not farmed; the natives did not mine it in any Old World sense of the word, and to a large degree Native American stewardship of the land did not seem like stewardship at all. Speaking from an English Explorer’s position, the native people did not do anything with it, making their ownership or rights to the land, nullified [Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty An American History, Volume 1 Second Edition, Norton and Company. 2009]. This example illustrates how ideology, a society’s mentality, significantly affects the decisions and actions taken by its people.
You might be asking yourself how this truly affects my everyday life. Well, I hope you never have to care about this issue. Yet, while completing my graduate degree, the professors that I’ve admired the most would suggest that this is why we look at historical concepts, analyzing their origins and more importantly their meanings. So we have an understanding of the why. Simply put, we have no idea when it might be relevant to us as individuals.
That is, unless we are the ones in power. The history of European explorers in the New World, the U.S. government’s Indian policies, as well as the continuous struggle between international super powers, shows us the results of power and the lack of control those affected by it could exert. It should be reasonable to state that the power struggle has not so drastically changed in the 20th and 21st century. As we continue to debate the intentions of those in power and the hegemonic cycles seen, history begins to look much more intriguing, does it not?
Neither Eminent Domain’s origins, nor its theoretical justification, is the topic or goal of this specific article. Rather, being able to use modern day practices as a teaching strategy, in terms of historical comparisons to the present is at the forefront here. It should compel us to engage our students in the study of the mind set of those who have been in power for ages and those in power today, both inside and out of the classroom. Decisively and without question, the end goal for every instructor should be to make material important to the student.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College. Dale’s new book Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings) is now available on Amazon in paperback as well as Kindle Edition.