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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dr. Richard Kania’s book unravels historical mystery

UNC Pembroke sociologist Dr. Richard R. E. Kania loves a good detective story.

In his latest book, “The 1605 Waymouth Expedition to the Coast of Maine: An assessment of the Rosier Text,” he does a little sleuthing of his own. The book was published this fall by Carolina Press of Southern Pines, N.C.

Richard KaniaDr. Kania, chair of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at UNCP, researched the book for more than 30 years, and its publication coincides with the 400th anniversary of British Captain George Waymouth’s voyage to the New World.

As an anthropology and ethnology graduate student at the University of Virginia, Dr. Kania’s interest was Native America. For a paper on early colonial trade between Virginia Indians and English colonists, one of his sources was a somewhat obscure book entitled “A Most Prosperous Voyage to Virginia,” the story of Captain George Waymouth’s expedition to the Atlantic coast of North America written by James Rosier in 1605.

“When I got the book, I discovered it wasn’t about Virginia at all,” he said.

In those times all of the British colonies in North America were called collectively “Virginia Britannia” but Waymouth and Rosier only visited the coast of Maine. Nevertheless Dr. Kania read the book.

“I saw something in there that caught my eye.”

The adventurers reported domesticated herds of deer and caribou (reindeer) and use of their milk for making dairy products. Scholars rejected the observation as impossible.

“It was the only recorded citing of pre-colonial New England dairy production,” Dr. Kania said. “The question was ‘How do I demonstrate whether Rosier could be right or wrong?’”

Book Cover: The 1605 Waymouth Expedition to the Coast of Maine: An Assessment fo the Rosier TextOther explorers, notably Captain John Smith, made outrageous or exaggerated claims about the New World, and some of Rosier’s notations were secondhand, derived from interviews of Native Americans. Dr. Kania believed it needed closer examination.

“I found archeological sites, that included sites where animals were butchered,” he said. “There were many more male reindeer skulls than female, indicating the possibility that the females were spared for breeding and milk production.”

Dr. Kania examined the veracity of Rosier’s other observations. Of his 197 claims in the areas of zoology, botany, ethnography and geography, Dr. Kania could verify 188 independently. None were overtly false.

“We can conclude that Rosier was a good 17th century ethnographer and natural historian,” Dr. Kania said. “Thus we can be confident that his report of butter and cheese manufacture from the milk of deer and reindeer accurately reflected what the natives told and showed him.”

The mystery unraveled by Dr. Kania shed a little more light on how Native Americans lived in pre-colonial times before disease and conquest forever obliterated their societies.

“The 1605 Waymouth Expedition” provides another historical service. Dr. Kania has translated Rosier’s book, which was written in an archaic form of English that is difficult for any but the scholar to decipher.

Dr. Kania said he collected evidence on and off over 30 years about herding and dairy production in Native America. He wrote the book in spring 2005 while serving as a Senior Fulbright Professor in Belarus.

Dr. Kania received his doctorate in social anthropology and sociology in 1982. At UNCP, he teaches a variety of courses on policing, media and crime and Native American topics. He also has a number of publications on modern American detective stories to his credit.

For further information on the contents of “The 1605 Waymouth Expedition to the Coast of Maine: An Assessment of the Rosier Text” by Richard R. E. Kania, contact the author at rich.kania@uncp.edu or call 910.521.6232.

For information on acquiring copies, contact the Carolina Press at karo1942@alltel.net.

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