This introduction explains why it is crucial to pay attention to nonverbal means of communication when trying to understand colonial encounters and the culturally hybrid worlds they produced. Throughout the colonial period, people mobilized age-old communicative strategies using embodied means of telling and learning, both alongside and independently of spoken language. Some things could be well understood without language, and misunderstandings were not the primary cause for violence. Situating this book within the larger historiography, the author details her methodology, sources, and terminology. The book’s contributions to multiple fields, especially the history of the French Atlantic, colonial America, and Native American and Indigenous studies, are outlined. Nonverbal communication is described along a spectrum of kinetic signs, deeply connected to rich Indigenous alternate literacies and worldviews. Signs and sensory exchanges helped connect otherwise dissimilar cultures, making nonverbal communication fundamental to French colonies between 1500 and 1700. The French imagined an intercontinental empire through commercial connections and shared communicative practices. While the demands placed on intercultural communication changed over time, Indigenous traditions of nonverbal expression remained highly influential well into the eighteenth century and must be further acknowledged, with important consequences for descendant communities.
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