Sunday, September 8, 2013

Locating "Native Space" at an Early Connecticut College

What does "Native space" look like, especially in contexts that on the surface appear overwhelmingly colonial?  This is the central question of my paper, which focuses on Native people, objects, and cross-cultural encounters at Yale College during the 18th and 19th centuries.  While researching another topic in southern New England, I noticed that Algonquian and other Indians were persistently being mentioned in records about the College's early years.  This was surprising: as far as we know, Yale never housed a formal "Indian College" or "Indian School" like the ones at early Harvard and the College of William and Mary.  (Archaeologists, students, and community members have re-examined those sites to remarkable effect in recent years.)

Yet it turns out early Yale was a vital locale for Native individuals and communities in other ways. Standing upon traditional Quinnipiac homelands along Long Island Sound, the College--and the surrounding town of New Haven--emerged as a gathering place for Natives from multiple tribal communities; as a place for training colonial missionaries who aspired to go out among tribes, and for "educating" selected Native youth temporarily separated from their kin networks.  It was also a place for Native petitioning, protests, and lawsuits that resisted colonial authority.

Perhaps most striking was how Native material cultural "objects" from across North America became deposited in College museum collections in the mid-18th century, largely at the behest of president Ezra Stiles.  They were displayed as "relics" intended for speculation, romanticizing, and critique by Anglo-American observers.  These sensitive cultural items raise troubling questions today, since many are difficult to locate, and therefore to examine for the possibility of tribal repatriation.  By extending the boundaries of what a "Native place" can look like--it can be off-reservation and urban, for example--this paper invites us to re-imagine a site conventionally understood as devoid of or even hostile to Native presence.  Instead, it re-casts the home of Lux et Veritas as grounds with deep, enduring Native significance, and with many opportunities for decolonization in the 21st century.

Christine DeLucia
Assistant Professor of History, Mount Holyoke College

Re-envisioning Native Cultures in Public

All too frequently, Native identities, cultures, and histories are either completely absent from the public sphere or, if present, perpetuate longstanding myth-conceptions and grotesque stereotypes. A range of actors, from the unwittingly misguided to the willfully malicious, contribute to this ongoing repression, misrepresentation, and reductive simplification of the richly varied histories and experiences of Native peoples in the United States. The forces working against this tide are increasingly diverse, too, particularly as members of Native communities here in New England and elsewhere align with other groups to complement and extend their own rich traditions of resistant activism.

A Participatory Discussion
“Re-envisioning Native Cultures in Public” is a participatory forum. Its title refers to our objectives for this session: 
  • to examine the subtle as well as overt strategies that continue to repress Native cultures in the public sphere, and 
  • to re-envision—together, as a public—possibilities for challenging the dominant culture’s status quo.
To model, and not merely discuss, the necessity of the public dimension for such re-envisionings, our panel members have been reaching out to and inviting the participation of Native groups and others in the region. Also, the session is open to the public free of charge. (Thank you, NEASA.)

Share Your Experiences, Ideas, and Questions
To begin the session, we will outline some of the more significant problems and opportunities encountered in our own interventions in the public sphere. But, since the aim of the session is to provoke dialogue, we invite you to share your work, ideas, and questions here, in response to this post and others that our panel will be posting during the week. 

What’s Wrong with This Picture?
To help get the pre-conference discussion rolling, let me (Clarissa Ceglio) introduce the topic that I will touch on during my opening remarks: decolonizing the digital. Scholars, particularly those working in Postcolonial Digital Humanities, have noted—and call us to challenge—the ways in which digital spaces perpetuate historical and new forms of oppression as well as sustain whiteness as the normative category. 

What's wrong with this picture? 
A sample of Microsoft Office clip art 
categorized as "Native American."

The Microsoft Office clip art selected to illustrate this post is one such example. Perhaps you are familiar with this feature. If, for example, you want to add a copyright-free illustration, stock photograph, or similar visual element to a Microsoft Word document, simply select “insert” followed by “illustrations” and “clip art.” Then enter a search term to find images appropriate to your needs. The three cartoons shown here are a subset of the options yielded by searching on “Native American.”  I tried Indigenous, American Indian, First Peoples, and names of specific groups. I also searched for African American, Asian American, Hispanic, and Latino/a. The returns for these search terms included photographs of contemporary individuals staged to communicate such concepts as white-collar professionalism, academic achievement, loving family unit, recreational fun, member of multicultural group, etc. Not so for Native Americans; only one photograph in that group shows individuals in a contemporary setting. And, as if to confirm the invisibility of whiteness, terms such as European American, Anglo American, etc., each return a null set. (And the results for "white American" are quizzical.) Of course, there are better ways to secure fee-free images to illustrate a blog post or other communication about issues of Native representation. But consider that a reported 1 billion people worldwide now use Microsoft Office and that for many mainstream users, such as grade school teachers, this clip art is a go-to resource. But, we already know what's wrong with this picture; so, how might we productively re-envision this and other digital spaces? 

Please chime in by commenting here, on Twitter (#NEASA2013), on Facebook, and at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center on Saturday, September 28 at 10:45 am.

~Session panelists are:
Trudie Lamb Richmond, a Schaghticoke Elder, an activist involved in Native cultural and political issues for nearly 50 years, the past director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center’s Public Programs, and, recently, author of  “Weaving the Truth in the Absence of the Sacred: Wampum and Wampum Belts,” Connecticut Archaeology Bulletin 74 (2012);

Ruth G. Torres, a Schaghticoke community scholar and educator whose interests and research include examinations of Connecticut’s public policies related to the state’s indigenous peoples;

Clarissa Ceglio, research assistant for the University of Connecticut's Digital Media Center and a PhD candidate in American Studies at Brown University, whose work as a public historian includes a collaborative effort to bring Native histories and voices to Connecticut Humanities' online state encyclopedia project, ; and

Session chair and moderator, Amy Den Ouden, who is an associate professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Department, University of Massachusetts Boston and author of Beyond Conquest: Native Peoples and the Struggle for History in New England (2005) and co-editor of Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States (2013).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Existential Ideology of American Reactionary Socialists

The ideological concern that centers my work relates to diverse figures such as Orestes Brownson and George Fitzhugh constructing critiques of capitalism before the advent of America’s post-Civil War rise in industrial capitalism. They looked to burgeoning American industrial capital as a fully realized terror and fantasized about older modes of ideology--for Orestes Brownson it was a Christian Hierarchy; for George Fitzhugh, slavery modeled after the Greco-Roman tradition. Karl Marx defined the reactionary socialist belief as “half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future; to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of history.”[1] What then becomes clear is how their ideologies of the past allow them to be critical of capitalism in a socialist vein, while remain nostalgic and unable to offer real alternatives to the liberal Western marketplace.
Created by John Haven in 1850, Slavery as it Exists in the South/Slavery as it Exists in England reconstructs Southern slavery positively against English--and Northern American--labor.[2] The etching depicts two settings; the first shows the Southern plantation with dancing slaves while the second image depicts the utter destitute state of the working class in an industrial city. The sketch projects the debilitating existence away from the South and shows the real site of violence in the heart of an English factory town. Yet the depiction of England cannot help but reflect Southern culture as well. Why is it that the “runaway” is an industrial creation—or for that matter, the old derelict who is unable to work by the age of forty. A close inspection of the image also shows that a sign in the background reads “a wife to be sold.” The parallels between the images reveal what historians know about 19th century industrialism and American slave history. . Clearly there are markers that reveal the image to be centrally concerned with the effects of capitalism but also reveals a truth of slavery in the United States. That is, the references away from American slavery, reveal the tropes and types that exist in the southern states of America.

[1] Marx, Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, 491.
[2] Haven, John. Slavery as it Exists in America. Slavery as it Exists in England. Boston, 1850.

This work is based on my work on pre-Civil War socialist and authoritarian trends. I look forward to the discussions at the conference this fall.

Paul J. Edwards
Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow
American and New England Studies
Boston University

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Symbolic and Structural Violence in Sherman Alexie's "Indian Killer"

My project is on Sherman Alexie’s 1996 novel Indian Killer. The major thrust of my paper will be on Indian Killer’s theory of indigenous identity as it is developed through the four questionable/ing Native characters:  John Smith, an Indian adopted and raised by white parents, Marie Polatkin, a reservation Indian matriculated at a Seattle university, Jack Wilson, a writer claiming indigenous blood, and Reggie Polatkin, a mix-raced Indian struggling with self-loathing.

Though questions of identity take up voluminous space in the novel, it is the pairing of these identity questions with the mysterious and horrific murders that drive the plot of the novel that, I will argue, bridge issues of individual identity practices with macro issues of inequality.  By focusing on the violence and the anger within the novel, what might be read as a postmodern ethnic American piece of literature can change shape into a critical commentary about how instances of inequality and histories of injustice relate to the psychologies and life choices of individuals.  As such, my reading of Indian Killer will not only present the theory of Native identity propounded in the novel, but it will also pull out the narrative techniques that highlight the relationship between individuals’ intrapsychic development and interpersonal relationships and their socioeconomic statuses and relationship to the state apparatus.

In many ways, this project relates to my larger interest in the novel as a utopian form of experimentation and activism—a space where language and narrative innovations link the symbolic violence that is often tied to issues of identity with the structural violence that commands the attention of many social scientists.

I really look forward to everyone’s thoughts and comments!

Lauren Silber
Ph.D student in English and American Studies
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Balancing Act: Contextualizing Mashpee in the Early District Period


    Balance. In research and writing, the art of balance is a challenge scholars of all disciplines encounter. The most difficult aspect of my project has not been the dusty archives, grouchy court officers, or the hours spent sitting in endless Cape Cod traffic, but achieving a harmonious and respectful balance between the elements of my subject matter. Admittedly, I am a legal and political historian at heart. Ninety-nine percent of my research topics are approached through the lens of legal decisions or government action. Nuanced and intricate, my project blends Mashpee Wampanoag history with the history of religion, law, politics, culture, and society in antebellum New England. The title of my panel “Representations of Native Americanness” invokes an ever-present concern in the corner of my mind; in the attempt to integrate various histories, how can I avoid subordinating or generalizing “Native Americanness?” How do I balance my desire to discuss Mashpee in the context of law, culture, and society with the need to recognize the unique and distinctly Native narrative of Mashpee?
    At the conference, I will be presenting a paper entitled “The Culture of Representation: The Formation of Mashpee Parish, 1834-1840.” From May of 1833 to March of 1834, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Cape Cod Massachusetts waged an aggressive campaign to gain political and religious autonomy from the state. In March of 1834, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act disbanding the white guardians appointed to conduct affairs for the Mashpee tribe and incorporated Mashpee as an Indian district. However, the decision failed to address an equally pressing issue for the tribe: the right to appoint a minister of their choosing, access to the parsonage lands, and rightful control of the meetinghouse. Despite being awarded rights to self-government and controlling interest in their affairs, their unwanted minister, Reverend Phineas Fish, remained. Using the legislative and legal campaign connected to the establishment of Marshpee Parish in 1840 as a lens, my presentation will consider issues of representation and participation in the fight to establish control over matters of faith. Engaging with issues of authority and consent; adequacy and equity; the formation of Mashpee parish considers the role of representation at the convergence of temporal and ecclesiastical matters. It is my hope that my analysis of the formation of Mashpee parish will offer a more balanced understanding of Native people, politics, religion, and representation in antebellum Massachusetts.

Looking forward to your comments and thoughts. See you in September.

Nicole Breault
Masters Candidate
University of Massachusetts Boston

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, as texts

My colleague Tom and I are going to talk about the Native American casinos. But one of the difficulties in encountering these texts is summoning the authority to critique what is essentially a representation of someone else's culture. I think is where the differences between critique and criticism becomes useful.

Simply describing what is in front of you is an underrated aspect of cultural criticism, and one I fail to do often enough in my own work that I have to ask myself these questions (among others):

1. Have I adequately described the text at hand?
2. Have I given enough context about the text to allow people to "see"the text at hand?
3. What are the values *implied* in my description?

We haven't finished our work yet, so posting our potential conclusions is premature. But we are eager to talk about these living cultural artifacts in a scholarly setting.

--Jonathan Silverman

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

This paper, “William James’s Critique of Professional Culture,” is part of a broader project of elaborating a tradition in American aesthetic thought that celebrates nondiscursive aesthetic experience—the immediately felt affective and bodily experience of an artistic text—over verbal formulations of textual meaning. My focus here is on the psychologist and philosopher William James, whose tenure as a professor at Harvard in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century coincided with the national emergence of what the historian Burton Bledstein has called a “culture of professionalism.” The emergence of a culture of professionalism was intimately tied to transformations in higher education that established the university as the primary organ for the training and certification of professionals and elevated research over teaching as the university’s primary commitment. A central feature of the culture of professionalism was its emphasis on specialized knowledge, an esoteric vocabulary, and the production of a supply of scholarly discourse to fuel a growing apparatus of professional journals and conferences. In opposition to this single-minded emphasis on discursive knowledge, James repeatedly argued that the linguistic concepts devised by psychologists and philosophers distort the nondiscursive experiences those concepts are meant to describe. In his remarks about art scattered through his works he noted the poverty of verbal formulations relative to the transformational power of aesthetic experience.

As Bledstein observes, the increasing authority of professional discourse in the late nineteenth century created social and economic opportunities for the educated professional class at the expense of poor, rural, and immigrant Americans: “Those armed with words would get ahead in the new society; the inarticulate, barely literate, and foreign speaking would not.” This is the point, I think, at which my paper broaches the theme of our conference. As a teacher of American literature and culture, I wonder if I am not colluding with a hegemonic “discursive imperative” by sending to my students the implicit message that the production of discourse, whether written, spoken, or thought, is the proper goal of our experience of novels, poems, paintings, and other cultural texts. The automaticity with which my students accept the need to say what they think about those texts is the very means by which the professional class (and its aspirants) protects its cultural and economic authority. Although James was not one to dwell on the social and political ramifications of his arguments, his work suggests that a nondiscursive aesthetics might play a role in the elaboration of a counterhegemonic disciplinary practice.

This is the strong version of my argument, by which I mean the version that freely indulges in untested hypothesis, oversimplification, and hyperbole. I, like most teachers, I presume, would not assign term papers or lead rooms of undergraduates in discussion unless I believed there was some value in talking about poems and paintings and other texts. Certainly James produced and published no small quantity of discourse. But he also felt that in talking about works of art the most vital parts of our experience ended up on the cutting room floor. With James, I wonder if, in our exclusive focus on producing discourse, we aren’t neglecting alternative uses for the text. I wonder if what we teach our students to understand by “knowledge” isn’t woefully narrow. A model of knowledge limited to that which can be clearly articulated secures cultural authority in the hands of those who make the best arguments and marginalizes “the inarticulate, barely literate, and foreign speaking.”

Eric Fortier
University of Massachusetts Amherst