Wednesday, April 15, 2009

3/21/09 seminar post

1. A brief summary of the seminar. Include any highlights for you – new information, a particularly useful exercise, a favorite moment. Be sure to identify the main historical themes and the core documents presented in the seminar.

In the 1st session we discussed the idea of persistence in the 19th century, utilizing “Unseen Neighbors” by Thomas Doughton; “The Massachusetts Indian Enfranchisement Act” by Ann Marie Plane & Gregory Button and “The Dudley Indians: & “Visit to Grafton”.

In the second session we watched the documentary “Black Indians” and in the third session we considered Pan-Indianism, Pow-wows & auto-ethnographic authority. We also made use of multiple titles from Ann McMullen including “Soapbox Discourse”, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?...” & “The Heart Interest”.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the Massachusetts Enfranchisement Act (MGL Ch. 463 of 1869), and dispossession. We considered how enfranchisement led to the loss of land and government benefits, loss of the tribe and identity as well as the levying of taxes. Identity had been linked to the land and with the loss of land began a search for identity visa vie their history. We also discussed the revival of languages and the attribution of what had been common/shared languages to individual tribes for Federal/State recognition purposes, although this was/is historically illegitimate. Kinship is also a very important consideration with regard to identity of dispossessed natives, as is culture.

I was also surprised to learn that historical documentation of the Nipmuc did not begin until 1996 with Tom’s “Unseen Neighbors”.

I enjoyed considering the very fundamental question of what is history? Do we create it; establish it; find it? Is it fixed or malleable and what are the problems associated with either state?

Finally, I found the discussion of Pan-Indianism very interesting as I had no prior knowledge of the matter.

2. What questions did the seminar raise for you and how will you follow-up on those questions? Will you need to do further research – and if so, how will you approach that research and what sources are available to you?

One question, not raised directly by the seminar, which continues to intrigue me relates to the decimation of Native American populations by disease brought from Europe, such as measles and small pox. What I would like to understand is why this only happened to Native Americans and not also to Europeans. It seems to me that if there were diseases which Europeans developed some level of tolerance/immunity to, which Native Americans were never exposed to, that Native Americans also should have developed tolerances/immunity to diseases that Europeans were never exposed to, yet this clearly is not the case. I have queried a number people about this matter who have backgrounds in biology, but I have yet to come across any explanations which satisfy me. I need to find an epidemiologist to ask about this.

3. How would you use this material in the classroom?

The ideas of dispossession through enfranchisement and the loss of identity are intriguing areas to challenge students to think about, although it may be a bit ethereal for 9th graders. Considering the loss of identity and what constitutes identity are areas that we have considered in the seminar as well as the last seminar and there are a variety of ways this may be brought into the classroom. Having students create some family genealogy and then posing questions to them about how they identify themselves may be a useful too in attempting to introduce students to such issues.

4. How does the material presented in the seminar deepen your understanding of the relationship between representation and reality in the history of New England natives?

This was a very interesting aspect of the seminar and it provided a new perspective for the consideration of the ideas, one which is distinct from modern European/US history as commonly considered. The reanimation of local native history and consideration of how it is constituted and the influences on that process was very illuminating.

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