Discussions about, toward,
around, and alongside the
New England American Studies
Association's Fall 2011 Conference.
See the schedule at the bottom of
the page, and please add your voice
and perspective to the mix!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Resisting Narratives of New England’s Historical Exceptionalism

New England has always played a prominent role in the construction of U.S.-American historical myths. This prominence is not only reflected in U.S.-origin narratives which view New England as the cradle of American democracy, but also in cultural origin narratives, in which New England is the center of literary and cultural production from the 1600s to the late 1900s. However, as scholars in the last 30 years have pointed out, the overemphasis on New England’s historical exceptionalism has ignored the cultural complexity and diversity of New England since colonial times. Consequently, the moments of protest and resistance against hegemonic narratives of the past continues to be in need of exploration.

Our panel focuses on three such moments, ranging from 1724 to the present day, thus exposing a historical narrative centered on protest and resistance. However, our panel also highlights the geographical diversity of New England culture as it brings into focus moments of resistance originating in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine.

Hayden Golden’s paper will discuss William Apess’s “Eulogy on King Philip,” performed at the Odeon Theater in Boston twice in 1836. Golden argues that “Eulogy” constitutes one of the most visible acts of Native resistance in the eastern United States during the nineteenth century. Employing a combination rhetorical devices and theatrical-performative methods, Apess deconstructed the Jacksonian narrative of American history and rewrote it through a Native lens. I will lay the foundation for considering Apess’s “Eulogy,” not as a text to be interpreted, but as a performance to be understood within the larger frame of theater culture.

Michelle Kew challenges the myth that American women were nothing but downtrodden and oppressed before they got the vote. Contrary to the impression that many modern Americans may have of pre-1920 America, women played an ever-increasing role in public life during the 19th century and had in fact been speaking for themselves and publishing their arguments for equality in newspapers and magazines for decades. Using examples from contemporary literature of the day, ranging from literary magazines and conduct books to William Dean Howells’ novel The Rise of Silas Lapham, she argues that “the woman question,” as it was then known, was a highly debated one for a long time, and in fact women’s voices and calls for greater equality were more often heard than many people realize.

Sabine Klein will discuss the historical and contemporary contestations of the battle of Norridgewock (1724). This understudied massacre resulted in the exodus of the Abenaki nation from their homeland in Western Maine, the killing of a French missionary, and the beginning of English predominance in the reason. While this event has never played an important role in the history of the U.S., on the ground in Maine it has been contested continuously both in literary and material culture. Focusing primarily on the multiple ways in which the event is commemorated at a memorial site in Madison, Maine, Klein argues that the creation, recreation, and resistance are ongoing processes that attest to the contested nature of national narratives.

Hayden Golden, Michelle Kew, and Sabine Klein, University of Maine at Farmington

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