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!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Week 13 Recap and Open Thread

With the conference only days away now, presenters from both the Regional Indigenous Canon panel and the Friday evening reading shared their voices and ideas here. They make, through the very presence and even more through all that they have to say and offer, a more compelling case than I ever could for why you should find your way to Plimoth Plantation this Friday and Saturday.

This week, as we gear up for the conference, we'll hear from the Images of Plimoth and Plymouth panel, one of many that will focus on elements of our amazing site and space.

But please feel very free to keep digging back into the earlier weeks and posts on this blog, to add your thoughts to any prior post, to share your perspectives on American mythologies in this open thread, and generally to join our e-community even if you can't do so in person this weekend. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friday: Indigenous New England Literature

How many Native American authors can you name from New England? BESIDES Samson Occom and William Apess. At Plimoth, you'll be able to learn about a rich regional indigenous literary history, going at least as far back as Mi'kmaq hieroglyphics and as far forward as Narragansett children's poetry. Even better, you get to meet some talented contemporary local Native authors, hear them read, and buy their books.

On Friday afternoon (Session 3A at 2:15) we will have a roundtable discussion with editors of Dawnland Voices: Writing from Indigenous New England. This anthology, years in the making and about 600 pages in manuscript form, is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press; if we're lucky, we should see it sometime next year.

The book is organized by nation, and each nation has a community editor--a tribal elder and/or historian who selected and introduced the texts. Three of these editors will be on hand to discuss the project: Joan Tavares Avant (Mashpee Wampanoag), Dawn Dove (Narragansett), and Stephanie Fielding (Mohegan). It's awe-inspiring to hear how much they know about tribal writing, how they located and chose texts for publication, and how they presented them. This is grass-roots canon-building!

Friday evening, Joan will read from her book, People of the First Light; along with Larry Spotted Crow Mann (Nipmuc), who has published a book of stories called Tales from the Whispering Basket; Mihku Paul (Maliseet), who has a forthcoming poetry chapbook; and Mohegan Medicine Woman Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, who has a new Victorian Gothic, Fire Hollow.

If you want to learn a little more about these and other regional Native writers, you can follow the blog, Indigenous New England Literature . We also have an "Indigenous New England Literature" book discussion group on Goodreads.com. And hopefully, before too long, students at UNH will be launching an online archive of regional indigenous literature. Stay tuned, and come on Friday!

Siobhan Senier
University of New Hampshire

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Week 12 Recap and Open Thread

Less than two weeks until the conference! (Revised and updated program now available at http://www.neasa.org under the Conference tab.)

This week the presenters from the "Whispers, Screams, and Echoes: Creating, Recreating, and Challenging Archaeological Narratives" panel highlighted both their individual emphases and ideas and the panel's underlying questions and arguments here; presenter Russ Handsman of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum added some further questions and thoughts in a comment on that post. Please check out this panel's really interesting and important ideas, and add your own in comments too!

This week presenters from a panel on the regional indigenous canon--presenters who have worked to assemble an anthology of those writings--will share their voices here. Keep an eye out for that, but feel free as well to use this post as an open thread to highlight your building excitement for the conference!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Archaeological narratives

The contributors to “Whispers, screams and echoes: creating, recreating and challenging archaeological narratives” draw on research and experiences with archaeological narratives grounded in Native homelands of northern New England (Roberts Moody), coastal and interior southern New England (Herbster, Loren et al., Kirakosian, Harris & Robinson, Handsman), and central New York (Rossen).

The ideas in these papers intersect and overlap in interesting ways. The common thread woven through all papers is a questioning of stable, normative, and unmarked categories in archaeological narratives and an exploration of the slipperiness of thematic binaries and emplotments. Some emphasize materiality and raise issues of analytic scale (Loren et al., Handsman, Herbster). Others focus our attention on the subject(s) of analysis (Loren et al., Harris & Robinson, Kirakosian), shifting our focus from long unquestioned themes and one-sided stories, such as the educating and civilizing of Indians in a colonial “wilderness”, powerful individuals making decisions that change historical trajectories, and archaeological expertise. Others offer directions for changing and replacing outmoded narratives, drawing on powerful interconnections and relations that come from Indigenous knowledge and traditions, post-colonial theory and cross-cultural engagement (Roberts Moody, Loren et al., Harris & Robinson, Handsman, Herbster, Rossen).

In developing an organizational scheme for the session (and recognizing the pitfalls of imposing our own thematic framework) we see the papers falling into two broad categories that will structure the order of the papers:

Theme 1: Analyzing and Challenging Narratives

(1) Katie Kirakosian provides a discussion of the inherent narrative structure of archaeological publications and offers a discourse analysis of 19th-21st century narratives focused on shell midden sites in southern New England. She lays out a series of framing ideas, drawn from literary analysis. Her preliminary analyses show how archaeological narratives are operationalized in different ways through time.

(2) Donna Roberts Moody asks: “Why is there a gulf between archaeology and Native people in Northern New England?” To address this question, she provides a critique of mainstream archaeological practice and raises three important issues: (1) how archaeological narratives become entrenched; (2) the limitations of interpretations that de-privilege context; and (3) the potential benefits of collaboration. Roberts Moody provides insights into current debates in New England archaeology surrounding stone chambers and stone piles that challenge positions staked on existing archaeological narratives.

(3) Jack Rossen offers direct engagement with four archaeological narratives that shape popular understandings of Native history in Cayuga territory. Rossen traces the production of these narratives and the archaeological evidence marshaled in support. He outlines the ways that they are deployed to reinforce efforts to undermine Native land claims and support racist attitudes towards Native revitalization. Rossen counters each narrative with empirically-based alternatives that draw on the transformative potential of Indigenous archaeology.

Theme 2: Resisting, Accommodating, and Changing Narratives

(4) Holly Herbster provides an example of collaborative archaeology from southern New England, tracing the changes in archaeological concerns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard from early-mid 20th century preoccupations with culture history and environmental adaptations, to present-day collaborative approaches towards Wampanoag heritage preservation. The case study offers insights on the issue of trust, long-term commitment, shared goals, “mutual education,” communication, and shared knowledge production. One of the critical issues raised relates to narrative control and the potential conflicts and compromises necessary in collaborative, compliance-based contexts.

(5) Doug Harris and Paul Robinson chart a course for changing entrenched historical narratives through a critique of explanations for the beginning of King Philip’s War. They problematize the notion that a stable peace existed prior to the war, citing archaeological evidence of pronounced stress on Native communities in Narragansett territory. They argue that labeling the pre-war era as a “time of peace” ignores both the suffering of Native people and the strategies they employed for consensus building and avoiding conflict in the face of provocation. They suggest an alternative interpretation based on analysis of the motivations and intentions of Native people who recognized potential consequences of their actions.

(6) Diana Loren, Christina Hodge, and Patricia Capone examine conversion and Native American literacy at Harvard College, demonstrating that the Puritan logic of colonialism based on regulated cultural categories (wilderness/civilization; English/Native) were subverted by the cultural nearness and inherent messiness of colonial encounters. They argue that English see themselves in their view of Native peoples, informing us more about Puritan habitus than Native peoples themselves. They draw on the notion of hybridity—that colonial encounters result in something new and substantially different—which is engaged as a means of understanding the materiality of the Harvard Indian College.

(7) Russell Handsman explores why “disappearance” narrative are so difficult to dislodge. He examines the unintended silences and contradictions of the earliest exhibit installations at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and the recent efforts to re-orient the narratives communicated in exhibits by “inserting Pequot experiences into unexpected places”: urban environments, the military, and other off-reservation contexts. He wonders at the impotence of such narratives for tribal members and concludes that the various narratives that co-exist at the museum—loss, continuity, change, survivance--all undercut the disappearance myth.

Questions for reflection:

(1) The contributors to this session describe, problematize, and/or challenge thematic dichotomies that pervade archaeological narratives. Why are the thematic binaries that structure colonialist and archaeological narratives so pervasive and perduring?

• continuity/loss (e.g., Handsman)
• presence (or homeland)/absence (or empty) (e.g., Handsman, Rossen, Loren et al.)
• peace/war (e.g., Harris & Robinson)
• powerful/disempowered (e.g., Harris & Robinson)
• past/future (e.g., Handsman)
• economy/heritage (e.g., Herbster, Handsman)
• site of scientific research/sacred site (e.g., Herbster)
• civilization/wilderness (e.g., Loren et al., Rossen)
• English (Puritan, Christian)/Indian (e.g., Loren et al.)
• hybridity/homogeneity (e.g., Loren et al.)
• scientific knowledge/Indigenous knowledge (e.g., Roberts Moody, Rossen)
• material/oral (e.g., Roberts Moody, Rossen)
• oldtimers (ancient)/newcomers (e.g., Rossen)

(2) Whom do particular archaeological narratives serve? What is at stake in challenging archaeological narratives?

(3) How do we move beyond critique of archaeological narratives? Is it a matter of re-focusing the subject/scale of analyses or research questions, how archaeological evidence is marshaled, or engaging with different forms of knowledge?

(4) What has, or is, changing/unchanged in archaeological narratives as a result of collaboration, regulation, and/or heightened attention to ethics?

(5) As Loren et al. and Handsman point out, a pervasive assumption throughout the Northeast is that Native Americans disappeared through assimilation, dislocation, and death and “that for something to be Native American, it must seem Native American; that is, is must not seem English”/Euroamerican (Loren et al.). How can archaeological narratives challenge historical erasures on the one hand, and resist reifying these categories, especially in a contemporary sociopolitical contexts where such categories matter in the material conditions that stem from identity politics?

(6) Several contributors refer to current debates in New England/Northeastern archaeology that question established archaeological narratives, knowledge and interpretations (e.g., stone piles in New England, antiquity of Haudenausaunee Confederacy). Are there certain times that are riper for new narratives to take hold? Or less so? What do these alternative narratives (archaeological and otherwise) offer that was lacking before?

(7) How are narratives about the past simultaneously narratives about the discipline of archaeology and present day social relations or preoccupations?
(8) Are certain narratives deep-rooted in the identity of the nation, the region and us?

(9) Are there instances where we have an ethical obligation to speak out against some narratives?

(10) Are narratives the most powerful when they have tangible elements? Does this privilege or empower archaeologists as producers (or “contesters”) of narratives based on the nature of the discipline? What about intangible aspects of narratives?

(11) Can and should oppositional narratives occupy the same space?

Session organizers: Siobhan Hart, SUNY Binghamton, and Katie Kirakosian, UMass Amherst

Week 11 Recap and Open Thread

This week featured Craig Perrier of the Native Americans panel, blogging about collective and educational memories and histories of the Pequot War here.

Please continue to read and comment on Craig's post and all those that have come before in this space, and please feel free to use this post as an open thread for any thoughts and conversations about or toward our conference (less than three weeks away--the program has been added to once more and is still available at our www.neasa.org site).

This week we hear from presenting on the "Creating, Recreating, and Challenging Archaeological Narratives" panel. See you soon!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Craig Perrier's (Native Americans) Post

My paper, ““Confronting American Genocide: United States History and the Pequot War” is part of the “Native Americans” panel on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. Below is an excerpt from my piece.

"Emblazoned upon the white backdrop and blue shield prominently displayed in the center of Massachusetts’ state flag stands the golden figure of a Native American. Massachusetts general law Chapter 2, section 1, identifies the form simply as an “Indian”. Inference suggests, however, the character is a representative of the Algonquian language family. Specific references typically identify him as a member of the tribe, subsequently immortalized in the state’s moniker, “Massachusetts”. Both labels regarding the Native American’s identity make geo-historical sense. Algonquian societies, including the Pequot, populated greater New England and were among the first people to encounter English colonists in North America. What’s more, the decision to include an “Indian” on the Commonwealth’s banner seems celebratory, a tribute to the indigenous people of the New World. There are, however, two other elements on the state standard which invite alternate interpretations of native-colonial relationships. The first feature, an unraveled ribbon flowing around the blue shield framing the centerpiece, is inscribed in Latin, “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.” (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty). The quote directly references the second image; a bent, sword-wielding arm hovering above the Algonquian’s head akin to Damocles’ fateful blade. Taken together, this iconography conjures up a variety of historically contextualized imaginaries. Among them are incidents of war, paternalism, and scalping. In this light, the celebratory “Indian” mentioned earlier, can be just as justifiably understood as a memorial over a conquered, decimated foe.

Central to this paper’s inquiry is the relationship between the concept “genocide” and its existence in American historical memory. Furthermore, the interplay between narrative and education are subsequently formalized in institutionalized conceptualizations of the American identity.Commenting on the influence of historical memory construction, Harvard educational psychologist Howard Gardner, details that ”over time and cultures, the most robust and most effective form of communication is the creation of a powerful narrative. Any one person or agent or institution that has the capacity to decide which story is operative, to sideline or minimize rival stories and to prepare for the next generation’s stories, is in a very powerful position.”The implications surrounding “genocide” and its relation to national identities are especially sensitive and nuanced. A principle contested theme of interpretation is the marking of the war as an example of genocide. Since Raphael Lemkin’s creation of the term in 1943, “genocide” labels have been applied to events which predate the mid-twentieth century. The Pequot War is fertile ground for arguments over such branding.

This paper supports the claim that the Pequot War was a case of genocide. Paramount to this rationale is a definitive understanding of genocide’s formalized terminology and its relevant application to an event three centuries before its codification in the 1948 United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Furthermore, the functions of education and memory are considered crucial elements in the relationship among national narratives, identity, and acts of genocides. The ultimate goal of this paper is to make a case for high school history curriculum standards to identify and teach the Pequot War as a genocidal act. Furthermore, memory and education are considered essential elements for prevention of future genocide. Altering existing high school content, and teaching genocide in the U.S. national narrative, works to greater understanding and deterrence of genocide."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 10 Recap and Open Thread

This week the presenters from the "National Identity and Ethnic Counter-Narratives" panel--Katie Daily, Diane Hotten-Somers, and Paul Schmitz--shared their paper and panel ideas here.

The conference is less than four weeks away, and we'd love to have you join us there--see http://www.neasa.org for all the info, including a full program. But in the meantime, please keep reading and commenting on the earlier posts here, use this post as an open thread for any other ideas or conversations, and look for posts from the Native Americans panel this coming week!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Re-Envisioning, Re-Staging, and Retailing: National Identity and Ethnic Counter-Narratives

European immigrants and ethnic Americans are often viewed as exemplars of the American Dream. In the commonly told story, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants arrive in America and struggle to find employment, but after much hard work and perseverance, finally achieve success and, in the process, exchange their native identities for normative, bourgeois American ones. Through the papers proposed for this panel, Daily, Hotten-Somers, and Schmitz will challenge this narrative in three different forums: business and immigration history, the theatre, and the novel. In each of these papers, the scholars engage in a re-telling of a master narrative of what it means to become and be American.

Katie Daily’s paper, “(re)Envisioning Jewish America: Counterfactual History in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Plot Against America,” considers Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America alongside Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union to understand the ways in which these two contemporary American Jewish writers employ counterfactual strategies to explore questions of American and ethnic identity. In pushing the bounds of history, asking readers to consider how we read the past, Roth and Chabon uncover the fracturing of identity that occurs as racial and ethnic minorities search for a place in the nation. Daily argues that such rewritings of history in the form of the postmodern novel offer ethnic counter-narratives that challenge conventional understandings of immigration and assimilation.

Diane Hotten-Somers’ paper, "Jewish America Awakes and Sings the Irish Blues: Sean O'Casey, Clifford Odets, and Working-Class Identities,” engages similar ideas as Daily’s in that it considers how Jewish-American immigrants constructed themselves in the face of an Anglo-American Protestant normative cultural identity. Through comparatively analyzing Sean O’Casey’s tenement drama Juno and the Paycock with Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing!, this paper explores the ways in which Odets redraws the stage Jew by employing O’Casey’s prior strategies of rewriting the stage Irishman. Through their re-stagings, Hotten-Somers argues, both O’Casey and Odets provided not only more complicated theatrical representations of the Irish and Jewish-Americans, but also exposed the complex cultural-historical experiences of the early 20th-century urban, working-class in Ireland and America.

Paul Schmitz’s paper, “Urban Pastorals and American Dreams: Narratives of Business and Identity in New York’s Italian Community,” shifts the focus to another group of white ethnic Americans and their urban environs. Schmitz analyzes the ways in which Italian immigrants negotiated their identities through ethnic commerce, demonstrating that food retailing provided a crucial avenue of upward mobility for New York’s immigrant community. Schmitz argues that the retail food business—from pushcarts to corner groceries—played a fundamental role in the immigrants’ cultural conversion from an alien underclass to symbols of American enterprise. This paper is especially attentive to the tensions between the popular narrative of New York’s Italian grocers as a kind of “Old World,” urban underclass and the immigrant merchants’ own desires to master the narrative of the American Dream and the free-market system to serve their own aspirations for social mobility and assimilation.

These three papers individually address how white ethnic Americans negotiated, indeed reconstructed, their identities in the face of a normative, non-ethnic American cultural identity. At the same time, in positioning the stories of Jews, Irish, and Italians alongside each other, the panel as a whole highlights the advantages of a interdisciplinary comparative ethnic methodology, illustrating how attention to the similarities and differences between immigrant representations, histories, and experiences compels a rewriting of the myth of the American Dream.

Diane Hotten-Somers, Boston College

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Week 9 Recap and Open Thread

This week we featured three posts from the "Activating Public Memory" proposed panel and one from the Slavery panel:

--From the latter, Vanessa Varin blogged about slavery, capital punishment, and narratives of race, justice, and identity here;

--And from the "Public Memory" panel, we heard from Elena Gonzales on the National Museum of the American Indian; from Robyn Schroeder on memory and Obama's presidential campaign; and from Amy Johnson on the legacies of Japanese internment.

Really great stuff, and I hope you'll get a chance to read and respond to these provocative and important posts and ideas. With the conference exactly a month away, I can't think of a better way to get excited for our full and rich two days of panels and voices than by checking out the first 8 weeks of this blog as well; see the Recaps category at right to get a quick sense of all of our posts to date. And please check out the full conference program draft and much more at www.neasa.org (Conference tab) for all the info on the conference.

Five more weeks of great voices here too--and next week we feature presenters from the Ethnic Counter-Narratives panel. Come check back in!