Native Oral Traditions and History in the Archives

2013 NCAIS Spring Workshop, Show-and-Tell
2013 NCAIS Spring Workshop, Show-and-Tell
Research, Theory, and Methods
Center for American Indian Studies Programs
NCAIS Spring Workshop in Research Methods
Thursday, March 21, 2013 to Saturday, March 23, 2013

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Led by Prof. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Yale University and Prof. Jennifer Denetdale, University of New Mexico

The Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said once asserted, “Stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their history.” So it is that Indigenous peoples have continued to tell their narratives in spite of, and against, the cycles of colonialism that have shaped and informed their histories, shaped contemporary Native nations and communities, and a sense of self.

This seminar will introduce students to the ways in which oral histories have informed Indigenous Studies, its theorizing and practice. We will examine selected events or topics in Native histories and cultures and examine how oral tradition has made significant contributions and interventions in Native Studies. Following the historian Waziwatawin Angela Wilson, we place Indigenous oral traditions within the category of oral history. As Native oral histories have shown, stories that were and still are conveyed orally relayed cultural values, continue to be sources of wealth, provide a sense of renewal within community and families, relate ideal relationships between the earth and humans, humans and non-humans, impart sacred knowledge, and embody healing qualities. These stories, which were originally transmitted orally from generation to generation, have proven to be powerful enough to deal with the world we live in today.

Oral histories also have been preserved through the written word and were the staple of disciplines like anthropology. Because of non-Indian interests in Native oral history, today, there exists an impressive body of oral histories that now lie in repositories such at as the Newberry Library archives. This seminar will include an introduction to some of the collections at the Newberry that include oral histories, including interviews. Based upon readings on oral history and history, memory and oral history, and the politics of archival collections, students will become familiar with uses of oral history, including how they are significant to understanding Native perspectives, how they have been used to illuminate the study of nation, citizenship, and belonging, and their on-going importance as tools of resistance and renewal for Indigenous peoples. Our readings necessarily include interdisciplinary approaches that speak to race and gender as components of studying and using Indigenous oral histories. Authors whose work we will engage include: Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Jennifer Denetdale, Susan Hill, Keith Basso, Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, Susan Miller, Antoinette Burton, Ann Laura Stoler, and Gerald Hausman. We anticipate pulling interviews from manuscript collections, including those from the John Collier, D’Arcy M’Nickle, and Donald Parman collections, and considering published oral traditions found in rare books authored by Elias Johnson and David Cusick.

Cost and registration information: 

Each NCAIS institution is entitled to one slot in the three-day workshop. Students may participate in the workshop as part of an introduction to critical methodologies in American Indian Studies.  Students should apply directly to their NCAIS Faculty Liaison by February 4, 2013. The selection process of each member institution’s participant is according to the individual program needs and existing protocols of the member institution. Housing will be provided and participants will be reimbursed up to $500 for travel.