Week 2 2013

The second week focused on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examining the choices Indian peoples made in New England during a period when they seem to vanish from most history books.

Discussion topics for the week included:

  • Indian Christianity, as Native peoples responded to both Protestant and Catholic missionary efforts in New England
  • Land, sovereignty, and race; the changing landscape of work and subsistence strategies
  • Governmental policies toward Indians in New England and at the federal level, including the Indian Trade and Non-Intercourse Act (1790), the Indian Removal Act (1830) and the General Allotment (or Dawes) Act (1887).

Linford Fisher discussed how non-Christian Natives were drawn to evangelical Protestantism and subsequently redefined it on their own terms, using it as a vehicle for criticizing and resisting Anglo-American Protestant authorities.

Amy Den Ouden discussed the extensive dispossession of Mohegans and Pequots during the eighteenth century, increasingly justified in terms of race, and the means that these Natives employed to assert their sovereignty and tribal identities.

Nancy Shoemaker discussed her current work on Native Americans in New England’s whaling industry, including their encounters with Maori and other indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

Jean O’Brien discussed how local history books and museums crafted a regional narrative in which Indians disappear or die out, to be replaced by a series of “firsts” (people and institutions) that erase the continuing presence of indigenous peoples.

During the week we visited two museums.

At the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (MPMRC) in Mashantucket, Connecticut, NEH Summer Scholars toured the museum exhibits, which moved in chronological sequence from the Ice Age to the present, and met with an MPMRC educator for a special tour of the newest permanent exhibit, Pequot Lives: Almost Vanished, which explored the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As an afternoon trip, we visited Memorial Hall, the museum of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Founded by local residents in 1870 to memorialize the “Deerfield Massacre” of 1704, the museum a decade ago revised – to great controversy – its installations in the “Memorial” and “Indian” rooms.

Together, these museums raise vital questions of interpretation, representation, and the “ownership” of history.