Whither Ethnohistory? Writing Indigenous History across Disciplinary and Other Boundaries

AHA Session 238
Conference on Latin American History 46
Sunday, January 4, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Petit Trianon (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Laura Matthew, Marquette University
Héctor Concohá Chet, Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies and Universidad Rafael Landivar
Janine Gasco, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Stacie M. King, Indiana University Bloomington
Frauke Sachse, University of Bonn

Session Abstract

Since the 1950s “ethnohistory” has indicated an interdisciplinary approach to writing the history of Native America. This roundtable will consider how ethnohistory is practiced today compared to decades past, and where it is going given the rise of digital technology, the reach of economic globalization and resource extraction, and increasing sensitivity to questions of decolonization. Have certain disciplines taken the methodological lead, and if so, why? How has technology mattered to the sharing of sources, which may be archived far away from the places where they were created or conversely, in local archives away from the prying eyes of scholars? Perhaps most importantly, what are the implications and ethics of ethnohistorical collaboration not only across disciplines but also beyond the academy and across national, regional, and ethnic boundaries? What does such collaboration imply, and has it changed the research or the resulting narratives?

Our geographical point of departure is the southern Pacific region of Mesoamerica, in the Zapotec, Chontal, Mixe, Maya, and Xinka areas of modern-day Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guatemala. The five panelists come from institutions in Guatemala, the United States, and Europe; are Guatemalan Ladino, Guatemalan Kaqchikel Maya; U.S. North American; and German; and represent the disciplines of history, anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. We have intentionally invited scholars who do not usually work together and senior as well as junior researchers, for comparison’s sake and to stimulate future conversations about the ethnohistory of the region.

Our primary goal, however, is to engage our colleagues working across the Americas -- in the Andes, Patagonia, Amazonia, Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and the rest of Central and Mesoamerica -- in a lively comparative, methodological, and theoretical discussion about the state of the field. The panelists’ presentations are designed to begin the conversation. What challenges do we have in common, and what do we see and experience differently? Of particular interest will be issues of translation of indigenous language documents by scholars and native speakers; the pressing importance of ecological knowledge and sustainability; and the authority of academic scholars vis-à-vis the communities in which and about which they write. Panelists will limit their initial comments to 10 minutes each, reserving the majority of the roundtable’s time for audience participation.

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