Indigenizing the Public, Indigenizing the Academy: Challenges in/from the Digital Sphere

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 2:10 PM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
Kyle Pittman, George Mason University
With a reach of millions of readers, AskHistorians, indeed social media in general, is a prime location to undermine hegemonic historical narratives at their base in public discourse.

But at a time when the humanities often seem to be fighting for their survival, the introduction of subaltern perspectives and historical methodologies poses an extra challenge for Indigenous and other scholars. Despite the ongoing decolonization and Indigenization of the academy, our panel of nearly 400 subject-matter experts frequently, and unintentionally, slips into tacit West-centric perspectives when answering questions. The lightning speed of Internet discourse and the perceived need to keep followers comfortable enough to continue reading ends up privileging the dehumanization of people in oppressed groups and the resignation of “Native Americans” to a bucolic pre-colonization era. The perpetuation of this perspective, despite the best intentions of its unwitting perpetuators, both distorts history and has very real material costs for Indigenous Peoples today.

This paper grapples with the challenges we face on AskHistorians when we introduce both Indigenous histories and Indigenous ways of doing history into the public sphere. Even the wording of questions often reinforces popular (mis)understandings of Indigenous Peoples, reaffirming colonialist rationale while denying the credibility of Indigenous sources. It is more imperative than ever that we incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into social media discourse, and AskHistorians is on the front lines of doing so.