Reconsidering Native American Biography in the Late 19th and 20th Centuries

AHA Session 193
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Madison Square (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Stefan Eklöf Amirell, Linnaeus University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session invites the audience to explore the benefits and limitations of using biography in the study of Native American history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Biography has long been a flexible and useful scholarly tool in exploring individual agency, historical causation, and in illuminating hidden aspects of a society only obvious when viewed through the eyes of a single person. But what happens when it is applied to Native American history, a field that grapples with its own unique set of questions and challenges?

In pursuit of an answer, the panelists will present their biographies of diverse Native American people from across the continent. In the discussion of these historical figures and their worlds, they will also raise significant methodological questions: can biography help us peel back historical erasures across borders, in the archive, and in historiography? Can the biographical method help historians become more inclusive of traditionally “subaltern” records like oral history and material culture? Considering the broad popular appeal of biographies, could they be a tool to help deconstruct Native stereotypes that are still common in public discourse? To what extent can the very act of writing biography, and more generally recovering silenced histories, offer new perspectives on the post-Indian Wars notion of the inevitably “vanishing Indian”?

See more of: AHA Sessions