Monday, December 31, 2012

Blogroll update

I have finally retired the link to the Orwell Diaries from my blogroll, as the site editors have posted the last entry from G.O.'s wartime journal.  Orwell went to work for the B.B.C.* in late 1942, and did not resume keeping a diary until 1946 (and his postwar diary focused almost exclusively on trivia).  It's been fun following his account of World War Two.

Replacing Mssr. Blair is a link to a new weblog put together by a group of graduate students and recent Ph.Ds in early American history, The Junto.  The site launched a couple of weeks ago, and already the authors have published several excellent articles on Jay Gitlin's Bourgeois Empire, the communitarianism of the Founding Fathers, the best history books of 2012, and other subjects.  I look forward to following their exploits.

Your humble narrator has also been alerted to this list of the 50 best American history blogs, in which his humble site appears as number 45.  Huzzah!**

Updated Update, 4 January 2013: Allow me to introduce my readers to "Baby Got Bactria," Briana Kristler's research blog on commerce, law, and architecture in pre-modern Balkh (Bactria).  Really, how could one not support a weblog with that title?

* If memory serves, the B.B.C.'s headquarters was the architectural model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984, and one of the conference rooms where Orwell's section met was Room 101.

** Pronounced "hoozay."  Really!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What I Saw of the 2012 Ethnohistory Conference

Your faithful working boy managed to attend the annual meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory, which met last month in Springfield, Missouri.  Thanks to a full teaching schedule, several midweek professional obligations (including a breakfast meeting with my university's president), and a long drive from Indiana to southwestern Missouri, I was unable to attend any panels on the opening day of the conference, though I did register and pick up my convention swag bag, including this kick-ass coffee mug.  (The Mayan letters, included in honor of the forthcoming End of Days, either read "Here Comes the ASE" or "All Hail King Seven-Jaguar Snake-Person.")

On Friday (November 9) and Saturday (the 10th), I attended the following papers, which I summarize on behalf of those of my readers who'd like to know what North American ethnohistorians are up to this year:


David Buhl ("Water Out of Nowhere: Technological Solutions to a Legal Failure on Salt River Reservation") discussed the early 20th-century struggle for water rights on the Salt River Pima reserve, noting that despite a federal court decision (the Winters case of 1905) upholding Pima water rights, the Office of Indian Affairs let white farmers take most of the Salt River's water and sink new wells whenever there was a drought.

Brenda Child ("Healing and Renewal: Ojibwe Women, Nursing, and the Influenza of 1918") gave a brief biography of Lucient Levoy, an Ojibwa boarding-school student who worked as a volunteer nurse in Washington, DC, during the Spanish flu pandemic.  Child used this to start a brief discussion of the impact of the flu pandemic on the Anishinaabeg, who created a new "healing culture" (based on ceremonies like the jingle-dress dance) in the wake of the flu.

Regna Darnell ("The Transportability of 'Home' across First Nations Territory and Generation") discussed the concept of home for the formerly nomadic Algonkian peoples of Ontario.  She defined a homeland as a place with which a people have a personal and familial relationship, where they gather periodically to renew social relationships; it is not necessarily a long-term dwelling place nor a store for resources.  Darnell's paper would have nicely complemented Sami Lakömaki's argument (based on his work on the Shawnees) that a people's kin network, however far-flung, can serve as their homeland.  Indeed, Darnell and Lakömaki were scheduled to be on the same panel, but Sami wasn't able to make it.

Tom Fujii ("Cash, Gold Dust, and Credit: California Indian Economic Advancement") gave a wide-ranging paper on California Indians' economic strategies (to 1870), from which I learned that archaeologists have discovered glass trade beads in California dated to the early seventeenth century, and that the California Indians used glass and shell beads as currency into the mission era.

Mattie Harper ("White, Black, or Ojibwe?: The Bonga Family and Race in Minnesota") made the useful point that race was a fluid category in early Minnesota Territory.  Census takers were happy to classify mixed-race families like the Bongas as white in order to qualify Minnesota for a territorial legislature, while missionaries generally distinguished Indians from "half-breeds" by cultural markers like clothing and the "habiliments of civilization."

Clara Sue Kidwell ("Law and Order in the Choctaw Nation") talked about the 1826 Choctaw constitution, which she argues is (in part) a product of the 1825 diplomatic mission to Washington, DC that killed two of the Choctaws' traditionalist chiefs, Pushmataha and Puckshunubbe, and cleared the way for a more progressive faction to draft a new frame of government.  The paper was a preview for a book Clara Sue has coming out soon on this constitution.

Daniel Monteith ("A Story about the Taku Kwaan and a Tlingit Village on Douglas Island") presented on the Tlingit community of Douglas Island, Alaska, who were marginalized when the Treadwell Mining Company built a massive mining complex and refinery near their home in the 1880s.  Treadwell killed off most of the herring population, left toxic ore tailings on the beaches, and bulldozed one of the nearby Tlingit villages after it was partly destroyed in a fire.  From this paper I learned an interesting piece of climate history: the Alaska Gold Rush was partly a product of global warming, since glacial melting at the end of the Little Ice Age exposed surface quartzite deposits that indicated, to experienced miners, the presence of subsurface gold.

Jonathan Olsen ("Fur Trade Imports, Indigenous Spirituality, and the Conflation of Economic Performance") revisited Claude Schaeffer's 1965 Ethnohistory article about the Kutenai female berdache, Madame Boisverd, observing that she claimed to have had both her gender and her physical sex altered by British traders and to have received the power of prophecy from them.  Olsen argued that we need to remember the close connection between economic and spiritual power, and between trade and religion, in Native North America.  For my part, I was somewhat distracted by Olsen's statement that the Pacific Northwest was part of the "Atlantic World," an assertion supported by much of the audience.  Throw in the towel, would-be Pacific World scholars; you've lost.

Robert Przeklasa, Jr("One Flea-Bitten Grey Horse: Women, Horses and Economy on the Yakama Reservation") reported that among the early 20th-century Yakamas, the principal purchasers and owners of horses were women, who used the animals on their long-range gathering expeditions.  About 60 percent of the Yakamas' calories came from wild plants, and women traveled up to 80 kilometers from their winter camps to gather them.

Michael Witgen's paper ("Crime and Punishment on the Borderland of Anishinaabewaki and the United States") I could barely hear, but it apparently dealt with an 1837 murder case in western Wisconsin, in which territorial officials intervened by employing biracial American Fur Company employees as witnesses.  Witgen also brought up the distinction between colonialism (the subordination of an indigenous people to a settler/intruder population) and settler-colonialism (the extirpation and replacement of indigenes), but I didn't see the connection between this analysis and the rest of the paper.  One hopes he will publish this paper in the near future, so that I can figure out what the author was saying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Through the 18th-Century Midwest with Commandant Sabrevois (Part Two)

(For the previous entry in this series, see here.)

Jacques-Charles Sabrevois was for several years the commandant of the French post at Detroit, and it is to this community that his memoir now takes us. Detroit ("the Strait") had been founded in 1701 by Antoine Le Mothe de Cadillac, who established the settlement to bar English expansion into the upper Great Lakes. In 1718 the site had a small French fort and trading post, but most of the local inhabitants were Indians whom Cadillac had invited to Detroit to serve as his farming population and military auxiliary. At least three Native American nations had built villages at Detroit by the time of Sabrevois's memoir: the Huron-Wendats, an Iroquoian-language-speaking people whom the Mohawks had driven from their homeland in 1648; the Odawas ("Traders"), one of the three constituent nations of the Anishinaabe people; and the Potawatomis ("Fire-Keepers"), another Anishinaabe nation from southwestern Michigan. The Hurons had "100 men" (16:370) at Detroit in Sabrevois's time, probably equivalent to a total population of 250-300 men, women, and children; the Potawatomis had equal numbers; and the Odawas had "100 men and a great many women," a gender imbalance no doubt due to that nation's recent wars with the Iroquois.

Not surprisingly given their common background, the Odawas and Potawatomis had very similar customs, differing only in the construction of their dwelling places: the Potawatomis lived in portable huts built of overlapping reed mats, while the Odawas built wood and bark cabins like those of the Hurons. (Perhaps they adopted this building style from the Hurons while the two peoples lived together at Michilimackinac in the seventeenth century.) Both groups otherwise had the same economic base: fishing, commercial hunting, trading animal pelts for textiles and other European goods, and farming. Odawas and Potawatomis both cultivated the "Three Sisters" of Native North American agriculture (corn, beans, squash), along with melons and peas. Both had the same gendered division of labor: women did the "drudge" work of farming, preparing food, treating skins, and transporting and assembling shelters, while men did the "fun" jobs like hunting and fishing and fighting. (Lakes Indian men actually worked about as hard as women, but women supplied most of the calories and raw materials that their kinsmen consumed.) Both also had similar dances and games, of which more below.

To the Hurons of Detroit Sabrevois devotes relatively little attention, though more than he gave the Senecas who resided near Niagara. They are, in his telling, an "exceedingly industrious nation," brave, intelligent, and generally praiseworthy, but rather dull. Their town near Detroit consisted of a fort enclosed in a double wooden palisade, several bark longhouses - Sabrevois calls them "cabins" but describes them as "high...and very long" - and extensive fields of corn, legumes, and "sometimes French wheat." While Huron men were expert hunters and spent most of their time, summer through winter, in their hunting ranges, Huron women generally remained closer to home, tending their fields, gathering wood, and guarding the Hurons' fort, a task they leave to "old women."  (16: 368). Of the Hurons' cultural and religious lives, Sabrevois appears to be unaware.

Sabrevois provides far more information about the cultural lives of the Potawatomis, and by extension the Odawas. Their clothing style, he observes, was beginning to change in consequence of the fur trade: women increasingly wore white dresses, glass-bead necklaces, and vermilion to community events, while men dressed in red and blue cloth garments in the warmer months, though they generally donned bison robes in the winter. Their dances Sabrevois divides into three types: war or "scout" dances, wherein men took turns striking a pole and reciting their martial exploits; social dances, in which dancers of both genders moved to the accompaniment of male singers, drums, and rattles; and midewiwin or medicinal dances, performed in the evening by older men.

Of the Detroit Indians' games, finally, Sabrevois describes two, which he has probably seen played in person. One is lacrosse, which the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Huron towns play against one another in the summer, with some of the French joining in as well. It is, as most modern North Americans know, a field game in which two teams of players (20 each, in this case) drive a wooden ball toward their team's goal with wooden rackets. Sabrevois noted that the game's players, all male, usually dressed in no more than breechcloths but usually painted themselves lavishly, some with white pigment in patterns resembling lace. (Sabrevois infers that this "lacework" was a coincidental effect, not a deliberate one.) The Indian spectators were just as lavish in the bets they placed on the games' outcome, wagers which could collectively exceed 800 livres' (francs') worth of goods (367). The other Native American game Sabrevois encountered at Detroit was "dish," a game of chance in which the players "tossed on a dish" eight "balls" or disks with two differently-painted sides (369), winning the round and the bet whenever seven or eight tokens landed on the same side. Thankfully, they did not have to yell "Yahtzee!" to collect their winnings.