My Beautiful Wickedness

What fun!
November 2, 2007, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was a really good teaching day. In my US Survey, I taught documents on the early 19th c Cherokee (because they are more than their removal — it’s actually an incredible story of cultural resurgence) and fielded a number of good questions about Cherokees as slave-owners, Cherokee ideas about race and how they changed (thanks Nancy Shoemaker, for doing the research that I presented), their rockin’ constitution, and some comments that I turned into “gendered effects of empire” bridges to other material. We’ll talk all next week about the desire of mid-19th Americans to reform the world and remake nature, rearrange populations, immigration — so I really am doing my best to mainstream Cherokee history and not sidebar it.

My class in American Indian History is doing the late 19th century, reading a book on the Sioux and US colonialism by Jeff Ostler. (Who some of you went to grad school with…) We did a close reading of the Dawes Act and then (to build on our work on the long-term political impact of boarding schools on Indian society) looked at some valedictory speeches given by the grads of Hampton Institute. The money quote from this was from a student named Henry Fielder:

At their annual church convocation thousands of Indians came together, and on bended knees praise the Lord for His mercy on them in the past year. “My country, tis of Thee” is sung with a great deal of feeling. It may not be a “Sweet land of Liberty” to us but it is the “land where our fathers died” and that is enough for some of us.

— Hamption Graduation Address, 1899

I’m trying to communicate that the HI students were on the forefront of developing the group that will become the NAACP and that the late 19th century stuff happening on the Plains grows out of Reconstruction and is intended to be a Progressive response to the “race problem.” Students did really well with the whole “reservations good, reservations bad,” yet had a bit more trouble with realizing that the goods and the bads didn’t have to be necessarily equivalent…

The coolest part of the day was the conversation afterward. I have great faith in the student I spoke to, though she’s struggled to find her feet. She has discovered her passion (art history) and she’s been flying through her classes this semester. She took something we learned this week — the commodification of Indian identity and the performance of “Indianness” — and applied it to some of her work in another class. I love it when that intellectual synergy hits kids — it’s like they just have to grab somebody by the arm and tell them when the big idea hits.

So yes, I’m tired, but this is the kind of day that recharges the pedagogical batteries.


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