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Professor Hosmer Blog: Native American History is U.S. History

In honor of Native American Day this Friday, September 28, H.G. Barnard Associate Professor of Western American History Brian Hosmer discusses the classes he teaches on Native American History and delves into why Native American History is every Americans’ history. 

 

I teach a range of classes dealing with Native American History. Most every fall, I offer “Indians in American History” which is a survey of American Indian history from before contact through the early 20th century. I also teach a class on “Modern America and American Indians” which focuses on 20th and 21st century history, and often features guest speakers representing Native Americans in law, the arts, business and the like. I do this to encourage students to “see” Native people in contexts other than museums, movies, and popular culture, which too often portray them stereotypically and as fixtures of the past, rather than members of our larger societies. It also do this to emphasize that Native communities, and cultures, are not ‘dead’ in any sense. They adapt, change, and still remain committed to their cultures and peoples. That class also focuses on tribal sovereignty.

 

I teach seminars too.”Representations of/by American Indians” looks at the ways popular culture has misrepresented Native people, and how Native peoples represent themselves to the broader public.

 

And this semester, I’m teaching my “American Indian Ethnohistory” class, which is basically a methods seminar where students engage recent research on a variety of topics and learn something about how we conduct research and present our findings.

 

My teaching is guided by a few principles:

 

  • First, is that Indian peoples are not ‘of the past’ but here, now, and always changing. By this I mean to present Native cultures and peoples as fully human and not somehow relics of static cultures.

 

  • A second principle follows the first, and speaks to my determination to let Native peoples ‘speak for themselves.’ This comes through primary source documents, readings of oral histories, and perhaps most importantly contemporary literature and guest speakers.

 

  • And third, my view is that American Indian history IS U.S. History, and not something ‘exotic,’ or ‘foreign’ or peripheral to the American experience. I teach my students that it is important to understand American Indian history for its own sake, but also because we cannot possibly understand our society, and our current circumstance, without coming to terms with our shared history of dispossession, removal, dislocation AND survival.

 

Finally, I’ve been teaching American Indian history for nearly 30 years. My teaching is deeply informed by my scholarly research, my connections with Native peoples and communities and my experiences running the preeminent Native American studies research center at the Newberry Library in Chicago.