H-150. A History of Native American Books & Indigenous Sovereignty

Michael Kelly Kiara M. Vigil

This course will offer a comprehensive history of Native American engagement with books as authors, editors, printers, publishers, and consumers with reference to developments in U.S. and Canadian history, and to the history of the book in general. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying Native American and Indigenous peoples’ histories, cultures, literatures, and political movements by exposing students to several critical fields of inquiry. These include: Native American History, Public History, American History, Book History, Settler Colonial Theory, and Literary Studies. These are the many lenses through which we will investigate the history of the book in Indian Country and beyond. Although we will touch on Indigenous communications technologies prior to European contact, our focus will be on the introduction of printing technologies as they developed in North America from the seventeenth century to the present, including new forays into emerging digital platforms.

The Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College holds perhaps the largest collection of Native-authored books in the United States. After purchasing the private collection of 1,400 Native-authored books assembled by Pablo Eisenberg, Amherst has added more than 1,000 additional items, and continues to acquire very actively in this field. The collection includes nearly 150 items published before 1900, including extremely scarce books from the close of the eighteenth century. Recently published works include children’s books, comic books, card games, and artists’ books. For example, the collection includes five different printings of Samson Occom’s (Mohegan) A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian (1772–1827); the only surviving copy of Gertrude Bonnin’s (Lakota) The Constitution and Bylaws of the National Council of American Indians (1926); extremely scarce poetry chapbooks by Gerald Vizenor (Anishinaabeg), Joy Harjo (Creek), Maurice Kenney (Mohawk), Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki), and many dictionaries and indigenous-language resources. The focus of the collection is Native authorship regardless of topic, format, or intended audience. The goals of this course are to foreground Native presence in the printed record of North America and to expose the wide range of approaches indigenous people have taken to this colonial technology.

There are no prerequisites for the class outside of an interest in the history of the Americas, Native American and Indigenous studies, and book history and bibliography. In their personal statements, applicants should describe the nature of their interest in the history of the book, Native American and Indigenous Studies, their expectations of the course, and the purposes to which they propose to put the knowledge gained from their participation.

Course History

Michael Kelly & Kiara M. Vigil co-teach this course.

Course Resources

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  • Michael Kelly
  • Kiara M. Vigil

Michael Kelly

Mike Kelly is the Head of the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College, where he oversees the school’s collection of more than 80,000 rare books along with a host of archival and manuscript collections. Before coming to Amherst in 2009, he spent eleven years as the Curator of Books at the Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University. He has held many positions within the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL, including a term as RBMS Chair in 2011–12, and he is an active member of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM). He received his M.L.S. from the University of Texas at Austin where he spent two years as an intern at the Harry Ransom Center; he also holds an M.A. in English from the University of Virginia. In 2016, he was awarded the Reese Fellowship for American Bibliography and the History of the Book in the Americas by the Bibliographical Society of America for his work on the bibliography of Samson Occom (Mohegan). He co-curated (with Carolyn Vega) the exhibition “I’m Nobody! Who Are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson” at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York which ran from January through May 2017.

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Kiara M. Vigil

Kiara M. Vigil is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, where she specializes in teaching and research related to Native American Studies. She received her doctorate from the University of Michigan in American Culture, and holds master’s degrees from Dartmouth College as well as Columbia University’s Teachers College, and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in history. She is the past recipient of the Gaius Charles Bolin fellowship from Williams College as well as fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Autry National Museum, the Newberry Library, and the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan. She has published “Red/Black Literature” in The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literatures (co-authored with Tiya Miles), as well as “Turn of the Century Indian Intellectualism: Language and Literacy in Simon Pokagon’s Queen of the Woods” in O-gi-maw-kwe Mit-i-gwa-ki (Queen of the Woods) by Simon Pokagon (Michigan State University Press). Her first book, Indigenous Intellectuals: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and the American Imagination, 1880–1930 (Cambridge University Press) examines the cultural production of four prominent Indian intellectuals: Charles Eastman, Carlos Montezuma, Gertrude Bonnin, and Luther Standing Bear within the shifting social and political milieu of the early twentieth century. Most recently she has published articles in The Great Plains Quarterly, and has an essay forthcoming in the American Quarterly as well as a chapter titled “William Jones: Indian, Anthropologist, Murder Victim” in: Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas (Yale University Press).

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