Writing Native Pasts in the Nineteenth Century

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Writing Native Pasts in the Nineteenth Century argues that Native American historians responded to the disciplinary emergence of settler-colonial history by challenging the belief that writing afforded exclusive access to the past. As the study of history developed in the nineteenth century, the supposed illiteracy of indigenous communities positioned them outside of historical time. This exclusion served as a facile justification for their territorial displacement and political subjugation. Though studies of historical writing by Native Americans have shown that authors countered these practices by refuting settler-colonial histories and the racist ideologies on which they were based, none has considered how these authors likewise defended their communities by contesting the spurious premise that, because they did not write, indigenous peoples were unable to situate themselves in relation to their pasts. In Writing Native Pasts, I contend that indigenous writers advocated for the territorial and political sovereignty of their communities by insisting on the authority of their historiographical traditions. They did so, I establish, by making the content, structure, and distribution of their narratives amenable to histories whose authority derived from discursive practices that exceeded the formal constraints of the written word. These writers thus countered an intellectual tradition whose origins were inimical to their pasts and hostile to their cultural and political futures. As Native Americans committed their pasts to the page, they used the practices that had placed them outside history to demand the rights afforded to those within.

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Native American studies; American literature


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Union Local


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Cheyfitz, Eric T.

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Parmenter, Jon W.
Samuels, Shirley R.

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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