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Why Historians Don’t Embrace “American Exceptionalism”

Why Historians Don’t Embrace “American Exceptionalism”

At the “Days of ’47” rodeo in Salt Lake City late last month, an event that commemorates the arrival of the first Mormon settlers in Utah, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared that “Utah understands that religious freedom is the cornerstone of American exceptionalism.” It’s a concept–American Exceptionalism–that is expressed frequently in American political discourse by those on the right.  America is unique, the argument goes, in its commitment to liberty and individual freedom, including religion, principles upon which the nation…

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We Need To Get Woody Guthrie Right, Now More Than Ever

We Need To Get Woody Guthrie Right, Now More Than Ever

Every couple of months I read on Twitter another denunciation from someone in the Native American/Indigenous Studies community of Woody Guthrie’s famous song, “This Land is Your Land.” It’s a “obvs hella-colonial” song, the critique goes, because Guthrie’s claim that the entire continent “from California, to the New York Island” belonged to you and me ignored the original Native American owners of North America.  As such, Guthrie erased the reality of Native Americans’ antecedent claims to the continent and, in…

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The Liberal Arts in Trying Times

The Liberal Arts in Trying Times

Those of us who teach the liberal arts at times feel under siege. Too often we reply to those who challenge our enterprise with arguments that students who major in the liberal arts do well after they graduate, that they have skills that are indeed employable, and that they will make as much money as students in other academic fields.  I agree with all these points, but I believe that in a way, they concede too much to those who…

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The Onondagas and the Movies, Part III

The Onondagas and the Movies, Part III

In the 1992 movie “The Last of the Mohicans,” filmmaker Michael Mann found inspiration in the famous but dreadful novel by James Fenimore Cooper.  As did the folks who made “The Iroquois Trail,” forty years before, Mann and his crew took what they wanted from the source material in an effort to construct an adventurous story that spoke to a large white audience.  The film one one hand sheds some light on the broad cultural influence of the Onondaga Nation…

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The Onondagas and the Movies, Part II: John Big Tree

The Onondagas and the Movies, Part II: John Big Tree

On July 7, 1967, Chief John Big Tree died on the Onondaga Reservation.  Born Isaac Johnny John, perhaps in 1877 in Michigan, the Seneca actor appeared in nearly five dozen movies between 1915 and 1950.  He played a scout in “Stagecoach” along side a young John Wayne in 1939, and with Henry Fonda in “Drums Along the Mohawk,” and, again with John Wayne, in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”  That was 1949, his second-to-last film. He played Chief Pony That…

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What You Need to Read, June 2018

What You Need to Read, June 2018

It’s that time of the year again.  Let me know if you think I missed something that I ought to have included.  It is summer break, and I hope you find something here you can use.   Allard, Seth. Guided By the Spirits: The Meanings of Life, Death, and Youth Suicide in an Ojibwa Community, (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2018). Alt, Susan M. Cahokia’s Complexities: Ceremonies and Politics of the First Mississippian Farmers, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,…

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The Onondagas and the Movies, Part I: “The Iroquois Trail”

The Onondagas and the Movies, Part I: “The Iroquois Trail”

One of the things about doing newspaper research, I find, is how easily it can lead to distraction.  I am at a point in my research where I am still formulating questions, where I still have so much to learn.  I am not looking for any one thing.  Rather, I am trying to collect as much information as I can about the Onondagas and their history.  In this sense, nothing I find is irrelevant, and everything I read might be…

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Obligations: More Thoughts on Teaching and Learning on Native Ground

Obligations: More Thoughts on Teaching and Learning on Native Ground

A while back I published a piece in the local newspaper arguing that the State University of New York ought to provide free tuition to Haudenosaunee peoples on whose lands many SUNY campuses stand. (Actually, SUNY should provide free tuition to ALL New Yorkers, but that is another argument).  My essay read as follows: New York State is to be applauded for implementing the Excelsior Program to make attendance at a SUNY school affordable for working-class families. But because Excelsior…

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What If I Don’t Like Chipotle? Jerry Brown and Higher Education

What If I Don’t Like Chipotle? Jerry Brown and Higher Education

Jerry Brown, the governor of my home state, recently aired some complaints about college professors and higher education. “What I like about Chipotle,” he told a meeting of the California Chamber of Commerce, “is the limited menu. You stand in the line, get either brown rice or white rice, black beans or pinto beans,” Brown said. “You put a little cheese, a little this, a little that, and you’re out of there. I think that’s a model some of our…

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Enough

Enough

It is time, in the wake of yet another school shooting, for a history lesson. One of history’s fundamental lessons, after all, is that if something terrible happens, and those with the power to prevent it from happening do nothing, it will most likely happen again.  The Valentine’s Day Massacre at Parkland happened just over three months ago. And last week, in Texas, a state that fetishizes gun violence like no other, a right-wing terrorist murdered children in their classrooms…

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