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  • Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous StudiesCompleting the Turn
  • Alyssa MT. Pleasant (bio), Caroline Wigginton (bio), and Kelly Wisecup (bio)

WE begin this joint Forum by sounding a call and marking that call's history. In this introduction, published in both Early American Literature and the William and Mary Quarterly, we urge practitioners of early American studies to engage in structural and substantive ways with the materials and methods of Native American and Indigenous studies (NAIS). This engagement will enliven and strengthen our scholarship, even as it asks literary scholars and historians to reimagine the objects of our study and to grapple with the political ramifications of our research on the past. Far from a novel or unprecedented argument, our call to embrace NAIS's materials and methods is an old one. In the early nineteenth century, Haudenosaunee scholar David Cusick and Pequot activist William Apess critiqued texts by non-Native writers for inaccurately portraying Native American histories and cultures, pointing out that these works created problematic representational categories and perpetuated stereotypes about Native peoples. In response, Cusick and Apess penned books depicting Native peoples on their own terms, and their texts are emblems of a Native intellectual tradition that insists on Native peoples' centrality and humanity.1

Nearly two centuries later, early Americanist scholars continued this call for new approaches to studying and writing about Native peoples. In 1989, writing in the WMQ, James H. Merrell urged historians to attend to the New Indian History and, in doing so, to shift their assumptions about America's past ("Some Thoughts"). Reflecting on the same subject in 2012, Merrell noted that historians had increasingly turned to study Native peoples and their "vital" role in shaping the "strange land called colonial America," investigating Native Americans' place in tried and true early [End Page 407] American topics and approaching Native peoples as legitimate subjects of study in their own right ("Second Thoughts" 454). Yet Merrell also sounded a note of caution, pointing out that scholars' interest in Native peoples and histories remained intermittent and often cosmetic, and thereby reiterated his own earlier call for scholarship that centers on Native history to reshape early American historiography.2 Meanwhile, literary scholars were engaging in similar reassessments of their field. A 2010 EAL article by Stephanie Fitzgerald and Hilary E. Wyss urged literary scholars to revise their treatment of periodization and textuality to account for Indigenous literatures. Fitzgerald and Wyss noted that scholarship on early American texts has particular relevance to the concerns of Native nations today, and they argued that early Americanist scholars have a responsibility to construct interpretations that are both sensitive to their effects on Native communities and attentive to culturally specific literacies. As a result, scholars must often venture beyond the study of Euro-American alphabetic and literary texts ("Land and Literacy" 242).3 Fitzgerald and Wyss's article echoed a 2007 call Robert Warrior made in a review essay for EAL, urging literary scholars to broaden their archives to include tribal repositories and oral histories and to consider texts written by native people rather than limiting their studies to representations of Native peoples as they were imagined by colonists. Warrior, in turn, cited Lucy Maddox's Removals as a "pivotal" text urging early Americanists to include Native topics in their studies ("Role" 374); Maddox's book opens by noting, "Our working definition of American literature has not yet been able to accommodate Indian texts, oral or written, very comfortably" (3).4

Collectively, Cusick, Apess, Merrell, Fitzgerald, Wyss, Warrior, Maddox, and many others encouraged early Americanists to change the ways they studied and wrote about Native American literatures and histories. The fact that these calls have been repeated over the centuries—and that we are once again echoing them here—suggests the incomplete nature of the methodological turn that began in early American history with the New Indian History in the 1970s and in early American literary studies with a focus on alternative literacies in the 1990s.5 We believe that our fields are poised for new structural and organizational relationships with NAIS's methods and materials that can help us complete this turn and thereby move beyond the...


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pp. 407-444
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