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  • The Ties of Historical Geography and Critical Indigenous Studies
  • Michael D. Wise


Many areas of study in the humanities outside of historical geography proper have taken up critical approaches to place over the last several decades, constituting a so-called geographic turn: a broad shift in scholarly sensibilities toward questions of space as fundamental not only to the constructions of our social identities but also to the production and organization of knowledge. This move has both relied on old insights from the geographical literature and also generated new critiques of the geographical discipline. The critical twists and turns of other fields' engagements with place and temporality have diffused the analytical projects of historical geography among diverse branches of scholarship. In the interest of illuminating the present relationships of historical geography to these other fields and disciplines, this new interview forum section of Historical Geography will explore the intersections of such areas of place-based scholarly inquiry with the past and present literature of our own field.

Critical Indigenous studies is an interdisciplinary field that has grown substantially since the end of the last century and is also one that has much to say about the significance of place in structuring the political stakes of historical narratives in the present. By centering Indigenous modes of knowledge production, it is also a field that has provided highly original and provocative critiques of traditional academic disciplinarity. Critical Indigenous studies not only challenges the Eurocentric sensibilities that have long oriented the basic questions and concerns of historians, geographers, literary critics, and other scholars of the humanities; it is a field that also takes the additional [End Page 239] step of analyzing disciplinary knowledge that is implicated in the historical and geographical exercise of colonial power. As Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Caroline Wigginton, and Kelly Wisecup put it in their contribution to this forum, the field of Indigenous studies is one that seeks to overturn this power by displacing "mastery" as the goal of research, replacing it instead with the goal of producing scholarship that is "responsive"—in this case, responsive to the "expertise and needs of Indigenous communities (282)." Building geographical and historical studies out of Indigenous epistemological foundations provides one way of accomplishing this objective. However, a defining strength of the field is also its unwillingness to essentialize Indigeneity, or to reify Indigenous people as "Other" to the colonial world, a refusal rooted in the field's recognition that the "different cultural toolkits we use," as Aileen Moreton-Robinson explains, "are also shaped by the social and discursive processes that we wish to understand and analyze."1 The field's maturation and growing influence rest broadly on its critical self-awareness and on the opportunities it has opened for rethinking the basic constitutions of our disciplines' colonial methods and canons—especially those of history and geography.

The following five sets of interview questions and responses assembled in this forum illustrate many of the provocations that have emerged through Indigenous studies scholars' recent engagements with place. Among the exciting topics under discussion are histories of Indigenous cartographies; the recovery of "invisible" Native landscapes; the role of bodily knowledge in generating geographical imaginations; the colonial politics of the "geographic turn" in several area studies fields; the role of Indigenous materials and methods in disciplinary graduate training; and the critical role of historical geography in twenty-first-century discussions regarding the politics of place, memory, and decolonization.

The contributors to the interview forum are all prominent scholars of Indigenous studies whose works center place as a primary organizing principle. Michael Witgen is the author of An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America and an associate professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan. Christine DeLucia is an associate professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and the author of Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. David Chang is a Distinguished [End Page 240] McKnight Professor of History and chair of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota and the author, most recently, of The World and All the Things Upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration. Aroha Harris...


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