University of Nebraska Press
  • The Ties of Historical Geography and Critical Indigenous Studies


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 is a scholar at the University of Auckland and the author of many books on Māori history. Harris is also the current president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. The final three respondents are all coeditors of a recent joint forum of the William and Mary Quarterly and Early American Literature titled "Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies." Alyssa Mt. Pleasant is an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Buffalo (SUNY) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haudenosaunee history of western New York. Caroline Wigginton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi and the author of In the Neighborhood: Women's Publication in Early America. Kelly Wisecup is an associate professor of English at Northwestern University and the author of Medical Encounters: Knowledge and Identity in Early American Literatures. The following pages include questions and responses conducted in interviews during the summer and fall of 2018 with HG coeditor Michael D. Wise (HG). Respondents are also identified with their initials.

Michael Witgen

is an associate professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, and the author of An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

Witgen's scholarship radically reimagines the historical geographies of early North America by focusing on the experiences of Indigenous peoples who lived largely beyond the grasp of European and American imperial ambitions. Instead of rehashing the westward-looking colonial narrative so common to transatlantic models of American history, Witgen instead approaches early America from a continental perspective, providing a groundbreaking rereading of historical sources by using Native languages, place-names, and stories as evidence of the emergence and evolution of a "Native New World" in the North American interior. In particular, Witgen demonstrates how the fluid social and political formations of the Anishaabeg (Ojibwe) not only confounded colonial efforts to organize Native peoples into "tribes" and "nations" but were also at the core of the intercultural process that defined place and identity throughout [End Page 241] the Great Lakes region over nearly three centuries of encounters with the Wemitigoozhig (French), the Zhaaganaashag (British), and the Gichi-mookomaanag (Americans). Bringing forward the geographical subjectivities of Native American historical actors, Witgen's research offers new possibilities for reframing historical geography from the perspectives of Indigenous studies.


The disciplinary tradition of geography is, like most branches of the modern academy, rooted in the colonial experience of global collection and classification. One of the many compelling moments of An Infinity of Nations is the book's namesake anecdote—the frustrated observation of a French official that the diffuse nature of Native social organization in the North American interior represented "an infinity of undiscovered nations" that would remain inscrutable to the exercise of French imperial power. Similarly, the asymmetry of Indigenous political forms existing outside the frameworks of the nation-state have long vexed geographers, who have struggled to represent such Indigenous places and communities using the conventional tools of the discipline. How might geographers and other scholars reimagine their studies of place in ways that would more clearly communicate the spatial perspectives of Native people? Is it possible to "de-colonize" geography?

Michael Witgen (MW):

Is it possible to "decolonize" geography? Yes, and the key to doing so is to rigorously engage the historical actors who seek to advance the claims of empire. In 1685 the governor of New France learned about the establishment of an English trading post to the north of New France in Hudson's Bay. In response he prepared a memorial for the king, stating, "If we do not chase them away, they will have all of the fat beaver from an infinity of nations who are to the north that are discovered every day, drawing the greatest of the peltries that come to us at Montreal from the Outaouas and the Assinibois and other neighboring nations."2 At the heart of Denonville's statement is the recognition of Native peoples organized politically as Indigenous nations. This "infinity of nations," in other words, were politically autonomous Indigenous social formations.

Denonville's recognition of these Indigenous nations, however, is deeply coded in the language of European Empire. The concern he expresses is that the English might discover these unknown nations to the [End Page 242] north, and in the process lay claim to their territory and capture their trade. The ideology underlying the idea of European discovery was that Native peoples were uncivilized and therefore did not exercise dominion over their homelands. The first civilized nation to encounter such people could claim possession of this territory, and incorporate the Natives into their empire as a politically subordinate or vassalized nation. New France claimed the territory and political allegiance of the Odawa and Assiniboine, who traded with these northern peoples and brought their valuable pelts to Montreal. The incorporation of these two Native nations into the French Empire allowed New France to assert dominion over the region they called the pays d'en haut, or upper country. Accordingly, maps of New France show the French in possession of the Great Lakes and northern Great Plains as early as 1685.

Geographers and historians have pushed back against such teleological claims of discovery, conquest, and possession. The geographer D. W. Meinig, for example, reimagined the colonial process as the creation of an Atlantic World. He reconceptualized the discovery of the New World as an encounter between two Old Worlds, one Native one European. This epic collision resulted in the creation of a transoceanic network that he envisioned "as a single vast spatial system," which he described as the Atlantic World.3 This system connected Europe to hinterlands in Africa and North America, but it also imagined peoples and social formations on these continents to be part of an emergent imperial social formation where meaning and order were determined by colonial powers with homelands in Europe.

Meinig's formulation imagined encounter as a process of mutual discovery, but he still imagined the Atlantic World as a spatial system with a European core and an indigenous periphery. Returning to the claims or concerns of the agents of French Empire in North America, we might imagine a different geography rooted in an indigenous spatial system. In 1685, operating a trading post at Lake Nipigon, above the northwest corner of Lake Superior, Claude Du Lhut informed the governor "there are an infinity of peoples, and there is only hope to trade with them by sea," in other words, establishing a French post at Hudson's Bay.4 Like Denonville, Du Lhut was overwhelmed by the vast numbers of Native peoples occupying the interior of North America. What made both men apprehensive was the fact that they recognized that these peoples represented autonomous social formations, not conquered nations, and [End Page 243] they were free to trade with whom they wanted. Du Lhut's use of the word "peoples" was also significant because these Native people were not organized collectively as nations. The Odawa, for example, were not a discrete nation, but rather considered themselves to be part of a much larger social formation, the Anishinaabeg, which included linguistically related bands and villages throughout the Great Lakes and the boreal forest inland from Hudson's Bay. In effect, they constituted a Native New World, a social world and spatial system that reconfigured itself in response to the peoples and things of Atlantic World Empires, but that had not been incorporated into any empire or even the Atlantic World.


One of the major themes of your scholarship that resonates broadly with geographers is the critical attention you have paid to cartography and to the fictions of possession represented by colonial maps. Could you say more about this facet of your research and thought? Are there any specific works on maps or other representations of place that have been influential for your own scholarship, and/or for your broader geographical sensibilities? Were maps, or could maps, ever be used as instruments of liberation for Native people, rather than as tools for their reduction into colonial subjects?


During the colonial period in North American history, maps frequently reflected the aspirations of European empires rather than the lived reality experienced by Natives and newcomers on the ground. The historian Juliana Barr has written, "Explicitly, Euro-American maps functioned as geopolitical 'statements of territorial appropriation' that erased Indian geography by replacing Indian domains with blank spaces of pristine wilderness awaiting colonial development."5 Here Barr is speaking about Spanish claims of conquest and possession in the region they called Texas. She could also have made the same statement about French claims regarding the pays d'en haut. In 1671 a French colonial official traveled to Sault Sainte-Marie, a rapids on the river connecting Lake Huron and Lake Superior, planted the coat of arms of the king of France, and declared possession of the surrounding territory on his behalf.

In order to document this ceremony Jesuit missionaries produced a map of Lake Superior and "the Outaouac Territories." On this map the Jesuits represent each of their missions in the Great Lakes, or pays [End Page 244] d'en haut. Native peoples living in this region are not represented on the map, but are listed in an accompanying text that described the populations served by the missions on the map. This map was not created as a tool to help colonists navigate the territory of the Odawa. Instead, it was produced to make this space legible to a European audience as French territory. This is a perfect example of how maps, as Barr suggests, perform or enact territorial appropriation and political erasure. In thinking through the relationship between cartography and empire, I was deeply influenced by the geographer David Harvey, who helped me see the dis-cursive practice of mapping as a form of knowledge production that shaped European narratives of discovery. "The power to map the world in one way or another," he asserts, "is a crucial tool in political struggles."6 The recognition of this power by indigenous peoples is reflected in the fact that many contemporary Native communities have begun to reassert indigenous place-names and language in the maps and signage marking the territory of their homelands.


A major development of the last generation of scholarship in historical geography (and environmental history) was the realization that nature and culture are mutually constituted categories; that our studies cannot isolate "physical geography" from "cultural geography," or vice versa, as nature is both a fiction of culture as well as its very material basis. I imagine this would not be such an original idea within Anishinaabe circles, since nature and culture were never understood as dissociated categories. As you discuss in An Infinity of Nations, even the "place" of Anishinaabewaki was not physically alienable from the kinship networks that gave it definition. Do you think that one of the promises of your engagement with place might be to help redefine or broaden the terms and/or scales that geographers and other scholars use when they consider what constitutes a place? In other words, can Native studies scholars help give geographers some more practical models for considering place beyond the old dissociated worlds of the physical and the cultural environments? Or, to put it yet another way—what might your own generalizable theory of place look like?


Native Studies can be of use to geographers as a tool, method, or way of thinking that circumvents the logic and ideology of discovery and the political imaginary of the New World. Conceptually we know that a Native North America existed before the arrival of European colonial [End Page 245] powers, but the historical record begins when Europeans started to document this encounter. Native Studies can provide a way of working around this traditional idea of what constitutes a historical archive. European colonial powers quickly claimed discovery, possession, and conquest of vast swaths of North America. In truth, however, conquest, rapid depopulation, and total dispossession only occurred in pockets of territory along the East Coast of the Atlantic seaboard. In the interior, in places like the Great Lakes where there was virtually no European presence outside of sparsely manned trading posts and missions, Native peoples remained the dominant political, economic, and military power until the mid-nineteenth century. A focus on Native history and epistemology allows scholars to understand how people like the Anishinaabeg saw themselves as a politically autonomous social formation, as well as how they understood their relationship to their homeland Anishinaabewaki, and to colonial powers like New France, and other indigenous social formations like the Haudenosaunee (the Iroquois confederacy).

Centering the history of encounter from a Native perspective provides a way of understanding this history that avoids the teleology of discovery. For the Anishinaabeg, for example, there were two categories of people—inawemaagen (insider/relative) and meyaagizid (outsider/foreigner). Understanding how these linguistic categories function explains political alliances in Anishinaabewaki. These particular domains of identity also determined, crucially, access to socially constructed spaces such as villages and hunting territories, and resources such as fish runs and stands of wild rice and maple trees.7 Mapping the social and political geography of the pays d'en haut from the perspective of the Anishinaabeg provides a much more accurate representation of this space than a mere reliance of the maps and texts produced by colonial officials. It also allows scholars to apply an indigenous context to records generated by Europeans.


Another long-standing intellectual commitment of historical geography (and in my view, one of the field's most defining strengths) has been its emphasis on questioning landscape as a way of seeing—as a mode of producing and suppressing certain "truths" about the world. One of the major tasks you undertake in An Infinity of Nations is to reconstitute the "Native New World," a place that, as you so convincingly [End Page 246] argue, has been made and kept largely invisible by colonial narratives of discovery that have repeatedly disavowed the possibility of Native historical geographies existing beyond the framework of European and American imperial encounter. How can historians and geographers best adjust their frames of vision to better see the contours of the Native New World and other Indigenous geographies located largely in the blind spots of our disciplines' colonial frames of reference? Do you have any advice for historical geographers looking to "see" more clearly these Native places and identities?


In An Infinity of Nations I write about a particular performance of the Feast of the Dead Ceremony by the Gichigamiing-Anishinaabeg, or the Lake Superior Anishinaabeg, in 1660. We know about this ceremony because an unlicensed French trader named Pierre Esprit Radisson produced a narrative account of the event. In this ceremony the hosts provide an eat-all feast to their guests and shower them with gifts. The participants consume their feast alongside their recent dead, disinterred for the occasion. At the conclusion of the feast the dead are reinterred in a common grave. Radisson wrote his narrative to demonstrate his knowledge of and mastery over the Native peoples in the region the French called the pays d'en haut. His narrative focuses on the macabre spectacle of the ceremony.

Radisson's narrative also provides an account of one of the most important diplomatic overtures to occur in the Great Lakes in the first decades after French colonization. This was not Radisson's intent; nevertheless, this is what he accomplished. The Wyandot or Huron Confederacy collapsed in the 1650s due to conflict with the Iroquois, population loss from disease, and political discord arising from the conversion of a faction of the Wyandot to Christianity. Many Wyandot fled west and took refuge among the Anishinaabeg. They brought the Feast of the Dead ceremony with them. In 1660 the Anishinaabe doodemag (bands) living along the southwest shores of Lake Superior used this ceremony in an attempt to end a decade-long conflict with the Dakota, with whom they had been fighting over access to prime beaver habitat. By burying the bones of their ancestors with the bones of the Dakota, the Anishinaabeg used this ceremony to inscribe the past with new meaning. It created a shared past that for a time allowed the [End Page 247] Anishinaabeg and the Dakota to see one another as inawemaagen, as kin. This ceremony was an act of political self-determination that redrew the boundaries of Anishinaabewaki. It captured a moment of political imagination that represented an expansion of Native power and social identity at a time and place usually associated with the expansion of European power. Radisson produced his narrative as a way of offering his expertise to the English who had established a trading operation at Hudson's Bay. This text is a testimony to the fact that even texts produced with a naked cultural bias can still contain enough information to allow scholars to imagine the Native perspective of the encounter between the people of empire and the people of Native North America.

Christine DeLucia is an associate professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, and will join the history faculty at Williams College in 2019. She is the author of Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast (Yale University Press, 2018). Her work has been published in numerous scholarly venues that include, most recently, the William and Mary Quarterly, Environmental History, and Early American Studies.

DeLucia's innovative new book reconfigures the geographical and temporal boundaries of Indigenous resistance to settler colonialism in the Native Northeast by exploring how historical memories of King Philip's War have been produced and contested across a heterogeneous landscape spanning the Connecticut River valley to the Bermuda Islands. The book upends traditional historical narratives of the war by exploring its ongoing presence in the embodied memoryscapes of four sites central to Native experiences of the conflict and its aftermath, and is organized geographically, rather than chronologically, to emphasize the fact that historical remembrances are always rooted "in place." Engaged as well with the present-day descendants of the Algonquian communities that survived the war, and permeated with a sensibility that stresses the mutual constitution of cultural and physical landscapes, Memory Lands offers historical geographers a provocative new model for incorporating the methods of Indigenous studies into our research.


One of the most striking elements of Memory Lands is its geographical organization. How (and when) did you come to the decision to structure your book this way? And how (and when) did you determine which [End Page 248] places to focus your energy on, given the many alternative possibilities? Did any particular works of scholarship serve as models for your guiding your own book's feel and flow?

Christine DeLucia (CD):

Memory Lands reflects my interest in pressing at the edges of what constitutes historical writing. I began thinking about King Philip's War (1675–78) as an undergraduate in a history and literature program, and continued in graduate programs in environmental history and then American studies. These interdisciplinary settings presented compelling problems about how the past is accessed, understood, and represented. I am grateful for having approached the very discipline of "history" obliquely, while working with mentors who grappled with foundational methodological questions about knowledge formation, such as the relative role of written documentation alongside other forms of expression and remembrance, including the land itself.

For Memory Lands, I knew that I wanted to center particular landscapes that were instrumental to the war's waging and protracted remembrance, and convey to readers the complex textures and dynamics that have developed around what I termed "memoryscapes." My decision to structure each section around place rather than around a unitary, linear chronology arose out of recognition that so many Native communities' understandings of the past are deeply grounded in and intertwined with particular geographies, ones that do not follow the contours of colonial-defined spaces. I wanted to foreground these place-based insights, and to do so at very localized scales that (in my view) are oftentimes dismissed or ignored by academics working at increasingly large scales—of the "Atlantic World," for example. I welcomed the challenge of trying to narrate small places' evolutions over extremely long spans of time, a counterpoint to some historians' tendencies to focus on a few decades or maybe a century. Expanding the temporal frame allowed me to track Indigenous continuance from the beginnings of time right through the present day, rather than commencing the story with the advent of settler colonialism, or artificially (and problematically) locating northeastern tribal communities in a bygone past. Shaping the book's sections around place helped me destabilize commonplace notions that the Northeast or "New England" is a self-evidently coherent region, and instead stress the myriad ways in which more local scales [End Page 249] have given rise to important variations in historical change, identity, and meaning. Histories and memories have unfolded in very different ways in the western Kwinitekw (Connecticut) river valley versus in the heart of Boston or in Tangier in North Africa, all places that are key nodes of this multitribal resistance movement and its long aftermath.

I see Memory Lands as participating in a conversation with many influential studies of place and history, including Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache and Coll Thrush's Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place.8 Basso's monograph impressed upon me how oral traditions and community knowledge systems render places meaningful and instructive to present-day Indigenous inhabitants, and stressed the importance of visiting places alongside knowledgeable guides with whom the author had built relationships. Thrush's study resonated with me in its potent retrieval of Indigenous histories in the urban Pacific Northwest over the longue durée, and its reckoning with how colonialist constructions of past and place have been recurrently challenged by Indigenous people. His study was especially inspiring as I worked to resituate the city of Boston—typically represented as a geography defined by Puritan roots—as a historical and ongoing Indigenous space.

I have also been inspired by Jean O'Brien's Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England, which painstakingly documents Eurocolonial antiquarians' bids to "erase" Native people from the Northeast through local history and memorial projects; by Karl Jacoby's multistranded meditations on violence and its alternately forgotten and memorialized traces in Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History; and Rebecca Solnit's innovative critical mapping of human and environmental relationships in Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.9 And Indigenous essayists, fiction writers, and poets such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Susan Power, Joy Harjo, and Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel have been vital touchstones for me as I have envisioned other ways of imagining, remembering, and connecting beyond the conventions of scholarly monographs.


Another element of Memory Lands that sets it apart from other works of scholarship (at least those that could be described as being based, substantially, on what historians would call "archival research"), is your high level of self-awareness regarding the influences of place on your own [End Page 250] subjectivity as a researcher and writer. One element of the book that I most appreciate are your photographs. It is easy for a reader to imagine you getting your hands dirty, climbing down a ravine, wading into a creek, in order to get a deeper view of your subject matter. Clearly, you are more aware than most historians about the fact that even sitting in a library reading room constitutes a kind of "fieldwork" where the meanings and memories embodied in the workplace exert particular forces that help shape the production of knowledge. Is there an opening here to help decolonize historical and historical-geographic research? Do you think that if historians and historical geographers could more commonly adapt such a "fieldwork" model to their research sensibilities that they could more easily escape the colonial archive, and that doing so might make Indigenous geographies and counternarratives more visible to them? Moreover (and more abstractly, perhaps), has the time come for historians and geographers to more directly theorize the significance of movement and action in the production of knowledge related to time and place?


I certainly encourage other scholars to physically engage with places in all of their real, muddy, granular specificity. I have found it transformative to cultivate an epistemological orientation centered on patient dwelling in and intentional movement through particular landscapes. My research and writing processes have always involved back-and-forth between archival and nonarchival research. Sometimes the archives have pointed me to different places to investigate, and sometimes places themselves have redirected me back into the archives to ask new questions or seek out alternative perspectives. Written archives are undeniably important to the kind of historical work that I do, but they represent only a fraction of human experiences and are inflected by all manner of ethnocentric and colonialist forms of power and classification. Getting out into place can be an essential counterpoint to such archival limitations and a way of accessing alternate histories and meanings.

It's not enough to simply go visit places, however. Merely walking the land by oneself can run the risk of confirming a scholar's preconceptions or reinscribing colonialist assumptions about the nature and meanings of a given locale. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century Euro-American antiquarians, who loved to organize heritage walks and similar outings [End Page 251] in which they ostensibly took up "Indian" histories, testify to this type of conservative place-claiming activity. Instead, Memory Lands underscores the importance of moving through Indigenous geographies alongside and in conversation with Indigenous community members who are profoundly knowledgeable about them. Native people have been living in, interacting with, and caretaking for these places for such long spans of time, as a multitude of oral traditions and material practices affirm. It is vital to center these forms of intergenerational knowledge, much of which manifests only partially, if at all, in written archives. There is no single way to engage with place in collaborative ways. For me, it has involved driving in cars, riding on bicycles, canoeing down rivers, hiking through the woods, perambulating through city streets, or other modes of movement, depending on community members' inclinations and time. Place-based dialogues like these have impressed upon me how community members across the Northeast understand sites of violence relationally: as embedded within wider webs of key locations that attest to survival, adaptation, and reinvention. When I wrote Memory Lands I knew it was important to bear witness to these more complex geographies that are integral to Indigenous ways of being and knowing, rather than artificially narrowing down the frame of reference strictly to sites pertinent to seventeenth-century violences.

Photography has been an important way for me to interact more deeply with places and to make visible my own presence within these landscapes and networks of relations. I began photographing my research travels very early on, partly as a matter of record keeping (to register inscriptions on monuments and historical markers, for example), but also to visually distill a sense of what a place looks and feels like at particular times of year and day. Photographing places has helped me observe more carefully the contours and textures of a certain environment, and to reflect on how human and other-than-human bodies move through terrain—whether navigating wetlands, paddling down a river, confronting "private property" signage, skirting the edges of a busy highway, and so on. From an environmental history perspective I have also been keenly aware that places are inherently dynamic, and I wanted to be able to trace transformations happening as we speak across the Northeast as a result of community decisions, development, climate change, and other processes. If you were to look through the tens of thousands of photographs on my computer, you'd see repeat visits [End Page 252] to certain locations. On occasion when I've made a return visit I have witnessed concerning behavior or damage at a site, and I have shared photographs with the appropriate caretakers so that they can take restorative action if necessary. This is one of the ways that lines between scholarship and activism or advocacy have become quite porous for me.

Places can be highly sensitive, of course, and especially on tribal lands I endeavor to respect communities' own preferences about what is accessed and documented, including certain locations, archives, and heritage objects. This orientation comes out of decolonizing methodologies that are vital to the field of Native American and Indigenous studies, which emphasize tribal nations' own sovereignty and active shaping of research processes. Decolonizing methodologies also bring to light and counteract problematic histories of colonialist scrutiny of Indigenous peoples and places that at times has been immensely invasive or even damaging. Western academia often privileges notions that knowledge production ought to require full transparency and universal access to "information" or "data." Indigenous and decolonizing methods, by contrast, speak to the relationality of knowledge systems and networks of communication, and the importance of trust and reciprocity in deciding what is shared and what is kept close to home. The places that I write about in Memory Lands are always embedded in these contexts and networks. Given these considerations, and my own identity as a non-Native scholar, I repeatedly made choices and requested input from Native interlocutors about which locations to include or omit from the book's series of maps and images. The project is predominantly about rendering certain memorial geographies more legible, especially those Indigenous places that have been ignored or marginalized by colonialist commentators, but it also involves strategic and protective unmappings.


To many scholars in the humanities and social sciences—as well as to Americans more generally—it seems "Indian Country" is coterminous with the modern boundaries of Indian reservations. Your book, however, emphasizes the continuous persistence of Indigenous geographies that long predated the US nation-state's colonial efforts to remove Native communities from their historic homelands. As you so rightly point out, Indian country encompasses Bermuda, Boston Harbor, Narragansett Bay, the Connecticut Valley, and everywhere in between. Descendants of the [End Page 253] Algonquian communities of the late seventeenth-century Northeast live all around the globe. Yet often when Native people "leave" the places set aside for them by the political apparatuses of the settler-colonial state, the state tries to dispossess them of their Native identities. It seems that much academic scholarship tends to recapitulate this colonial conceit, reserving the "Native" frame of analysis only for those individuals who remain in their colonial places, not for those who migrate, either forcibly or voluntarily, into other worlds. Your book explores this tension in its discussion of the Algonquian diaspora. What suggestions do you have for historians and geographers interested in studying a more expansive understanding of "Indian Country"? Do you find that this could be an area for productive dialogue between scholars of historical geography and Indigenous studies?


The section of the book about the Algonquian diaspora was simultaneously one of the most exciting and challenging to write. I am indebted to tribal community members themselves for bringing this more expansive Indigenous geography to my consciousness, since it was really owing to the efforts of Native people that these histories of forced migration and enslavement across the early modern English Atlantic World came to light in concerted ways. I am grateful to have been able to visit Bermuda while developing the concluding section of the project, and my understandings were strongly shaped by visits and conversations with community members at Saint David's Island like Brinky Tucker, who has been instrumental in the "reconnection" that has brought mainland Native people into relationships with islanders today. As I emphasize in Memory Lands, communities have long remembered these painful passages in their own ancestral genealogies, and it is important for scholars to recognize these forms of knowledge rather than purporting to have recently "discovered" Indigenous mobility in contexts of colonial bondage.

As scholars have begun to pay more attention to Indigenous diasporas and oceanic or global transits, one animating question has related to the role of colonialism as a causal or shaping factor. To what degree did Native people attain mobility in new areas as a consequence of colonial pressures and extractive systems, or as a result of their own volition and outward-facing decision making? I adopt a critical vantage point [End Page 254] on this question by stressing the importance of ever-present Indigenous agency and deliberate choices about where and how to move. I emphasize that Native people have always endeavored to fashion meaningful lives and kinship connections, even under the most horrific and dispossessive forms of colonial duress such as the devastating enslavements and dispersals that took place in the latter stages of King Philip's War as colonizers attempted to remove Native survivors from their traditional homelands.

I am heartened by the growing wave of studies about Indigenous mobility, exploration, and cosmopolitanism (by scholars like David Chang, Jace Weaver, Nancy Shoemaker, and Coll Thrush) that stand to pervasively transform how scholars and reading publics understand Indigenous innovation, networking, and engagement with diverse peoples and places. They speak in cogent ways to community-based forms of memory that also recollect and value these wider geographies. I was reminded of the latter this summer when I gave a presentation about my book at the Aquinnah Cultural Center, operated by the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, along with my longtime friend and colleague Lisa Brooks, author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War.10 We spoke inside the Edwin D. Vanderhoop homestead, a wooden structure associated with a Wampanoag man whose own extremely wide-ranging transits took him into the global whaling industry among other pursuits. Wampanoags have long cultivated capacious senses of ancestors' meaningful places, and it is exciting to see scholarship in several disciplines and fields now recognizing and building upon these insights.

At the same time, I see ongoing needs to be attuned to the Native communities who have remained in their homelands despite pervasive colonial attempts to wrest away lands, livelihoods, and sovereignties. Tribal reservations in the Northeast today remain extremely important spaces, even as community members and leaders recognize that they are delimited geographies resulting from colonialist definitions of Indigeneity and its acceptable extents. Indeed, one of the reasons King Philip's War is so important as a historical watershed is that it's a moment in which Anglocolonial efforts intensify to geographically constrain and impose surveillance on tribal communities. Revisiting this conflict and its legacies enables us to see how the war itself was substantially about land issues, and how in its wake colonizers used memories of violence in order to seize land from surviving Native polities—processes that [End Page 255] have remained deeply contested by tribes right through the present day through formal land claims as well as more organic forms of continuance, caretaking, and critique.


Another tension explored in Memory Lands is the juxtaposition of a fine-grained, localized "place approach" with the scholarly tendency to understand such kinds of stories in the framework of large-scale, world-historical explanations. Undoubtedly, the concept of "colonialism" holds this kind of magnetic power in the scholarly imagination of what kinds of answers exist for questions in American Indian history. My sense from your book, however, is that you suggest we refashion our historical studies of colonialism to fit into smaller spaces, and also to stretch them out into longer stories that continue into our present. Is what you propose simply an interpretative shift? Or does it entail a more fundamental reconsideration of the methods that historians and geographers use to assess colonialism and its shape across local landscapes?


I have been thinking a lot recently about what I would call "critical localism": a localized approach to historical scholarship that deliberately operates at microhistorical scales, but does so in ways that recurrently connect to larger developments and historical structures, including settler colonialism. Critical localism assists in pushing back against dangerous forms of Euro-American antiquarianism that have deployed the very category of the "local" to detrimental and exclusionary ends by asserting colonial residents' claims to specific areas as overriding Indigenous communities' own rights and connections.

In arguing for a reinvigoration of localized scales of inquiry, I do not mean that local places and their attendant histories are significant only insofar as they illuminate or provide evidence for some larger scale of happenings. Sites like Deer Island in Boston Harbor, the waterfall at Peskeomskut in the Kwinitekw valley, and the Great Swamp in Narragansett homelands (not to mention a constellation of even more "minor" locales) are intrinsically meaningful for Native descendant communities who remain connected to them, rather than attaining significance only to the extent that they help explicate New England colonization, the British Empire's development, or whichever other structures and processes that academic historians have conventionally [End Page 256] deemed worthy of inquiry. In formulating a title for my book, I resisted anything with shades of "American" or "United States" because I am wary of how Indigenous histories can become subsumed into colonial or US nation-state narratives—which undeniably have wide marketplace appeal—instead of being allowed to stand on their own and define their own boundaries. This is an ongoing tension, certainly. And I do point in the book to instances where Native communities have strategically invoked or drawn historical parallels to US or world-historical phenomena in order to make their own experiences more legible to nontribal interlocutors.


Compared to other branches of the humanities and social sciences, the discipline of geography has long been a bastion of empiricism and description. Your work, however, emphasizes a critical tradition of historical and cultural geography that reaches back into the middle of the last century, a conversation that continues to question landscape as a contingent "way of seeing" rather than as an a priori world that awaits our discovery. In fact, some of the most impressive aspects of Memory Lands are the sharpness and fluency of the critical observations you make about various examples of the geographical expressions of settler colonialism strewn across King Philip country. To me, much of the book reads almost as if you could be New England's historical-geographical "critic-at-large." If this were a position that needed to be filled, would you take it on? What do you think the role of critical historical geography should be in our present world?


I love this idea! Tribal communities have long been critical of these colonial memory regimes and landscapes, though their voices have not always been amplified in the ways they ought to be. As the recent push-back against monuments to the Confederacy unfolded, I was struck by how resonant this movement is with the critiques I and others have made of New England colonial monuments. Black/African American activists, scholars, and allies have astutely emphasized how Confederate monuments arose from particular historical contexts of American racism and exclusion, and how their maintenance in the present is a manifestation of ongoing inequities and subjugations. Or, as historian Tiya Miles wrote about the streetscapes of Detroit in a probing New York Times op-ed, everyday landscapes continue to manifest and honor histories of violence and racism.11 [End Page 257]

The moment seems auspicious, then, for an even more thorough-going critique of American memoryscapes. I would be glad for similar momentum to build around revisiting the settler colonial monuments not only of New England but also of the United States more widely. These monuments—as well as school curricula, popular culture, street and shopping plaza names, parades, and so much more in the realm of public expressions of "heritage"—are similarly invested in legitimating and perpetuating specific systems of dispossession, marginalization, and erasure. There is an enormous need right now for local communities and institutions to sit down and engage in difficult conversations about the past and its meanings. This in turn presents an opportunity to collaboratively devise better, more accurate, and more just forms of place making that speak to the concerns and aspirations of diverse peoples. It is an opportunity to recognize Indigenous pasts, presents, and futures as integral to—not footnotes or side stories of—North America's deeply layered places.

David A. Chang

is Distinguished McKnight Professor of History at the University of Minnesota and chair of the Department of American Indian Studies. Chang is the author of The World and All the Things Upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), which has won book awards from the American Historical Association, the Western History Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Additionally, Chang is the author of The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832–1929 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). His research has been featured in numerous scholarly journals that include the American Quarterly, the American Indian Quarterly, the Journal of American History, and the Radical History Review.

Chang's latest book, The World and All the Things Upon It, showcases the possibilities of reimagining the field of historical geography from the perspectives of Indigenous studies. Chang reveals how Native Hawaiians understood their own places in the world before, during, and after their islands' collisions with European colonizers, emphasizing that Hawaiians' own geographical understandings not only persisted in spite of colonial forces of education and assimilation, but even thrived and grew under these colonial conditions in unexpected ways. Hawaiians, in short, were not merely the objects of "discovery" and colonial geographical thinking. [End Page 258] They themselves "paddled out to see," as Chang puts it, writing their own geographies of their would-be colonizers, recording the places they visited and the worlds that they experienced in their own Hawaiian language, using and adapting their own idioms and cultural forms in the process. Chang demonstrates that evidence for telling the history of these Hawaiian geographies exists in the form of thousands of pages of Hawaiian-language publications that reside outside the long-curated colonial archive of documents written in the English language, and illustrates the possibility of articulating and reconstructing Native historical geographies from a multitude of materials.


Your emphasis on tracing Hawaiian geographies that span the entire earth seems to be one of the most unique and innovative aspects of The World and All the Things Upon It. Others working at the intersection of Indigenous studies and historical geography have long considered the foundational importance of place as a structuring concept for memory and identity for various Native communities. In fact, I think it would be very possible to develop a critique of the long-standing scholarly infatuation with tales of Native peoples' preoccupations with intimate, local places, while reserving the global geographic orientation for the universalizing eye of the colonizer. Your work takes us in the other direction by featuring Native Hawaiian's global frames of vision. How did you get here? Did this realization emerge primarily from your reading of Hawaiian-language sources, or had you planned from the very outset to take on the prevailing scholarly assumption that Native geographies are inherently small in scale?

David Chang (DC):

I arrived at this point (thinking about Indigenous people thinking globally) via a couple different paths. In part it emerged out of themes and motifs in the literature in indigenous history and indigenous studies. But it also had to do with my personal perspective in relation to literature in indigenous studies generally and Hawaiian history more specifically. And finally, the research really pointed in this direction.

In terms of the literature on indigenous history and indigenous studies, my emphasis on the indigenous global has a genealogy rooted in discussions of indigenous modernity—the idea that indigenous people have engaged actively with the modern world and with ideas of modernity [End Page 259] and they continue to do so. This is part and parcel of saying that they have created opportunities for themselves in modern economies, politics, arts and media, and discourse, and so on. Obviously, this idea was most fully articulated in Philip Deloria's Indians in Unexpected Places, which came out in 2004.12 I would say that Deloria's influential book is part of a larger point that animates much of indigenous studies and indigenous history, a point about change. This counters the specious notions that what defines the indigenous is unchanging tradition, which is a marker of something called "authenticity." Indigenous studies scholars have countered this idea with research emphasizing that Native people are not only hapless victims of change and Native people do not cease to be themselves because they change. That is, timeless "authenticity" cannot be a measure of whether Native people truly are themselves. This point has at least two important ramifications. The first is historical: it allows us to see the Indigenous past more fully as we trace how Indigenous people engaged with change. Second, it is politically important in the present, because it counters the notion that Indigenous people today (whether Native American or Native Hawaiian or Sami or whatever) must live up to racist and colonialist expectations of unchanging "authenticity" or be judged inauthentic.

It might not be obvious why change and the indigenous global are so connected, but for me, the modern and the global intersect. In Hawaiian history the notion of the global has traditionally been tied to the arrival of Cook in 1778, the growth of trade, of foreign settlement, of missionization, and so on. And these were all modern projects, born out of the processes of European colonialism (sometimes via the United States). By standards that have been important in a lot of scholarship and remain powerful in Hawai'i today, if Kānaka (Native Hawaiians) are touched by or influenced by the outside world, they lose a kind of indigenous purity and become inauthentic, and then less than truly Hawaiian. I want to oppose that idea vigorously. So as I was doing my research, I encountered all of these stories of Native Hawaiians seeking out foreigners and foreign experiences and foreign places. They wanted to travel, and they did, generally as laborers. They wanted to learn about other sacred traditions, and they did, turning to Christians (first Tahitians, and then Americans and Europeans). They wanted to learn about faraway places, and they did, learning to read in Hawaiian and English and other languages and exploring the world via text. [End Page 260]


As you mention in your new book, the Hawaiian-language archive is enormous, especially considering the fact that it was mostly neglected by academic scholars until about twenty years ago, after the publication of Noenoe Silva's Aloha Betrayed and other influential studies illuminated the interpretative possibilities of using Hawaiian-language texts to rewrite Native Hawaiian histories.13 As you also note, however, the presence of such a large body of published written materials does not exist for many Native North American communities, nor for other Indigenous communities around the world. Do you have suggestions for historical geographers who want to reconstruct Native geographies in situations where there are no Native written sources as rich as those that exist in Hawai'i? What other tools and methods of indigenous studies might be useful for them?


There is no denying that the written sources we have access to in the Hawaiian language are extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of pages of printed and manuscript documents—everything from historical narratives to business records to students' essays from school—are unparalleled in their richness. They allow a deep examination of Native Hawaiians' actions and thoughts and of the readings that were available to them in their own language. But even this record is inherently incomplete. Every documentary record is, after all.

So, for people who wish to reconstruct Native geographies in places with a sparser documentary record, I would recommend the sources and methods we use in Hawaiian history in addition to documentary sources in the Hawaiian language. The oral tradition—in its original form or as written down—reveals much about how people understood the nature of the world, how they moved about and migrated, what they thought about other places, how people in different places related to one another, etc. Music and song and stories are very rich. Some may be available to researchers in written format, but others will have to be learned from singers, performers, and others who preserve this heritage. Some of these may be stories about specific places or that are set in specific places (as in Hawaiian stories, which always occur in specific, named sites), and thus reveal geographical knowledge. Place-names themselves may have much to reveal. All of this puts a premium on knowing the indigenous language.

Language itself can be a source for researchers trying to understand [End Page 261] indigenous geographies. In my work, for example, thinking about the way the Hawaiian language almost constantly expresses direction and relative position helped me understand what I call perspectivalism—the idea embedded in Hawaiian grammar that the world is always experienced, understood, and known from particular perspectives that are dependent on each individual's place at a given time. Thinking this through was important for me in understanding Hawaiian global geographies, and also how they differed from the normative Western geographies that outsiders used to describe Hawai'i and the rest of the world. So I would encourage historical geographers to study language and to think about it as a door to sources, but also to worldviews. After all, what could teach you more about people's geographical thought than worldviews—how they view the world?


For Hawaiians, ka moana is more than just "the ocean"—it is, as you describe, "a field of moving and rolling space that one might navigate to arrive at the world's many lands." This reminds me of the tallgrass prairies of the Kaw and Osage, or perhaps the riverine corridors of Anishinaabewaki, aesthetically fluid and interstitial (yet vast) places understood primarily through experiences of transit. Does your consideration of Hawaiian geographies of exploration through and across ka moana open up new possibilities for us to consider the importance of physical activity in the creation of geographical understandings? To what extent might taking seriously the aesthetic and visceral experiences of travel and movement (i.e., paddling) offer us better understanding of geographical ways of seeing?


That is such a productive question, and one I really have never thought about before. I hope taking the physical and aesthetic seriously in this manner does open up understandings of the making of geographical thought, but the idea that geographical understandings (and other kinds of knowledge, too) are physical as well as intellectual is not just mine. To assume that geographical understanding is just an intellectual exercise moves us out of our actual experience of the world and reinforces colonialist and racist hierarchies.

First, think of the head. The head is the site of knowledge and of seeing—both of which are expressed by one Hawaiian word, ұike. By tying knowledge to seeing in that manner, the physicality (and the perspectival [End Page 262] nature) of geographical knowing become apparent: the eye sees. But also, think of the rest of the body. We know most spaces by physically inhabiting them and moving through them with our bodies. To act as if this was just an intellectual process would be silly, but the consequences are serious. If we want to understand the knowledges (geographical and otherwise) of Hawaiian mariners on American ships or American Indian laborers in the fur trade or women involved in harbor trade all around the Pacific Islands, we need to take bodily knowledge of ships, seas, fur-trade canoes, and trade harbors seriously.

But as I said, this is not just my idea. For decades, feminist historians (I think of Susan Bordo), drawing on scholars in feminist epistemology and feminist critical theory, have long argued for the importance of the physical in knowing. What I do is emphasize the geographical forms of knowledge. I think the perspective of Indigenous studies comes through here, because for many Indigenous people (certainly including Native Hawaiians), spaces and places are central to ways of knowing, and also because colonialism and indigenous struggle against it are inherently spatial.


Your elegant discussion of the geography textbooks used in nineteenth-century Hawaiian classrooms is sure to win the hearts of historical geographers. In particular, your reading of how the Hawaiian translators who worked to prepare English-language textbooks for Hawaiian children "haunted" the maps with their own geographical subjectivities, and how you reread these maps and their translations as evidence for reconstructing how Native Hawaiian geographical understandings adapted themselves to the colonial education system forces your readers to reflect on our own pedagogical strategies. How did you come up with this chapter? As I read, I can't help but wonder if you have more to say about race, Indigeneity, and geographical education, not just in the long nineteenth century, but in our twenty-first-century present?


I came up with this chapter when I discovered, to my surprise and delight, that there were several Hawaiian-language geography textbooks in circulation in the nineteenth century and that I could easily lay my hands on them, either in physical format or in digitized versions on various websites. I was amazed, and set to reading them. I expected mostly colonialist lessons about the superiority of the West over the rest and [End Page 263] simple translations of the geography lessons given to Western children. I was not wrong; there was a whole lot of that in the books. But as I read, the picture started to get more complicated. Sometimes it was literally the picture: in an illustration (reproduced from an American textbook) of a white plantation manager dominating dark-skinned workers, who were Hawaiian readers supposed to identify with? Not surprisingly, the maps were incredibly revealing—both when they simply reproduced books from American textbooks (holding up the positivist and colonialist notion that the knowledge of the cartographer is disembodied, without specific spatial or political perspective) and when they felt the need to shift them (suggesting the desire to teach Hawaiians the world in some way from their own perspective, if only in very limited ways).

The question of authorial intent versus reader reception was always in play—which it often is in history, of course. This is a kind of question of translation, and as I read the books, I found that translation was seeming less and less simple. Translating Western geographical ideas into Hawaiian not only meant using Hawaiian words. It sometimes meant connecting with Hawaiian ideas in a deeper way: "Oceania" became, among other things, ұĀina moana—the ocean-land. Translators took different tacks in how to differentiate between terms for a country, a nation, and a land. So language was important. One of the most interesting things in the books was the way that the act of translation introduced shifts of perspective. At times, Hawai'i was seen from without, as an object of scrutiny, mostly from a Westerner's perspective. But at others, the world was presented (often by use of Hawaiian grammatical markers showing the position of the speaker and viewer) from the point of view of a person in Hawai'i. All of this was partly a result of the way the work of translation was done, generally by Hawaiians or by Westerners depending on Hawaiians for assistance and guidance. To me, this opened up fascinating questions of geographical instruction as a space of politics, and of political contestation.

Finally, what does this have to say about race, Indigeneity, and geographical education in our twenty-first-century present? Everything. In writing this book (especially the chapter on textbooks and schools in Hawai'i), I came to realize that geographical education—from elementary grades to graduate school—has enormous decolonial and liberatory potential. What this depends on is teachers, scholars, and [End Page 264] how we choose to teach. Let me give you a historical example. The title of my book is a rough translation of the title of a serialized world geography that a Honolulu public school teacher named J. H. Kānepu'u published in the Ka Lahui Hawaii newspaper in 1877: "Ka Honua Nei a me na Mea a Pau Maluna Iho" (This World and All the Things Upon It). It is an amazing piece. Kānepu'u published a far-reaching work of radical political economy that countered the Haole (white Westerner) appropriation of Hawai'i's lands and wealth and placed that appropriation in a global context. Kānepu'u clearly understood geography education as a radical decolonial political practice. He wanted his Kānaka (Native Hawaiian) students and his readers to understand the forces that were arrayed against them. For them to understand this, they had to understand the physical, social, political, and economic geography of the world, and then they had to learn a whole lot about their own physical, social, political, and economic geography in the Hawaiian Islands. So Kānepu'u made it his job as a geography teacher to give them the geographical context to understand and counter the colonialist threats they faced in Hawai'i. He used Western-derived tools of geography. And he used Hawaiian-derived tools of geography, like stories referring to historical events and akua (gods) and their actions in particular places. The goal was to give Hawaiians the tools they needed to fight colonialism and its racist claims.

These are lessons that continue to matter today in Hawai'i and across the globe. To me, as a teacher, Kānepu'u's example is an inspiration and a challenge. How can I make sure to give my students the tools to understand and change the world? I believe that Indigenous geographical knowledge and Indigenous methods of thinking about geography are crucial to countering colonialism. This is because colonialism depends not only on brute occupation of land. It also depends on hegemonic ideas about space, on who occupies it correctly, on whose perspectives on space are legitimate and whose are illegitimate. It depends on hegemonic ideas about where wealth flows from and what that says about to whom wealth properly belongs. It depends on a sense of which nations are places of knowledge and which nations are places of ignorance—meaning, a sense of who has the right to rule whom. All of these hegemonic ideas are, in part, geographical notions. And so geographical education can reinforce them (and thereby reinforce colonialism), or it can counter them (and thus do its part in countering colonialism). Ideas [End Page 265] matter, and geographical ideas matter a lot. If they didn't, Kānaka and Westerners would not have engaged in more than a century of debate about geography and how it would be taught. To me this is an optimistic message. In the present as in the past, teaching geography (or historical geography) can be a practice that helps us rethink and remake the world in ways that favor anticolonial and antiracist Indigenous-centered change. And that's good news.

Aroha Harris

is a senior lecturer of history at the University of Auckland whose work broadly spans both academic and public engagements. She is the author of Hikoi: Forty Years of Maori Protest (2004), the coauthor of the award-winning book Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History (2014), and editor of Te Pouhere Korero, the journal of the organization of Māori historians. Since 2008, Harris has served as a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, an independent commission of inquiry established in 1975 to report and make recommendations on claims brought by Māori regarding Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. Harris is also president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) for 2018–19.

Harris's scholarly work emphasizes the multitude of ways that Māori creatively resisted colonialism and continued as active agents of their own futures. Tangata Whenua, her latest project, coauthored with Atholl Anderson and Judith Binney, is a book covering five thousand years of Māori history from this perspective, complete with maps, illustrations, and more than five hundred photographs. The winner of prizes from the Māori Book Awards, the Royal Society of New Zealand, and many other organizations recognizing its significance, Tangata Whenua is a monument of Indigenous studies scholarship that will particularly appeal to historical geographers. Comprehensive in its explanations of Māori history and also rooted in the stories of specific places, relationships between land and history rest at the center of the book, particularly in discussions about the political and environmental issues facing Māori communities in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


Tangata Whenua offers a provocative model for historical geographers who want to put the scholarly sensibilities of Indigenous studies to work in ways that help engage a wider reading public. What was your vision of what you wanted to achieve with this book when you began working on it many years ago? Were there other such books that you had in mind as [End Page 266] influential models? What advice do you have for others who are eager to take on the complicated task of telling thousands of years of Native history?

Aroha Harris (AH):

I was very much the junior scholar on this project when we began, so in some ways my vision was a selfish one—to work alongside two stellar academics: Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson and the late Emeritus Professor Dame Judith Binney. Together, though, we had a vision of a comprehensive text that spanned time and remained as grounded as possible in a Māori world. I personally strive for accessibility in my writing, and that's something we wanted for Tangata Whenua—a work that could reach a broad public. We wanted it to be a scholarly, well-researched work, and we wanted it to carry what we called a visual narrative, which meant that the illustrations had to do more than simply accessorize the text. We aimed for the images to be in the book with purpose, carrying their own stories. While we knew we were producing a general history, which would sweep broadly through time and across Aotearoa and the Pacific, we also wanted to pause on specific stories in specific places and about specific people. In my mind, that's something Indigenous studies, and Māori history, demand.

My experience of the project was that we had no particular model in mind when we embarked on it, although Atholl often referred us to Peter (Te Rangihiroa) Buck's The Coming of the Maori.14 We tried a lot of ideas that might be called new, but many of those were cast aside. The double-page spreads that are inserted between chapters are the outcome of an idea that envisaged a visual sweep that could show change over time on a particular topic or theme. The artworks at the beginning of each part of the book probably evolved out of our agreement to make sure we included visual arts. And the team of emerging young scholars that worked on the image research was a result of taking the opportunity to include and encourage others where we could. To me, that seemed an obvious thing to do (I guess as a Māori scholar), but others have suggested it was an innovative approach.

My advice to others is collaborate. Collaborate, debate, test, contest, urge, question, enjoy. Do that from beginning to end—from conceptualizing and designing the project, to choosing images, to writing those final pieces, like the introduction, conclusion, and acknowledgments. Tangata Whenua was a work of three authors, each with responsibility [End Page 267] for their own set of chapters, but we were writing a single book, so we needed to reach agreement on overarching themes, central ideas, and what we thought was important about each period. Teamwork was critical.


One of the themes that comes up frequently in Tangata Whenua is the fact that the historic efforts of Māori to accommodate their lives and livelihoods to colonial society have involved coping with substantial transformations to the biophysical environment, histories that may be unfamiliar to scholars doing similar work but in other parts of the globe. For instance, I myself was surprised to learn about the forceful and remarkably successful efforts of Māori in the early to mid-twentieth century to address problems associated with the widespread destruction of native fish following the introduction of European trout. This may be just one of many examples of a persistent tradition of Māori political activism premised around the reassertion of the right of Indigenous people to manage their environmental resources, an issue that remains prominent today in the considerations of the Waitangi Tribunal. Is there something different about the political history of Māori environmental engagement and activism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that distinguishes it? Given the rising profile of Indigenous environmental activism in North America and elsewhere, do you think this is a good moment for more comparative work that puts Māori experiences more centrally into global conversations?


I expect that there are many good moments for comparative and transindigenous work, and places and spaces for Māori experiences in global conversations. But I also suspect that, for me at least, with my attention turned toward developments "back home" among my own people, I may not always recognize or take advantage of those moments when they present themselves.

Even though my years of involvement with NAISA have shown me many ways in which Indigenous peoples' experiences are both remarkably similar and incredibly different and diverse, I know I am not always working—in scholarly terms—comparatively or transindigenously. In some ways, my exposure to North American Indigenous experiences has made me more hesitant about comparative projects, because while I've learned a lot, I've also learned there is so much I do not know. That doesn't mean I can't learn and grow through the interindigenous connections [End Page 268] I enjoy through NAISA and other networks, but it does mean that sometimes I have to check myself.

If Māori research methods demand a degree of embeddedness in Māori communities or the Māori world, what does that mean when we work with, study with, collaborate with other Indigenous peoples–which may well include crossing into their worlds? I hope I've had that inquiry in mind in the specific interindigenous exchanges I've had with Professors Susan M. Hill and Mary Jane Logan McCallum, among others. Mary Jane and I have written together about the Indian Homemakers' Clubs and the Māori Women's Welfare League, respectively; and this year I had the honor of contributing to a roundtable on Susan's book The Clay We Are Made Of, which is very much about place and people in ways that resonate easily with Māori history, even though many things—including the span of time—are very different. Yet these and similar scholarly relations in no way position me as an expert capable of distinguishing Māori environmental engagement and activism from the environmental engagement and activism of other Indigenous peoples.

The best I could do is comment, rather crudely, on differences—like the time frame for colonization in different parts of the Indigenous world, or visibility of Indigenous peoples in different societies (measured as a proportion of total populations). For example, isolation might be a simple way to explain the ways Māori persisted with their traditional resource management practices through the mid-twentieth century (and beyond in some parts of the country). Parts of Aotearoa New Zealand remain incredibly isolated, even in the twenty-first century, and Māori communities in those isolated areas are also often insulated from much of the rest of the world. While such communities might receive less in terms of services and public infrastructure, arguably Māori ways could continue unimpeded in those conditions.

I've somewhat subverted your question here, although inadvertently I would argue. You've asked about putting Māori experiences more centrally into global conversations, and I've imagined those experiences in terms of the Indigenous globe and questioned whether centrality ought to be the goal. It's nonetheless a provocative and productive question, which has turned my thinking inward as well as outward. Balancing out what I don't know about Indigenous peoples and places beyond the shores of Aotearoa is what I do know and love about my place here. Being from here, being of here, places everything and everyone that [End Page 269] I am committed to here. I imagine this to be a position many Indigenous scholars likely share, even in our diversity. For me, it's a position that keeps me anchored, and that has me imagine and work toward an Aotearoa that is freed from its hostilities toward Māori and capable of embracing Māori without recrimination.


It is clear that much Māori historical geography is embedded in te reo, the Māori language. You mention that one of the most hotly contested elements of Māori activism, past and present, is the effort to not only reclaim land that was dispossessed but also to restore Māori places back to their Māori names. Historical geographers have long considered the significance of place-names, returning often to the question of how it is that names exert their own forces, reshaping places to conform to the expectations that their names provoke. To what extent did the colonial renaming of Aotearoa and its places reshape the land itself? And have Māori efforts to maintain the old names similarly transformed it? Do you think the restoration of Indigenous place-names constitutes a vital project of Indigenous studies scholarship? And, if so, what might those studies look like?


On one hand, I am unsure if the act of colonial renaming of Aotearoa physically altered the landscape in a literal sense. On the other, colonial renaming might be seen as a partial act, and generally incomplete without other related acts: surveys, public works, immigration programs—all enabled by the transfer of Māori land to Pākehā settlers. That's colonization. And in that sense, colonial renaming does constitute a radical reshaping of the land.

The Waitangi Tribunal report, Ko Aotearoa Tenei (Wai 262) refers to a saying that describes the writings of the ancestors as being beneath the herbs and plants ("kei raro i ngā tarutaru, ko ngā tuhinga a ngā tupuna"). It is an evocative reminder that Māori knowledge is to be found in and of the land and environment. Naming (and placing) is important work. It should be unsurprising that tangata whenua place-names are generally laden with historical meaning, and I don't think anyone wants to see graffiti scrawled over their ancestors' writings. Yet colonial names remember and embed the colonial past while displacing and forgetting the Indigenous past.

When renaming is imposed by an outside culture, it completely alters [End Page 270] how and what we might see and know about places. It not only reshapes but erases the bundles of knowledge, practice, history, and language that culturally bind place to people and to time, past and present. When we displace a Māori place-name, we are complicit in the displacement and willful replacement of the peoples and histories encapsulated in those names, who belong to and belong with those names. As for the use of Māori names, maybe at the time of naming they both created and invoked the land, and since then they have remembered the land—and the ancestors—rather than transform it per se. For example, Te Oneroaa-Tōhē (the long beach of Tōhē) is the name for the beach known as Ninety Mile Beach (which actually isn't ninety miles long). The name Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē remembers and commemorates the ancestor Tōhē and the long journey he took along the west coast in the far north of the country to see his daughter, during which he named more than a hundred places.

For sure, the restoration of Indigenous place-names, like Te Oneroaa-Tōhē, could constitute a vital project of Indigenous studies scholarship, grounded in the cultures and languages of Indigenous peoples. In Aotearoa, restoration of place-names is also a very practical exercise, folded into the processes of negotiating and settling historical place-names. Thus Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē is one of the place-names altered or corrected as part of the settlement of the historical Treaty of Waitangi claims of Te Rarawa iwi. Officially, the beach name is now the bilingual Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē / Ninety Mile Beach.

The extent to which name changes can affect a shift in public perception and understanding is probably yet to play out. Steps like improved pronunciation by broadcasters and bilingual signage perhaps indicate a good start has been made. But even those gains are up against negative steps, such a story earlier this year about a voice-over artist who is sometimes asked to deliberately mispronounce Maori words to make them sound more Pākehā. To his credit, he turns down those offers of work, balancing out the negative attitude and refusing to be complicit.

Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

is an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Buffalo (SUNY) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haudenosaunee history of western New York. Her work has appeared in journals and edited collections including Indian Subjects: [End Page 271] Hemispheric Perspectives on the History of Indigenous Education (SAR Press, 2014), and The World of the Revolutionary American Republic (Routledge, 2014).

Caroline Wigginton

is an assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi and the author of In the Neighborhood: Women's Publication in Early America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016). Wigginton is currently working on a monograph titled Indigenuity: Native Craft work and the Material of Early American Books.

Kelly Wisecup

is an associate professor of English at Northwestern University and the author of Medical Encounters: Knowledge and Identity in Early American Literatures (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Early American Literature, Early American Studies, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal.

Earlier this year, in an interdisciplinary joint forum of two flagship journals in the fields of American history and literature—the William and Mary Quarterly and Early American Literature—Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Caroline Wigginton, and Kelly Wisecup refocused the attention of historians and literary scholars alike on the critical importance of understanding how the practices of each discipline have set boundaries for the production of knowledge about Native people, both in the past and in the present. Titled "Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies," the forum suggested that historians and literary scholars must extend their attention to sources that exist beyond the colonial archive as a precondition for untethering the field of early American studies from the colonial frameworks that continue to define the field—in other words, "completing the turn" toward a new critical sensibility that takes Native voices and knowledges seriously requires more than just a shift in language or interpretation. It requires an investigation of Indigenous materials—artifacts that were not prized and curated by the colonial apparatus, texts that were not produced and consumed primarily for colonial audiences. Supported by the contributions of seven other scholars of Indigenous studies, Mt. Pleasant, Wigginton, and Wisecup's groundbreaking forum provokes new possibilities for historical geographers to engage the materials and methods of Indigenous studies. [End Page 272]


Your forum observes that the field of early American studies is experiencing "an ongoing geographic turn, one that follows a concomitant shift among Americanists more broadly, who have adopted hemispheric, Atlantic, continental, and global outlooks." As you note, however, these efforts to unhitch American studies from the geographic boundaries of the US nation-state nevertheless tend to recapitulate colonial categories that keep Native people only in view as subsidiary characters of world-historical dramas like capitalism, slavery, and migration. As many critics have emphasized, the "Atlantic World" framing of early American history, for instance, places all but the easternmost Native communities outside its major geographic frame of reference. What can be done to help solve this dilemma beyond mere interpretative fixes? In terms of materials and methods, what might an Indigenous geographic turn look like? In terms of geographic scale, would it go big or go small? In your view, are there particular geographical sensibilities associated with the field of Native American and Indigenous studies?

Joint Forum Editors (JFE): One of the pleasures of editing the forum came in working with scholars who are challenging notions of the geographic turns that have swept through multiple fields; their research charts new perspectives on these turns. Indigenous histories and literatures have always turned around geography, or place, with the result that "geographic turns" are not revelatory for Native American and Indigenous studies (NAIS) in the ways that they have been for other fields. For instance, David Chang's forum article in the WMQ traces the very long history of Indigenous geographic turns, which in his work entail engagements with and knowledge of place, from the very local to the expansive. For Chang, Native Hawaiian geographic turns are not linked to colonialism but have a long history that precedes European arrival and settlement in the Americas. And Indigenous ideas and peoples have always traveled across boundaries that are Indigenous and, later, colonial as well. As Chang's article emphasizes, Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous peoples already possessed global geographies before colonialism; the arrival of Europeans on their lands was not a transformative geographic event that suddenly opened up new worlds. Instead, Native Hawaiians already utilized well-tested geographic methods for studying the worlds outside of their islands, and they applied these methods to [End Page 273] understanding the European newcomers and the worlds from which they came. Chang's work helps us see that centering those Indigenous boundaries can account for histories of colonization, while avoiding taking colonial geographies as a guide for mapping Indigenous histories.15

We found the forum contributors' thinking about geographic frameworks to be especially useful in articulating the relation between NAIS methodologies and the geographic turns orienting adjacent fields. Those "turns"—to the hemispheric, the oceanic, the Atlantic, and the trans-national, for example—often obtain their critical energy from critiquing or exceeding Euro-Western, settler-colonial geographic boundaries. Yet at times they have ended up reifying those settler-colonial boundaries even as they seek to expand them. The "Atlantic World" framing that, as you point out, orients scholars toward particular geographies—primarily those important to European colonists traveling the Atlantic or seeking to send goods and humans across the ocean—can produce a blindness to expansive geographies with significantly more importance to Indigenous peoples, such as the riverine systems of the Mississippi River and the networks of the Plains. In light of this, one goal for the forum's call to take up NAIS methods is to emphasize the importance of making geographic "turns" in ways that center Native geographies as a starting point for orienting scholarship and that resist assumptions that settler-colonial geographies superseded Indigenous ones.

We think that one key challenge is how to navigate various geographic turns, from the focus on the regional to the turn to the global, without needing to have recourse to colonial geographies. We're reminded of Alejandra Dubcovsky's article, also in the WMQ part of the forum, about Apalachee experiences of enslavement and loss in the eighteenth century, which shows that these colonial geographies can obscure and diminish Native actions and autonomy. Examining Apalachee attempts to survive in a world characterized by conflict among English and Spanish forces and their respective Native allies, Dubcovsky shows how the imperial archive inaccurately steers scholars to see the Southeast as already emplotted by English or Spanish claims. By attending to Apalachee geographies—at the scale of the town and of the path—Dubcovsky shows how that place-based knowledge exceeded European ones and even outlasted the horrific violence Apalachee peoples experienced. Her turn to Indigenous geographies likewise revises the place [End Page 274] of Apalachee peoples in historical narratives, by reframing Apalachees from their status in scholarship as victims and slaves to people who envisioned futures for themselves and who relied on their long-standing networks even as European settlers tore apart their world.16 The article resists archival delimitations of geography even as it turns us back to Indigenous knowledge of place and navigation of political, social, imperial, and Indigenous geographies. Even as the archival record limits the visibility of Indigenous geographies as it attempts to structure knowledge about place, NAIS methodologies and their emphasis on Native people as active presences who produce their own, tribally specific representations and geographies offer critical methodologies for approaching archival structures and their limitations.


For geographers, one of your most popular interventions may be your insistence on materials and methods as the prior base for determining what interpretations are even possible. This will no doubt resonate with geographers, many of whom (along with many anthropologists) remained steadfastly committed to their disciplines' empirical and descriptive sensibilities even as the cultural turn upended the humanities and social sciences thirty years ago. For instance, influential works from the 1990s, such as Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache and William Least Heat-Moon's popular PrairyErth: A Deep Map, shaped new discussions about the mutuality and specificity of historical knowledge production and place making that brought Native intellectual traditions to bear as a kind of materialist antidote for the abstract and universalizing explanations of history and culture made in the academy. Looking back after reading your joint forum, it seems like much of what historical geographers have been writing about the significance of place is what many Indigenous people have been insisting all along. Do you see it this way?


Your question points to an oppositional binary that, at least in the field of early American studies, has stifled the turn to NAIS for which Native and non-Native scholars and activists have called for centuries. On the one hand is the knowledge produced by a discipline's long-standing "empirical and descriptive sensibilities" (often aligned with rigor and enduring Truth). On the other is the work guided by the interdisciplinary "cultural turn" of the 1990s (often dismissed [End Page 275] as presentist and ephemeral). As we point out in the forum, early American studies was one of the earlier historiographical and literary fields to take seriously the enduring agencies of Native peoples in the Americas. However, a steadfast commitment to documentary evidence and to settler-colonialist definitions of the literary bound the field to particular sources and interpretations. The elevation of these sources and interpretations in turn alienated those scholars who sought and valued alternative ones, often the same ones that came from Native communities and knowledge keepers themselves. This tension limited how we studied Native literatures and histories and the place of those studies within the field more broadly. In the forum we offer a focus on materials and methods as a possible antidote to this false choice between disciplinary rigor and interdisciplinary innovation.

"Materials and Methods" provides an antidote because it shifts toward "how we do our work and what questions we ask."17 We don't think that it's possible to have conclusive and comprehensive interpretations. Instead, by focusing on doing—and insisting on a practice that is ethical and responsible to Indigenous peoples and communities—we can use the questions we ask to guide us when it comes to identifying and interpreting evidence in order to generate knowledge about the histories and literatures of the early Americas. Daniel Radus's forum essay, found in EAL, is a great example of this. One enduring question in early American literary studies has been how to read accounts of Indigenous nonscriptive texts in Euro-American travel narratives, which are often skewed by their authors' biases and misunderstandings. Radus offers one method for how to approach this issue. He examines a late nineteenth-century material object (a history book covered in quillworked birch-bark by Odawa Margaret Boyd) to understand written texts produced decades earlier. Radus's reading of quillwork and books shows how nonscriptive texts can intervene in and amplify the meanings of alphabetic writing, even while also finding women's quillwork an important site for expressing histories and political critique.18

As this example suggests, materials and methods go hand in hand. When we paired materials with methods, we didn't equate materials with "material culture" or "materialism." Instead, the term refers to our objects of study. Because Indigenous peoples have always documented and [End Page 276] narrated their histories and expressed their imaginations—and continue to do so—we argue for including "spoken, image-based, material-object, and Indigenous-language texts" and materials maintained by Native communities and knowledge keepers alongside European-language written primary sources.19 All have value. Scott Manning Stevens's forum essay, found in EAL, exemplifies this shift from sources to materials. To understand a particular tomahawk, he articulates Haudenosaunee oral tradition with a triangulation of materials from the archive (documentary records), the museum (materials artifacts), and the art gallery (visual representations).20

At the same time, materials emphasizes that our objects and evidence have their own material histories. When it comes to NAIS, scholars should be thoughtful about their materials' narratives: why and how and where and by whom they were created, saved, circulated, collected, and catalogued (or not). The libraries, archives, and museums triangulated by Stevens are not neutral places; they have been structured by particular aims and biases. Those structures often originate in colonialist geographies, the ones discussed in our response to the first question, and also in colonialist temporal frameworks. Focusing on methods rather than interpretations encourages us to use NAIS methodologies to reassemble and reconsider materials that have been disconnected through colonialist archival practices. As a result, we are able to recognize connections across and between places significant for Indigenous peoples but which are invisible within or exceed colonialist geographies and temporalities. Philip Round's forum essay, also in EAL, is emblematic of such an approach. He connects a twelfth-century copper repoussé depiction of the culture hero figure Red Horn produced in what is now known as Illinois—catalogued by archaeologists as produced by a prehistorical culture—and connects it to an oral tale told by the Ho Chunk storyteller Sam Blowsnake in the twentieth century in present-day Nebraska. He reunites material artifacts and oral literature about Red Horn produced in separate times and places to show how a particular Indigenous culture and geography endured into and beyond the early American colonial period.21 Engaging with the materials of NAIS underscores that the very possibilities for identifying, naming, and studying Indigenous places have been shaped, and often hindered, by the material histories of objects and evidence. [End Page 277]


The critical study of cartography holds a cherished role in the field of historical geography. Just as one of the great, portable lessons of Indigenous studies is the notion that ethnographers usually tell us more about themselves than their subjects, maps also reveal more about the dreams or aspirations of their makers than of the material worlds they illustrate. Many Native people, past and present, have encountered maps as instruments of colonial power, whether in the form of eighteenth-century imperial atlases, grammar-school geography textbooks, or maps of reservations and allotment surveys. In your view, where do maps fall as materials of Indigenous studies, both as objects of analysis and, perhaps, as the products of research? Were maps ever used, or could they be, as instruments of liberation for Native people, rather than as tools for their reduction into colonial subjects?


Thinking about this question, one thing that immediately springs to mind is the long trajectory of scholarship about maps and mapping that engages and models NAIS approaches to materials and methods. In the last question you gestured toward Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places, a foundational text published in the 1990s. We could also include Margaret Wickens Pearce's chapter "Native Mapping in Southern New England Deeds" and other scholarship in Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Use, Renee Fossett's chapter "Mapping Inuktut: Inuit Views of the Real World" in Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, and Gregory A. Waselkov's chapter "Indian Maps of the Colonial Southeast" in Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast in this list of pathbreaking scholarship from the period.22 Each of these projects considers the ways Indigenous peoples conceptualized spatial relationships and territories, and recorded those relationships within colonial contexts, creating materials that were subsequently incorporated into colonial archives. In doing so, often they were invested in creating maps that explained and reinforced responsibilities for territories as well as relationships among and between Indigenous peoples and nations within particular geographic areas. So we think it's important to bear in mind that Indigenous peoples not only encounter maps but also create maps, and gesture toward scholarship that has helped us appreciate the intellectual traditions that undergird Indigenous mapping. [End Page 278]

Historians and literary scholars in NAIS often invoke cartography and mapping in their scholarship. Looking beyond the chronological constraints of early American studies that frame the joint forum, work such as Shari Hunhdorf's Mapping the Americas: The Transnational Politics of Contemporary Native Culture (2009) and Mishuana Goeman's Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations (2013) provide important examples of NAIS scholarship that engages questions of borders, boundaries, territories, and jurisdictions that shape Indigenous peoples' lives.23 And returning to the joint forum, through Lisa Brooks's contribution in WMQ, "Awikhigawôgan ta Pildowi Ôjmowôgan: Mapping a New History," we learn about the method for creating the new maps that are central to her recent book Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War.24 Brooks's discussion of this collaborative process, involving extended conversations with Indigenous knowledge keepers as well as site visits to archives and central places with students and community members, prompts readers to grapple with the relationships and place-based knowledge that Wabanaki people cultivate as they maintain and transmit understandings of their territory. Drawing on NAIS methodologies to engage Wabanaki intellectual traditions of place making, Brooks created new maps that undergird her analysis of King Philip's War. These maps (available at expand our understanding of the colonial conflict and also force modern readers to reconsider the mental and physical maps that shape their understanding of the region currently known as New England.

Thinking further about the connections between creation and collaboration, in her essay for WMQ, "Surveying the Present, Projecting the Future: Reevaluating Colonial French Plans of Kanesatake," Christian Ayne Crouch highlights the dialogic process of map making. For Crouch and other contributors to the forum, place is an entity of analysis and contestation. Focusing on plans, the French representations imagining what colonial settlements might look like in a future moment, Crouch shows that these speculative representations of place (emphatically not maps of existing geographies) seek to envision Haudenosaunee containment even as they rely on Indigenous geographic knowledge. Her careful reading both of plans and of the geography they aim to represent points to the importance of Indigenous knowledge in the making of geographic representations and in scholarly analysis.25 For Crouch and others, the scholarly work of engaging maps includes locating these materials [End Page 279] and gaining access to archives such as the Service historique de la Défense outside Paris. Thus our scholarship necessarily involves mapping the location of materials in archives and special collections that are often far-flung, establishing relationships with archivists and curators, and nurturing connections with Indigenous knowledge keepers who can help us develop broader and deeper understandings of these maps and the geographies they represent. Indigenous knowledge keepers, as Keith Basso ably explained in Wisdom Sits in Places, also help us appreciate restrictions on knowledge sharing and publication about sensitive places that scholars are ethically bound to respect.


One of the developing critical themes of Indigenous studies scholarship is the demonstration that places can never be wholly "dispossessed" from Native peoples. Despite the privatization of land ownership under the individualizing imperatives of colonial capitalism, the forced removal of Native communities from their historic homelands, and in many cases the physical destruction and subsequent reconstruction of Native places into seemingly definitive spaces of settler colonialism, these geographies still bear witness to the past and act as repositories of memory and social identity. More than that, the recovery of these Native places often offers radical counternarratives to the racist fictions of settlement and ownership that have helped sustain white supremacy across the settler-colonial world. Is there an opening here for Native leadership in a geographic activism that can engage a broader constituency of activists? I can't help thinking, for instance, about the recent restoration of the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska to "Lake Calhoun" in the city of Minneapolis, following the objections of a multiracial group of residents toward having one of the city's premier public spaces named after a slave owner from antebellum South Carolina. How might it be possible for historical geographers to help contribute toward such efforts by picking up the materials and methods of Indigenous studies?


We see the forum introduction and articles as the continuation of a call—begun centuries ago by Native writers and activists—for research that begins from premises of Native peoples' centrality, agency, and humanity. We hope the articles we edited will not stand as a final answer to that call but that they'll generate more conversations about what deep, structural engagement with NAIS methods and materials might look [End Page 280] like in multiple fields. What that engagement looks like and its contribution to antiracist activism will differ for each field, given its particular institutional histories and commitments. So we'd also ask your question back to your readers—what might substantive and structural engagement with NAIS mean for historical geography? To what new materials and methods might it lead?

We don't need to convince the readers of this journal of the centrality of place. As we noted in our answer to your question about the place of maps as materials in NAIS, we also wouldn't need to convince scholars in NAIS, for whom place has also held a specific centrality. Place is an irreducible element of indigeneity and sovereignty. And as a result, studying place—whether through research on maps, place-names, environmental issues, and other areas—invokes questions of Indigenous homelands and of Indigenous nations' status as separate political units within settler-colonial nation-states.26 Place likewise plays a central role in historically oriented NAIS methodologies: as Lisa Brooks's article shows, place is also an archive, and her practice of tracing seventeenth-century Native routes excavates the significance of places as part of the historical record.27 Her methodology helps us structure histories of place and of people as vertical (or as deep histories) rather than as linear or horizontal. Native histories and literature, from this orientation, are defined by their relation to place rather than their position in temporal chronologies or periods.

Native-led activism emerges from these place-based methodologies. In our conversations about this question, we discussed the ways that NAIS scholarship often feeds activism and vice versa—NAIS is one of the places where the line between those two areas isn't always a firm one. For example, we see recent Native-led activism around place, such as the recovery of Dakota place-names to which you point, as modeling the ways that maps, discussions of place, and counternarratives to settler colonialism can have powerful effects in shaping scholarship as well as the everyday realities affecting Native people. We also see scholarship as influencing activism, such as the treaty map of "Oceti Sakowin Oyate Territory and Treaty Boundaries 1851–present" included in the Standing Rock Syllabus.28 The map provides crucial historical context for understanding the long and ongoing histories of settler colonialism and encroachment on Native lands. On what might seem [End Page 281] like the other end of the spectrum, one of the things we emphasized in the forum is that choices that might seem purely "scholarly"—editing a text, choosing forms of evidence, narrating the history of a tribe—can have monumental and lasting repercussions for Native nations. To take just one example, in a ruling regarding Abenaki fishing rights, the state of Vermont accorded colonial narratives of settlement more authority than Abenaki narratives of place that stretched back centuries, thus denying Abenaki rights to access and use their traditional homelands. We hope readers of the forum see such examples as an indication of the importance of seemingly mundane methodological tasks like citations, and as a reflection of the ways that NAIS methodologies and materials can reorient interpretations of the past and the present—from courts of law to the pages of journals.

Finally, NAIS methods displace mastery as the goal of research. Refusing mastery is central to NAIS scholarship, because it recognizes many sites of knowledge, both inside and outside the university, and because it emphasizes the need for scholarship that is responsive to the expertise and needs of Indigenous communities. NAIS expands the constituents for our scholarship even as it points to sources of knowledge outside the archives and academic journals that are so familiar to many of us as sites of authoritative knowledge. We emphasized in the forum that this shift is particularly consequential for graduate training, and we asked how departments might create programs that support graduate students who seek to study NAIS methods and materials. This might mean revisiting language requirements to include Indigenous languages; ensuring that faculty members accept and are open to studies of Indigenous materials, including the oral and nonalphabetic; and making space for projects that have activist components. We never saw the forum as providing definitive or comprehensive answers for how to engage with the materials and methods of NAIS. Therefore, we look forward to seeing how engagement with NAIS shapes future issues of this journal and work in the field of historical geography.

Michael D. Wise
University of North Texas


1. Aileen Moreton-Robinson, ed., Critical Indigenous Studies: Engagements in First World Locations (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 4.

2. Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 168.

3. See D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, vol. 1, Atlantic America, 1492–1800 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 65; cited in Witgen, Infinity of Nations, 113–14.

4. Witgen, Infinity of Nations, 199.

5. Juliana Barr, "Geographies of Power: Mapping Indian Borders in the 'Borderlands' of the Early Southwest," William and Mary Quarterly 68, no. 1 (January 2011): 7.

6. David Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 111–12.

7. Witgen, Infinity of Nations, 31–33.

8. See Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996); Coll Thrush, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007).

9. See Jean M. O'Brien, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History (New York: Penguin, 2008); Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

10. Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018).

11. Tiya Miles, "The South Doesn't Own Slavery," New York Times, September 11, 2017,

12. Philip Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004).

13. Noenoe K. Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).

14. Peter (Te Rangihiroa) Buck, The Coming of the Maori (Wellington: Maori Purposes Fund Board, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand, 1949).

15. David A. Chang, "The Good Written Word of Life: The Native Hawaiian Appropriation of Textuality," William and Mary Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2018): 237–58.

16. Alejandra Dubcovsky, "Defying Indian Slavery: Apalachee Voices and Spanish Sources in the Eighteenth-Century Southeast," William and Mary Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2018): 295–322.

17. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Caroline Wigginton, and Kelly Wisecup, "Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies: Completing the Turn," William and Mary Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2018): 211.

18. Daniel Radus, "Margaret Boyd's Quillwork History," Early American Literature 53, no. 2 (2018): 513–37.

19. Mt. Pleasant et al., "Materials and Methods," 210.

20. See Scott Manning Stevens, "Tomahawk: Materiality and Depictions of the Haudenosaunee," Early American Literature 53, no. 2 (2018): 475–511.

21. See Phillip H. Round, "Mississippian Contexts for Early American Studies," Early American Literature 53, no. 2 (2018): 445–73.

22. See Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places; G. Malcolm Lewis, ed., Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Map Use (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Jennifer S. H. Brown and Elizabeth Vibert, eds., Reading beyond Words: Contexts for Native History (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1996); Gregory A. Waselov, Peter H. Wood, and Tom Hatley, eds., Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

23. See Shari M. Huhndorf, Mapping the Americas: The Transnational Politics of Contemporary Native Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009); Mishuana Goeman, Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

24. See Brooks, Our Beloved Kin; Lisa Brooks, "Awikhigawôgan ta Pildowi Ôjmowôgan: Mapping a New History," William and Mary Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2018): 259–94.

25. Christian Ayne Crouch, "Surveying the Present, Projecting the Future: Reevaluating Colonial French Plans of Kanesatake," William and Mary Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2018): 323–42.

26. Margaret M. Bruchac, "Earthshapers and Placemakers: Algonkian Indian Stories and the Landscape," in Indigenous Archaeologies: Decolonizing Theory and Practice, ed. Claire Smith and H. Martin Wobst (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 56–80.

27. See Brooks, "Awikhigawôgan Ta Pildowi Ôjmowôgan."

28. NYC Stands with Standing Rock, "Oceti Sakowin Oyate Territory and Treaty Boundaries 1851–present," Standing Rock Syllabus,